When self-affirmations reduce defensiveness: timing is key

Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2010 Jul;36(7):947-59. doi: 10.1177/0146167210369557. Epub 2010 May 26.


Research on self-affirmation has shown that simple reminders of self-integrity reduce people's tendency to respond defensively to threat. Recent research has suggested it is irrelevant whether the self-affirmation exercise takes place before or after the threat or the individual's defensive response to it, supposedly because the meaning of threats is continuously reprocessed. However, four experiments revealed that affirmations may be effective only when introduced prior to the initiation of a defensive response. Affirmations introduced before threatening feedback reduced defensive responding; affirming after a threat was effective in reducing defensiveness only if the defensive conclusion had yet to be reached. Even though threats may activate a defensive motivation, the authors' results suggest that defensive responses may not be spontaneous and may be prompted only when suggested by the dependent measures themselves. This explains why some affirmations positioned after threats are effective in reducing defensiveness. Implications for self-affirmation theory are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cognitive Dissonance
  • Defense Mechanisms*
  • Humans
  • Self Concept*
  • Self Efficacy
  • Self-Assessment
  • Time Factors