Failure is a part of life. How an individual perceives their failure gives an indication of their overall sense of well-being and adjustment. Reflecting on past failures through imagery can provide even further detail into the one’s coping strategies. “As people recall and imagine life events, they often form mental images of those events and may do so from different visual perspectives,” said Lisa K. Libby of the Department of Psychology at Ohio State University. “With the first-person perspective, one sees the event from their own vantage point, as an actor in the scene; with the third-person perspective, one sees the event from an external vantage point, watching the self. This subtle phenomenological variable can have powerful effects on responses to pictured events, influencing judgment, emotion, and behavior.” Libby was interested to see if this shift in perspective was influenced by self-esteem, or if self-esteem played a role in how perspective affected one’s perception of failure. “One of the most well documented differences between low- and high-self-esteem individuals (LSEs and HSEs) is in how they react to failure: LSEs have more extreme negative reactions,” said Libby. “In particular, LSEs are prone to overgeneralize, a response style that is characterized by ‘a tendency to bring thoughts of personal inadequacy to mind and/or experience a reduction in the sense of self-worth.’”
Libby and her colleagues enrolled 83 undergraduate students in their study. The students were instructed to recall a failure they had experienced or to imagine one, from whichever perspective came naturally. The results revealed that LSE’s overgeneralized when they viewed their failures from the third-person. “In contrast, no such effects of self-esteem emerged when individuals pictured failure from the first-person perspective.” Libby added, “Further, among LSEs, picturing failure from the third-person, as opposed to first-person, perspective produced greater negativity in accessible self-knowledge and greater shame. Among HSEs, no such detrimental effects of third person imagery occurred—only beneficial effects.” Libby believes these results have important implications for understanding how clients cope with failure in their lives.
Libby, L. K., Valenti, G., Pfent, A., & Eibach, R. P. (2011, November 7). Seeing Failure in Your Life: Imagery Perspective Determines Whether Self-Esteem Shapes Reactions to Recalled and Imagined Failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026105
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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