Comparing the effects of self-affirmation and positive affect on reactions to a health message

  • P. Harris
  • P. Harris
  • E. Miles


Background: Positive affect has frequently been proposed as a possible mediator of the effects of self-affirmation, yet studies have found inconsistent evidence even for the hypothesis that self-affirmation boosts positive affect. In two studies we tested this hypothesis. Methods: In Study 1 (N = 270) we analysed self-affirmation and control essays for their use of positive affective language. In Study 2 (N = 76), participants (who did not meet guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption) completed a self-affirmation task, a positive mood induction, or a control task, a computerised positive affect measure, and then read information on the health consequences of insufficient fruit and vegetable consumption. Findings: In both studies, self-affirmed participants were more likely to use positive emotional language in their writing compared to control participants, implying a positive affective state. In Study 2, participants in the self-affirmation and positive mood conditions also scored higher on the computerised positive affect measure than control participants. Subsequently, self-affirmed participants consumed more fruit and vegetables than those in the positive mood condition at one-week follow-up; however, this effect was not mediated by either measure of positive affect. Discussion: The studies provide evidence that self-affirmation does boost positive affect. However, neither measure of positive affect mediated effects on outcomes in Study 2, undermining claims that it is a mediator of self-affirmation effects on the processing of health-risk information.
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