People in the study improved their cognitive functioning by an amount equivalent to 10 IQ points. Recalling a past success could be enough to raise IQ by 10%, research finds. People who were asked to ‘self-affirm’ improved their cognitive functioning by an amount equivalent to 10 IQ points. Self-affirmation involves writing (or thinking) about core values, such as relationships with family, creativity or aesthetic preferences, whatever feels most important.
The study was carried out on people living in poverty. It was designed to see if a simple procedure could help them overcome the powerful stigma and low self-worth they were experiencing. Professor Jiaying Zhao, who led the study, said:
“This study shows that surprisingly simple acts of self-affirmation improve the cognitive function and behavioral outcomes of people in poverty.”
Previous research has shown that living in poverty consumes a large amount of mental energy. This can reduce the amount of mental ‘bandwidth’ available for other parts of life. For the study, almost 150 people in a New Jersey soup kitchen were asked to record a personal story of a past success.
They were compared to a control group. The self-affirmation helped people do better on cognitive tests and they were subsequently more likely to seek information on aid from local government services. Other studies have shown that self-affirmation can help increase the test scores of marginalised groups, such as African-American students and female maths students.
The study was published in the journal Psychological Science (Hall et al., 2014).
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