Do affirmative self-statements actually help people perform better?
Joanne Wood and John W. Lee of University of Waterloo with University of New Brunswick’s Wei Qi “Elaine” (Xun) Perunovic confirmed that people often use positive self-statements and believe them to be effective.
However, two experiments demonstrate that the value of positive self-statements depends on the individual’s level of self-esteem.
Participants with low self-esteem who repeated a positive self-statement (“I’m a lovable person”) felt worse than people who used no positive self-statement.
They also felt worse than the comparison group when they focused on how the statement was only true.
Wood, Lee, and Perunovic explain the result with William Swann’s Self-Verification Theory, which suggests that people prefer that others see them as they see themselves.
Swann, of University of Texas at Austin posits that if someone has low self-esteem, a positive self-statement is inconsistent with the person’s experience and self-assessment.
As a result, it would not have “the ring of truth”, and would not have the intended bolstering effect on self-confidence and self-esteem.
This view was validated by their finding that participants with high self-esteem felt better when they repeated the positive self-statement statement and when they focused on how it was true.
Ibrahim Senay of Istanbul Sehir Universitesi, Penn’s Dolores Albarracin, and Kenji Noguchi of the University of Southern Mississippi investigated the relative impact of “declarative” self-talk, such as “positive thinking” or affirmations (“I will prevail!”) espoused by Maxwell Maltz, Norman Vincent Peale, Napoleon Hill, Dale Carnegie, and Anthony Robbins.
They compared this well-known self-improvement practice with “interrogative” self-talk, such as introspective self-inquiry (“Can I prevail?”).
Half the participants spent one minute asking themselves whether they would complete a series of anagrams before that actually began to work on the anagrams, whereas the other half to told themselves that they would complete the task.
Surprisingly to advocates of self-affirmation, the self-questioning group solved significantly more anagrams than the self-affirming group.
The researchers extended and replicated the finding by asking one group of volunteers to write “Will I” 20 times before attempting to solve the anagrams.
Another group wrote “I will” 20 times, and the third group wrote “Will” 20 times.
Those were “primed” with the self-questioning “Will I” solved nearly twice as many anagrams as people in the other groups.
Albarracin hypothesizes that “asking questions forces you to define if you really want something…even in the presence of obstacles,” so is more effective than possibly unrealistically-positive self-affirmations.
The researchers suggest that interrogative self-talk, like interrogative discussions in behavioral counseling, persuasive messages in advertising, editorials, or legal settings, and culturally “polite” behavioral requests, may elicit more intrinsically-motivated action and goal-directed behavior.
Stanford’s Mark Lepper and David Greene collaborated with Richard Nisbett of University of Michigan in a classic study that showed routinely predictable extrinsic rewards can extinguish intrinsic motivation.
Interrogative self-talk may counteract suppressors to intrinsic motivation and seems to be a learnable practice that may be transferred or “generalized” from individualized learning in counseling settings.
Rohini Ahluwalia of University of Minnesota, Ohio State’s Robert Burnkrant and Southern Methodist University’s Daniel Howard found that this form of inquiry can be persuasive because it focuses the listener’s attention to the argument itself if the question isn’t especially relevant to the listener, or to the message’s source if is more pertinent.
Subjunctive interrogative self-talk, rather than its rhetorical counterpart, can ignite innovation and creativity in organizational settings.
Min Basadur suggests that asking oneself and other How Might We (HMW) ….? enables innovators to defer judgment and create more options without self-conscious limitations.
Ideo’s CEO, Tim Brown, advocates embracing the uncertainty of “might” because it enables innovators to propose ideas “that might work or might not — either way, it’s OK. And the ‘we’ part says we’re going to do it together and build on each other’s ideas.”
This type of self-interrogatory, sometimes presented in group innovation “sprints” at Google Ventures, IDEO, Frog Design or other thought-leading organizations have been effectively been combined with structured innovative problem-solving:
- Understand by analyzing problems and requirements through process evaluation
- Diverge by applying constraints to “think differently”
- Decide by selecting solution to develop
- Prototype by “storyboarding” the user experience, process, obstacles
- Validate by testing prototypes with potential solution users
-*Under what circumstances have you found ‘interrogative’ self-talk to enhance performance more than affirmative self-talk?
- Extract More Value from Meetings with Effective Questions
- New Questions, “Senses” for Innovative Thinking and Problem-Solving
- Effective Questions as Change and Innovation Catalyst
- Hypothetical Questions May Lead to Bias
LinkedIn Open Group Psychology in Human Resources (Organisational Psychology)