Self Affirmation Research Group (SARG)

Our research

The Self-Affirmation Research Group (SARG) at the University of Sussex is the largest group of researchers in the UK with research interests in self-affirmation. We meet regularly in a relaxed and informal setting to discuss findings and ideas from our own research as well as that of other researchers. We also host visiting speakers, including some of the leading self-affirmation researchers in the world. If you would like to come along to, or speak at, one of our meetings, let us know by contacting SARG@sussex.ac.uk.

We are interested in both theory and application: not only how self-affirmation works but also how it can be best applied. SARG researchers have made important contributions in both of these respects, especially as applied to health, education and the environment. You can find a list of our various publications on these topics here.

Health

We use Self-Affirmation Theory to help us understand more about why people often resist information about how they could change their behaviour to improve their health, such as through diet, exercise and reductions in alcohol or cigarette consumption. Given the extent to which lifestyle issues, including the growing prevalence of obesity and being overweight, are contributing to health problems nationally and internationally, this is an important area of research.

Self-affirmation is one of few interventions that can influence how people respond to health-risk information without changing the content or style of the message; instead, it can promote more open-minded and less defensive message processing, even among those who would otherwise be most likely to resist the message. We are also interested in health inequalities and in investigating how self-affirmation may influence well-being.

Our blog post for health practitioners provides more information about self-affirmation in healthcare, including how it can help patients respond more effectively to difficult health messages.

Education

Students from poorer families aren’t meeting their academic potential in schools in England. The figures are stark: for example, students from the poorest 15% of families are only around half as likely to get ‘good’ GCSE results as their better-off peers. Evidence suggests that stereotype threat might be responsible for up to 40% of this gap, and that self-affirmation is a promising antidote.

We recently tested this in a school in England. Low-income students who undertook a series of three 20-minute self-affirmation exercises closed the gap in maths performance with their better-off peers by over a half. This is a remarkable outcome from a simple low-cost intervention. We are currently undertaking a large-scale trial to examine the effects of self-affirmation on GCSE results.

Environment

Climate change, plastic pollution, deteriorating air quality, and food waste are just some of the environmental challenges that we face. SARG researchers are exploring whether and how self-affirmation can help us understand and perhaps change the ways in which we respond, individually and collectively, to such challenges.

Individual differences in self-affirmation

Since Steele laid the foundations of Self-Affirmation Theory in 1988, research has tended to focus on experimental manipulations of self-affirmation. We have extended this by developing a measure of individual differences in tendency to report responding to threats by self-affirming. You can download the measure here: The Spontaneous Self-Affirmation Measure (SSAM) [PDF 85.25KB] and the paper describing its development and validation here: Individual Differences in Self-Affirmation [PDF 803KB].

If you have any questions about the measure and how to use it, please email Peter Harris at p.r.harris@sussex.ac.uk.