New research shows that self-affirmation can protect against the damaging effects of stress on problem-solving.
According to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, self-affirmation is the process of identifying and focusing on your most important values. Doing this can boost problem-solving abilities, the researchers claim.
“An emerging set of published studies suggest that a brief self-affirmation activity at the beginning of a school term can boost academic grade-point averages in underperforming kids at the end of the semester.
“This new work suggests a mechanism for these studies, showing self-affirmation effects on actual problem-solving performance under pressure,” said Dr. J. David Creswell, assistant professor of psychology in CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
For the latest study, the researchers asked college students to rank a set of values — such as business, family, or friends — in order of importance. The students also were asked about their levels of chronic stress.
Next, a random group of participants was asked to write a couple of sentences about why their number one ranked value was important. This is a standard self-affirmation exercise, according to the researchers.
Finally, all the participants were asked to complete a challenging problem-solving task under time pressure, which required creativity to generate correct solutions.
The results showed that participants who were under high levels of chronic stress during the past month had impaired problem-solving performance. In fact, they solved about 50 percent fewer problems in the task, the researchers noted.
But this effect was qualified by whether participants had an opportunity to first complete the self-affirmation activity. The researchers found that a brief self-affirmation exercise was effective in eliminating the effects of chronic stress on problem-solving performance.
In fact, the students who were chronically stressed who participated in the self-affirmation exercise performed under pressure at the same level as participants with low chronic stress levels, the researchers report.
“People under high stress can foster better problem-solving simply by taking a moment beforehand to think about something that is important to them,” Creswell said.
“It’s an easy-to-use and portable strategy you can roll out before you enter that high-pressure performance situation.”
The study was published in in the open access journal PLoS ONE.
Source: Carnegie Mellon University