I don’t even watch How I Met Your Mother, but I saw “Stinson et al. (2011)” and I was like, “Lolwut, Barney isn’t a psychologist, he’s an awesomeolgist.”
But anyway, the abstract:
Chronically insecure individuals often behave in ways that result in the very social rejection that they most fear. We predicted that this typical self-fulfilling prophecy is not immutable. Self-affirmation may improve insecure individuals’ relational security, and this improvement may allow them to express more welcoming social behavior. In a longitudinal experiment, a 15-min self-affirmation improved both the relational security and experimenter-rated social behavior of insecure participants up to 4 weeks after the initial intervention. Moreover, the extent to which self-affirmation improved insecure participants’ relational security at 4 weeks predicted additional improvements in social behavior another 4 weeks after that. Our finding that insecure participants continued to reap the social benefits of self-affirmation up to 8 weeks after the initial intervention demonstrates that it is indeed possible to rewrite the self-fulfilling prophecy of social rejection.
The actual intervention, quoted from the article:
Participants looked down a list of 11 values including things like spontaneity, creativity, friends and family, personal attractiveness and so on. They put them in order of importance and wrote a couple of paragraphs saying why their top-ranked item was so important.
This is all fine and good, but part of the reason some people get so locked into cycles of social anxiety and apprehension is that they don’t have the ability to see value in themselves at all. This can be due to any number of factors, from poor social support networks to dysfunctional upbringing to limited self-esteem/self-efficacy to substance abuse problems to concomitant anhedonia & depression to the stigma of shyness.
Sitting down and thinking hard about what makes you a valuable person in the midst of a society in which we are all taught of our relative value (i.e. self-comparison plays a role) can be a very difficult proposition for some, especially unguided by a scientific investigator, but this study seems to suggest that it is worth a shot to do something along the lines of self-affirmation rather than brood.
Still, I wonder how many of the self-affirmations are canned statements and how much these individuals are simply faking-it-till-they-make-it.