The psychology of the affirmed learner: Spontaneous self-affirmation in the face of stress

Shannon T. Brady, Julio Garcia, Jonathan E. Cook, Stephanie L. Reeves, Valerie Purdie-Vaughns, Suzanne Taborsky-Barba, Sarah Tomasetti, Eden M. Davis, Geoffrey L. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


A key question about achievement motivation is how to maintain it over time and in the face of stress and adversity. The present research examines how a motivational process triggered by a socialpsychological intervention propagates benefits over a long period of time and creates an enduring shift in the way people interpret subsequent adversity. During their first or second year of college, 183 Latino and White students completed either a values affirmation intervention or control exercise as part of a laboratory study. In the affirmation intervention, students wrote about a core personal value, an exercise that has been found in previous research to buffer minority students against the stress of being negatively stereotyped in school. This single affirmation improved the college grade point average (GPA) of Latino students over 2 years. Students were re-recruited for a follow-up session near the end of those 2 years. Results indicated that GPA benefits occurred, in part, because the affirmation shifted the way Latino students spontaneously responded to subsequent stressors. In particular, in response to an academic stressor salience task about their end-of-semester requirements, affirmed Latino students spontaneously generated more self-affirming and less self-threatening thoughts and feelings as assessed by an openended writing prompt. They also reported having a greater sense of their adequacy as assessed by measures of self-integrity, self-esteem, and hope, as well as higher academic belonging. Discussion centers on how and why motivational processes can trigger effects that persist over surprisingly long periods of time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)353-373
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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