Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2012

Document Type

Thesis

First Advisor

Akira Miyake Ph.D

Abstract

The current study examines the effect of stress on cognition, and the impact selfaffirmation has on the negative effects of stress. We introduced a threat manipulation of an impromptu speech, which was intended to significantly raise participants state anxiety. Prior to implementing this experimental stressor, we implemented an emotional intervention called a self-affirmation. In this self-affirmation, participants reinforced their most valued characteristics. Self-affirming was hypothesized to have the ability to alleviate the negative effects of the stressor on cognition, which was measured with three specific components. First, self-reported anxiety was measured throughout the experiment to assess changes in levels of anxiety. Second, a two-part thought suppression task was implemented to test the individual’s ability to regulate intrusions from neutral thoughts compared to stressful thoughts. Third, the high level effects of stress were tested using reaction time to threat related stimuli. The findings of the experiment demonstrate that self-affirmation has the ability to effectively reduce attentional bias towards negative, threat-related stimuli when individuals were under a fairly high amount of self-reported stress. In addition, the current study demonstrates that self-reported levels of anxiety did not change as a result of the self-affirmation. Rather, the benefits of the self-affirmation were seen in improvements in cognitive performance.

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