Self Affirmation Research Group (SARG)


Forthcoming events

Watch this space for future events!


Selected past events

The Sussex joint EASP-SPSSI Meeting: Self-affirmation in Education, June 27-28, 2019.

Why, when, and how are self-affirmation interventions effective at reducing educational inequalities?

Thirty researchers from across the world came together in Sussex at the end of June for a two-day meeting to discuss a social psychological intervention involving self-affirmation that is showing great promise in increasing the educational attainment of disadvantaged groups of school and college students and of women in STEM subjects.

Students can feel that they are expected to do badly in school or college simply because of their social, economic or ethnic background or (in some subjects) their gender. This can induce stereotype threat – a fear that they will confirm those negative expectations – which significantly impairs their academic performance. An intervention involving self-affirmation encourages students to reflect on something about themselves and their life that is important to them. This can enable the students to focus less on this sense of stereotype threat and as a result engage better with school or college and improve their academic performance.

Those present at the meeting discussed studies from England, Europe and the USA that have shown how this brief intervention has reduced the attainment gap of groups of students with important consequences for their educational (and life) trajectories. Some of the most established findings have come from studies in the USA, where researchers have found that the intervention increased African American students' probability of enrolling in college up to nine years later, and that those who did enrol chose relatively more selective colleges. Researchers from the School of Psychology at Sussex (Matt Easterbrook, Peter Harris, Robin Banerjee and Ian Hadden) reported on their programme of research using the intervention to improve the attainment of economically disadvantaged pupils in England, funded by the Education Endowment Foundation, which is the largest trial to date of the intervention conducted worldwide.

The meeting, sponsored by the European Association of Social Psychology and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, and organised under the auspices of the School of Psychology’s Self-Affirmation Research Group (SARG), was the first of its kind. It featured key contributions from the leading researchers from across the globe. These includied Claude Steele (Stanford) who first proposed the theories of self-affirmation and of stereotype threat, and Geoff Cohen (Stanford), Valerie Purdie-Greenaway (Columbia), and David Sherman (UC Santa Barbara), who pioneered the application of self-affirmation to education, Geoffrey Borman (Wisconsin-Madison) who is working to understand how self-affirmation can be used at large scale in schools, and Judy Harackiewicz (Wisconsin-Madison) who is leading research in the interface between self-affirmation and other targeted interventions. Contributions from such leading thinkers were complemented by contributions from early career researchers – including postgraduate students – and on communicating with policy makers, provided by the UK’s Behavioural Insights Team.

Two of the members of SARG, Dr Matt Easterbrook and Professor Peter Harris, helped organise the meeting (along with Professor David Sherman) and its funding. Speaking after the event, the principal organiser Dr Easterbrook said: “Self-affirmation interventions can have profoundly positive consequences for certain groups of pupils in particular contexts. Yet, they do not always produce these effects and, as interest in scaling-up the intervention increases, it was invaluable to bring the leading and up-and-coming researchers in the field together to discuss when, how, why, and for whom self-affirmation interventions are most effective.

“The meeting really enabled us to take stock of the key questions that the field should be trying to answer, form new collaborations, and to start to plan the next wave of studies.

“We are continuing the discussions and collaborations and have plans to capture the proceedings in a special issue of a journal.

“It was a very inspiring meeting that I am sure will help to take the field forward."

Meeting schedule [PDF 73.78KB]


And here are some photos from the meeting:


Dr Lambros Lazuras, 7 May 2019

Dr Lambros Lazuras of Sheffield Hallam University visited the team to talk to us about his research into self-affirmation, where he is looking at a remarkably wide range of potential novel applications. These include reducing steroid use in elite and non-elite sports, addressing behaviours that increase risk when driving, lowering the incidence of and damage caused by cyberbullying, and reducing self-disgust at one’s actions or physical appearance. Lambros’s visit was so inspiring that he is now an honorary member of the team and we hope to see him on a regular basis in future! 

The SARG team with Lambros Lazuras.Lambros with some of the team in our sun-dappled grounds on a slightly chilly May afternoon. Lambros is third from the right.


Writing about Values: Interim feedback event for schools, 10 December 2018

During 2016-17, several members of our team undertook a large-scale trial to examine the effects of self-affirmation on the educational attainment of 14-16 year olds. The study was funded by the UK's Education Endowment Foundation and we recently invited staff from the 29 participating schools to hear details of the study and review the interim results. We were lucky to get lots of positive feedback from the schools and a range of ideas for what could be done to help move self-affirmation from research to large-scale implementation.

 EEF feedback event composite image


Professor David Sherman, 29-30 June 2017

Professor David Sherman, UCSB, visited the team on 29-30 June 2017. As well as presenting a public colloqium focusing on the current state of our understanding  of self-affirmation, David and the team shared ideas on potential future paths for research in this exciting area.

David enjoying a rare sunny English summer day with the team in our lovely meadow. David is seated and in the brown jacket.David enjoying a rare sunny English summer day with the team in our lovely meadow. David is seated and in the brown jacket.


Dr Allecia Reid, 7 June 2017

Dr Allecia Reid, University of Massachusetts Amherst, visited the team to present her work on peer influences on alcohol use and the implications of social psychological processes for behaviour change.

Allecia ReidAllecia Reid


Dr Bill Klein, 29-30 June 2015

Dr Bill Klein, Associate Director of Behavioral Research at the National Cancer Institute USA and Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, visited the team to discuss his work and present a colloquium talk "Psychology meets cancer: The pursuit of hovering motives."

Bill KleinBill Klein


Professor David Sherman, 21-22 May 2014

In Professor Sherman's first visit to our research group, he presented an overview of the effects of self-affirmations in domains such as health, stress, and academic performance, and proposed a model for these effects. The model focused on three components: Self-affirmations boost psychological resources, broaden the perspective with which people view information and events in their lives, and lead to an uncoupling of the self and the threat, reducing the threat’s impact in affecting the self.

David ShermanDavid Sherman