Self-affirmation among the poor: cognitive and behavioral implications

Psychol Sci. 2014 Feb;25(2):619-25. doi: 10.1177/0956797613510949. Epub 2013 Dec 19.


The poor are universally stigmatized. The stigma of poverty includes being perceived as incompetent and feeling shunned and disrespected. It can lead to cognitive distancing, diminish cognitive performance, and cause the poor to forego beneficial programs. In the present research, we examined how self-affirmation can mitigate the stigma of poverty through randomized field experiments involving low-income individuals at an inner-city soup kitchen. Because of low literacy levels, we used an oral rather than written affirmation procedure, in which participants verbally described a personal experience that made them feel successful or proud. Compared with nonaffirmed participants, affirmed individuals exhibited better executive control, higher fluid intelligence, and a greater willingness to avail themselves of benefits programs. The effects were not driven by elevated positive mood, and the same intervention did not affect the performance of wealthy participants. The findings suggest that self-affirmation can improve the cognitive performance and decisions of the poor, and it may have important policy implications.

Keywords: behavioral intervention; benefits take-up; cognition(s); executive control; fluid intelligence; intervention; policy making; poverty; self-affirmation; stereotyped attitudes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Poverty / psychology*
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Random Allocation
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Stigma