Threats are inevitable in our daily life. Threats could lead to diverse defensive responses such as defensive responding, aggressiveness and risk behaviors. Therefore, how to help people buffer threats rises as an urgent issue. Numerous studies have confirmed that self-affirmation can serve as an effective buffer of threat, including attenuating negative emotions and stress responses, reducing individuals’ defensive behaviors and heightening their openness to threat-related information. But how, exactly, does self-affirmation work?
The current research aims to explain how self-affirmation could affect human’s processing of threat, thus deepening our understanding of self-affirmation’s buffering function. Three studies were conducted.
By using eye tracking technique, Study 1 investigated how self affirmation affects attentional processing of threat. In study 1, participants completed a free viewing task that consisted of death related (mortality threat) and non death related (control) images, while their eye movements were being recorded. The results indicated that self affirmation could alleviate human’s vigilance toward threat from early phase to the whole time course (0 6000ms).
Study 2 investigated how self affirmation would affect the memory bias of threat processing with two behavioral experiments. In study 2, participants were required to complete a nominal visual dot probe task in which death related and control images were presented. Then, a surprised recollection memory task was conducted immediately after the dot probe task (Study 2A) or 24 hours later (Study 2B). The results suggested that self affirmation exerted no significant effect on human’s recollection memory immediately after the stimuli presentation but could help people better forget threat related information (24 hours later).
Study 3 used Event Related Potential (ERP) method to explore the neural mechanism underlying self affirming’s impacts on threat processing. As study 2, death related and control images were presented in a nominal visual dot probe task. The results indicated that self affirmation provided plenty of psychological and cognitive resources to participants, thus enabling them to enhance cognitive control (N2) and attenuate their attentional bias towards mortality threats (LPP).
Taken together, the findings from three studies demonstrate the impacts of self affirmation on human being’s processing of threat, shedding light on the cognitive mechanism underlying the buffering function of self affirmation.