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Surprising Science

How Self-Critical People Can Build Confidence Following a Big Win

Researchers find a technique to help encourage self-critical people to accept their successes and build confidence.

No matter how much evidence may prove someone’s worth, some people have such low self-belief that they can’t “generalize from success,” writes BPS. However, psychologist Peter Zunick and his team think they’ve found a technique to help these kinds of people change their way of thinking. They write about it in their recent paper; it’s called directed abstraction.

I’m not sure what it means either. BPS breaks-down the definition:

“Direct abstraction means stopping to consider how a specific success may have more general implications — this is the abstraction part — and also ensuring this thinking is directed towards how personal qualities were key to the success.”

Zunick and his colleagues write how this might be put into practice. In one study with 86 students, the researchers had the participants guess the number of dots flashed up on a screen. All were given fake, positive feedback on their performance. Here’s where the group splits: half the students were ask to describe the techniques they used to successfully complete the task. The other half were told to engage in direct abstraction, repeating the phrase “I was able to score very high on the test because I am: … ” This mantra allows the individuals to focus on their own qualities.

The latter participants, even those who had reported a low self-belief in their abilities, began to have more confidence in their estimations as the study continued.

The researchers tried to replicate these results in another experiment that dealt with a more real-life scenario: public speaking. In this experiment, the team found 59 students who had little faith in their public-speaking skills. The researchers gave them a fairly easy topic to talk about: campus life. They filmed each student in front of a camera talking about the topic. The students then watched themselves with the experimenter giving them praise throughout the viewing.

The students were then told to either tell the researchers how they were able to do so well or engage in direct abstraction (e.g., I was able to speak well on this topic because I am: …). After completing this task, they were thrown another topic — a bit harder this time with no researchers to soften the blow with praise.

But the million-dollar question that everyone wants to know is did the direct abstraction work?

After viewing the second-round video, individuals in the direct abstraction group reported an increase in confidence in their public-speaking skills.

Of course, use caution with this technique; employing it only on occasions where success can be seen. It may be good to have an “accountabilabuddy” to keep you honest.

Read more at BPS.

Photo Credit: JEWEL SAMAD/Getty Images


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