Thursday, June 18, 2009

When 'Positive Thinking' Rings Hollow

I've always been skeptical of the 'self help' industry. Sure there's always room for self improvement and there's a lot of good advice out there, but I often find many of the 'positive thinking' gurus slimy, shallow, and hollow. It seems to me that they play on a person's innate insecurity. Now a study from the University of Waterloo suggests that 'positive affirmations' can do more harm than good if you don't believe them:

As the researchers report in Psychological Science, those with high self-esteem who repeated “I’m a lovable person” scored an average of 31 [out of 35] on their mood assessment compared with an average of 25 by those who did not repeat the phrase. Among participants with low self-esteem, those making the statement scored a dismal average of 10 while those that did not managed a brighter average of 17.

Dr Wood suggests that positive self-statements cause negative moods in people with low self-esteem because they conflict with those people’s views of themselves. When positive self-statements strongly conflict with self-perception, she argues, there is not mere resistance but a reinforcing of self-perception. People who view themselves as unlovable find saying that they are so unbelievable that it strengthens their own negative view rather than reversing it. Given that many readers of self-help books that encourage positive self-statements are likely to suffer from low self-esteem, they may be worse than useless.

"Worse than useless." That's a harsh criticism, but it seems to fit the facts.


Blame Crash said...

This “study” just might have a point, but and then again, maybe it’s just another case of slagging the competition.

I have an idea for another “study” these “social scientists” can do. They could do an investigation on how many times their own profession has made mistakes and how much damage it’s done to society. I’ll be looking forward to that one.

Owen said...

This was a beautiful and uplifting post.

karim said...

Good one on positivethinking and it helps a lot.

Karim - Positive thinking