Positive Affirmations Help in Problem Solving While Stressed per New Study

Carnegie Mellon University issued the following news release:

Carnegie Mellon Research shows self-affirmation improves problem-solving under stress

It’s no secret that stress increases your susceptibility to health problems, and it also impacts your ability to solve problems and be creative.

Positive affirmations improve problem solving while stressed

But methods to prevent associated risks and effects have been less clear – until now.

Published in PLOS ONE, new research from Carnegie Mellon University provides the first evidence that self-affirmation can protect against the damaging effects of stress on problem-solving performance.

Understanding that self-affirmation — the process of identifying and focusing on one’s most important values — boosts stressed individuals’ problem-solving abilities will help guide future research and the development of educational interventions.

“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 J. David Creswell, assistant professor of psychology in CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Because previous research indicated that self-affirmation may be an effective stress management approach, Creswell and his research team had college students rank-order a set of values (e.g., art, business, family and friends) in terms of their personal importance, and indicate their levels of chronic stress.

Participants randomly assigned to a self-affirmation condition were asked to write a couple of sentences about why their number one ranked value was important (a standard self-affirmation exercise).

All participants then had to complete a challenging problem-solving task under time pressure, which required creativity in order 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.

But notably, this effect was qualified by whether participants had an opportunity to first complete the self-affirmation activity.

Specifically, a brief self-affirmation was effective in eliminating the deleterious effects of chronic stress on problem-solving performance, such that chronically stressed self-affirmed participants performed under pressure at the same level as participants with low chronic stress levels.

“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.”

To life, love and laughter,

John Schinnerer

 

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

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Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

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About John Schinnerer

John Schinnerer, Ph.D. is a U.C. Berkeley-trained emotion expert and founder of Guide To Self, a company that focuses on coaching individuals and groups to their potential using strengths-based development and positive psychology (the science of optimal human functioning). His private practice is located at 913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280, Danville, CA 94526. He may be reached at John @GuideToSelf.com. Most recently, Dr. John hosted Guide To Self Radio, a daily prime time radio show, in the San Francisco Bay Area. He graduated summa cum laude from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in psychology. Dr. John has been a coach and psychologist for over 10 years. Dr. John’s areas of expertise range from positive psychology, to emotional awareness, to moral development to parenting. He is a noted writer and speaker on topics such as employee engagement, emotional intelligence, making a good brain great, and creating a healthy and efficient workplace. His award-winning book is on proven ways to lead a meaningful and happy life and is entitled, “Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought.” He has written articles on corporate ethics and EQ in the workplace for Workspan magazine, HR.com, and Business Ethics. He has given numerous presentations and consulted with tens of thousands of people for organizations such as Kaiser Permanente, Pixar, Sutter Health, SHRM, NCHRA, KNEW and KDIA. For over 17 years, Dr. John has been a loving father to four children.
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