The Science of Self Affirmations

April 21, 2016 • Rehack Team


Self-affirmations sound simple: They’re positive statements that relate to a goal, desirable situation or state of being, and they’re repeated frequently. Recently, scientists have become interested in uncovering the benefits of affirmations through academic research. Below, you’ll find a sampling of what they’ve discovered so far.

They Helped People Solve Problems Under Pressure

Scientists from Carnegie Mellon University wanted to see if self-affirmations would positively affect performance during stressful situations. The researchers gathered 73 college students and asked them to rank 11 values in order of importance. Half the group then practiced a self-affirmation exercise by writing about why their most-important values were so crucial to them.

A control group did something similar but wrote about their ninth values on their lists. Next, the students had to go against the clock and do a problem-solving test while an evaluator purposefully tried to make them feel stressed.

From the data gained, scientists concluded the people who were asked to complete the self-affirmation exercise scored better on the problem-solving test than the control group. There was also evidence to suggest affirmations help people think more flexibly while under pressure.

These results indicate that by regularly practicing self-affirmations, you may be able to reduce the negative impact stress has when you’re trying to find your way out of problems. With that in mind, affirmations might help you feel less stressed — and more content — even when the pressure’s on.

They Affect Willingness to Make Behavioral Changes

Many people know they should stop smoking or perhaps shed excess weight for better health, but some resist taking definitive action until their healthcare providers warn them that behavioral changes are crucial unless they want to cut their lives unnecessarily short. Researchers found self-affirmations changed the activity in certain brain pathways when adopting positive new behaviors related to health.

Study participants were given MRI scans to measure brain activity, and some received health tips and self-affirmation messages. The people who received self-affirmations had greater amounts of activity in a part of the brain that’s responsible for behavior changes related to health messages.

If a healthcare provider has determined that your snacking is an unhealthy coping mechanism because you’re unhappy at work, for example, a self-affirmation about personal worth might cause your perspective to brighten. It could also remind you that there are healthier ways to feel soothed when you’re upset and encourage you to take more therapeutic actions.

Self Affirmations May Not Work If You Characteristically Have Low Self Esteem

A study conducted at the University of Waterloo found self-affirmations may not be useful if you usually have low self-esteem. It’s believed that if a person is already feeling down, the level of conflict between the positive statement and the individual’s state of being may be too great, and it may end up making the person feel worse.

However, the self-affirmations did help some of the study’s participants, particularly people with characteristically high self-esteems who were going through short-term hard times.

To have the best chance of experiencing good results from your affirmations, do a thorough self-assessment regarding what advantages you hope to see. Saying a positive statement throughout the day won’t likely change your mind so much that your self-esteem is permanently higher, but it may be useful for helping you through rough patches.

Keeping the above studies in mind, it’s important to realize that research about self-affirmations is ongoing. Knowing that people who were given self-affirmations were able to outsmart stress and make positive life changes should be encouraging. Self-affirmations can possibly help you feel better and accomplish more, but they aren’t appropriate for everyone. A tailored, patient approach is necessary.