Shattering the illusion: an examination of underlying cognitive and affective mechanisms of self-affirmation and their influence on reducing inflated perceived competence and aggression

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The goal of the current study was to examine whether the use of a value-affirmation manipulation can reduce the effects of ego threat in children with the positive illusory bias. Possible underlying cognitive and affective mechanisms of the value-affirmation task were also explored. No research, to date, has directly examined whether effects of the positive illusory bias can be decreased through intervention. Participants were 56 aggressive youth who were identified as having the positive illusory bias (overestimation of their social competence compared to teacher-report) and were randomly assigned to condition. Children in the experimental condition completed a value affirmation task while children in the control condition completed an unrelated written task. Findings from the current study did not support the proposed hypotheses. Children in the value affirmation condition did not report significantly lower social competence scores, nor did they exhibit lower levels of aggression. Notably, a significant change on self-reported behavioral competence was observed, with children in the value affirmation group reporting higher levels of behavioral competence. Additionally, children across conditions who did evidence a decrease in social competence scores reported higher levels of sadness following the negative feedback. This has important clinical implications, indicating that as children become more accurately aware of their status with peers, they may experience feelings of sadness. Targeting skill acquisition to adaptively express and regulate emotions, specifically sadness, may be indicated in the treatment of aggressive youth with the positive illusory bias. Finally, there was no evidence to suggest the cognitive and affective processes examined were active mechanisms of the value affirmation.

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