Value affirmations, also known as self-affirmations, are positive assessments of one’s abilities, traits, and personality qualities. Value affirmations can increase self-esteem, self-worth, and fulfillment of one’s needs. When an individual recognizes their own worth and has a strong sense of identity and autonomy, they are more willing to help others meet their needs. This relationship between self-worth and prosocial behaviors has been examined in the past, but until now, few studies have looked at the effect of value affirmations on prosocial attitudes in adolescents. Sander Thomaes of the Department of Psychology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands recently conducted a study that sought to determine if subtle value affirmations could have a short-term and long-term positive effect on adolescents’ prosocial behaviors and attitudes during the crucial years of identity formation.
The participants were required to write down things that they felt were positive attributes about themselves. They were instructed to identify traits or skills they had and briefly write about them. Six weeks later, the teens were again required to acknowledge their positive traits during a booster exercise. Three months after the first writing exercise, the researchers noticed that the participants who practiced the subtle value affirmations were more inclined to exhibit prosocial behaviors than the participants in the control group. The effect was most noticeable among teens who had exhibited antisocial behaviors prior to the exercise. Thomaes believes that the results occurred for several reasons. First, teens with a strong sense of identity are not subject to the stress and pressure of trying to assimilate to others. Also, the students participated in the exercise as they transitioned into secondary school. This critical time in relationship formation was positively, rather than negatively, influenced by the feelings of love and fulfillment gained from the writing exercise. Thomaes added, “In summary, the practical value of the present research is that it identified value affirmations as a promising intervention technique, and illustrated the possibility of helping students to adopt a more prosocial orientation by allowing them to reflect on their personal values—by providing them a stronger sense of who they are.”
Thomaes, S., Bushman, B. J., De Castro, B. O., Reijntjes, A. Arousing “Gentle Passions” in Young Adolescents: Sustained Experimental Effects of Value Affirmations on Prosocial Feelings and Behaviors. Developmental Psychology 48.1 (2012): 103-10. Print.
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