“I CAN pass this exam”, “I am a wonderful person and will find love again” and “I am capable and deserve that pay rise” are phrases that students, the broken-hearted and driven employees may repeat to themselves over and over again in the face of adversity. Self-help books through the ages, including Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 classic, “The Power of Positive Thinking”, have encouraged people with low self-esteem to make positive self-statements. New research, however, suggests it may do more harm than good.via The Economist
Wondering if the same tendencies could apply to making positive self-statements, Joanne Wood of the University of Waterloo in Canada and her colleagues designed a series of experiments. They questioned a group of 68 men and women using long-accepted methods to measure self-esteem. The participants were then asked to spend four minutes writing down any thoughts and feelings that were on their minds. In the midst of this, half were randomly assigned to say to themselves “I am a lovable person” every time they heard a bell ring.
Immediately after the exercise, they were asked questions such as “What is the probability that a 30-year-old will be involved in a happy, loving romance?” to measure individual moods using a scoring system that ranged from a low of zero to a high of 35. Past studies have indicated that optimistic answers indicate happy moods.
As the researchers report in Psychological Science, those with high self-esteem who repeated “I’m a lovable person” scored an average of 31 on their mood assessment compared with an average of 25 by those who did not repeat the phrase. Among participants with low self-esteem, those making the statement scored a dismal average of 10 while those that did not managed a brighter average of 17.
Dr Wood suggests that positive self-statements cause negative moods in people with low self-esteem because they conflict with those people’s views of themselves. When positive self-statements strongly conflict with self-perception, she argues, there is not mere resistance but a reinforcing of self-perception.