Educating the Public on Evidence-based methods for improving inter-group civility.

Self-Affirmation: The Key to Communication

1. What They Did – Summary:
          This study, primarily focused on effects of self-affirmation in the face of counterarguments and values, solely recruited participants who identified as “patriots.” Within a 2×2 study design, the patriots were placed into one of two separate conditions: a convictions salient condition and a rationality salient conviction. Both groups began by completing the beginning of a questionnaire entitled “Study on Personal Characteristics and Life Domains” in which they ranked a list of “personal characteristics and life domains” in terms of importance to their personal lives.

Next the comparison of affirmation vs. threat to ones identity or self was administered. Within the affirmation condition, the participants wrote down a memory or experience in which they felt their number one ranked “personal characteristic” (from the previously ranked list) was salient and why such a characteristic is considered most important to them.  Comparatively the threat condition retold a similar experience in which they unsuccessfully respected or failed to live up to their number one ranked “personal characteristic.”

Next the participants in both the affirmation and threat conditions were given rational vs. conviction salient questionnaires. Both sides were given claims of either rationality or conviction respectively, on which the participants had to self-report a level of agreement. (ex. “At least once in a while, I try to stand up for my values.”) After said questionnaire, the final portion of the study was administered through a fabricated, politically charged document describing terrorist groups arguing in favor of the rationality of the attacks of September 11th.  Reactions were asked of each of the patriots.

Researchers hope to find an interaction between the self-affirming prior exercises and openness to an opposed view of a politically charged topic. (Additional questions throughout the study such as attention to the reading, validity of the answers given and ones self-reported mood during the experiment were asked to understand potential biases in the data.)


2. What They Found – Results:
         Sure enough, researchers found a statistically significant interaction between the conviction salience and affirmation conditions. The “patriots” who were given the affirming prompts as well as conviction prompts were much more likely to accept or review the politically dissimilar article in higher regard than the comparison group. Moreover, threatened and conviction based “patriots” were less open to accepting the article. Such an interaction was not seen between the rationality salient “patriots”, affirming or threatened.
Ultimately, researchers were able to present data supporting self-affirmation as a means to increased openness to opposing ideas and values, a big step towards improving negotiations and communication.

3. Who Was Studied – Sample:
43 total students: 21 male, 22 female.

4. Study Name:
Cohen et al. 2007, Study 2

5. Citation:
Cohen, Geoffery L., David K. Sherman, Anthony Bastardi, Lillian Hsu, Michelle McGoey, and Lee Ross. “Bridging the Partisan Divide: Self-Affirmation Reduces Ideological Closed-Mindedness and Inflexibility in Negotiation.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 93.3 (2007): 422-24. Stanford University. Web.

6. Link:

7. Intervention categories:
perspective, self-affirmation, negotiation, MTurk

8. Sample size:

9. Central Reported Statistic:
“The predicted, Salience X Affirmation interaction was revealed, F(1, 38) = 4.62, p  = 0.38, MSE = 120.”
“The combination of affirmation and heightened salience of personal convictions promoted relatively less negativity and more balance in thoughts and feelings directed at the communication…. prompt[ing] greater recognition of the importance of the persuasive issue.

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Affirmation’s Effect on Concession During Political Negotiations

1. What They Did – Intervention Summary:

     Participants were paired face-to-face with a real person whom they believed to hold an opposing belief on an issue about which they cared deeply.  These people were, in fact, confederates — they played the role of an adversary and offered arguments and proposals to the study participants. 

Participants were first asked to write an essay either affirming or threatening a source of self-integrity unrelated to the issue at hand.   Upon completion of their essay, each participant was asked to indicate his or her mood on a scale from -3 (extremely negative or unhappy) to +3 (extremely positive or happy).

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The participants were given some background material and copy of a proposed abortion bill.  They were told that they would be playing the role of a Democratic Party State Legislator and that they would be matched with someone playing the role of a Republican Party State legislator to debate the bill.  Half the participants had their beliefs affirmed while half had their beliefs threatened.  Within those two groups, half of the participants had salient convictions and half had non-salient convictions.  They then entered a room with their opposing legislator and debated the bill for 10 minutes before self-reporting their mood again.

An evaluation was then performed on the concessions that each person made toward changes in their initial demands.  The number of original stipulations each participant was willing to surrender was accounted for for each set of participants and then compared for the self-affirmed vs. threatened participants.

2. What They Found – Results:

Study 2 discovered important information about the concessions (instances of acceptance of changes to the bill from the initial proposal to the final agreement) made by its participants.

The figure below demonstrates the concession data found in the study.  Most importantly, results show that participants in the self-affirmation condition of the convictions salient section of the study offered more concessions than those in the threat condition.

This means that the participants who had an alternative source of self-integrity affirmed at the beginning of the study found it easier to concede some of their initial demands than the participants who had their self-integrity threatened.

Self-affirmed participants were more likely to see concessions as attempts to find common ground than as hard negotiation and appeared to feel more charitable and willing to compromise.

The participants all had to rate their confederate opposers after the debate and those whose beliefs were affirmed rated their opponents higher than threatened participants did.  So, not only did self-affirmed participants concede more points, but they actually thought more highly of their adversaries.

This demonstrates potential for long-term effects as well, such as for preserving amicable relations.

Figure 3

3. Who Was Studied – Sample:

35 total undergraduate students —29 female and 6 male.

4. Study Name:

Cohen et al. 2007, Study 2

5. Citation:

Cohen, Geoffery L., David K. Sherman, Anthony Bastardi, Lillian Hsu, Michelle McGoey, and Lee Ross. “Bridging the Partisan Divide: Self-Affirmation Reduces Ideological Closed-Mindedness and Inflexibility in Negotiation.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 93.3 (2007): 422-24. Stanford University. Web.

6. Link

7. Intervention Categories:

Contact, perspective

8. Sample Size:


9. Central Reported Statistic

“In the case of participants in the convictions salient condition, those in the self-affirmation condition offered more concessions (adj. M 7.43) than those in the threat condition (adj. M 3.94), t(29) 3.28, p .003.”

10. Effect Size:

Self-Affirmation: M = 7.43

Threat: M = 3.94

p = .003



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Our goal is to educate the public about social science research on improving inter-group relations across moral divides.