Carnegie Mellon University
September 24, 2019

Conference Assembles Self-Affirmation Researchers

By Stefanie Johndrow

More than 50 researchers in the self-affirmation community gathered in Pittsburgh this summer for the Self-Affirmation: Mechanisms and Theory Conference.

Previous research has indicated that self-affirmation — the process of identifying and focusing on one’s most important values — is an effective approach to stress management. The conference highlighted three areas of self-affirmation research: health, education and social behavior.

Organized by Carnegie Mellon University’s Janine Dutcher and Kody Manke and the University of Pittsburgh’s Kevin Binning and Omid Fotuhi, the conference was an opportunity for junior and senior researchers to discuss the field of self-affirmation and learn from one another.

“When Kody and I arrived in 2016, we realized that we had this quorum of self-affirmation researchers in the Pittsburgh area between Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh, and so we talked for about a year about whether it made sense to bring some folks out from other parts of the country to come discuss self-affirmation,” said Dutcher, postdoctoral researcher in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and 2010 graduate of the Department of Psychology.

Dutcher continued, “One of the things that we’re pretty proud of is that we got people to this conference who haven’t used self-affirmation a ton. And the value of that is those people can ask different questions and get more insight, but it also challenges some of the people who have been doing this for a long time to think a little differently.”

“One thing I really loved about the conference was the opportunity it provided to think about — and maybe even help shape — the future of self-affirmation research,” said Manke, assistant professor of psychology. “We were able to have dialogue between people from different research areas that identified places for practical and theoretical advances moving forward, which will hopefully lead to novel and important research. We were also able to design the conference to highlight discussion about outstanding questions and gaps in our understanding — like better understanding how to ‘scale up’ the research to help more people live better lives.”

Manke also was excited about the future of the field embodied by the attendees.

“We literally had the next generation of self-affirmation researchers in the room, partly because we were able to help fund travel for many of the trainees in attendance,” Manke said. “They’re the ones in many cases who will be moving the research forward well into the future, and we were able to hear some of their research and connect junior folks with some of the foundational people in the field. I think the possibilities for collaboration are very exciting.”

For Eric Smith, a Ph.D. candidate in Stanford University’s Department of Psychology and a recipient of one of the trainee travel awards, interacting with an array of scholars was impactful. Smith presented on “The Importance of Conveying Broad Care When Introducing Values Affirmation Exercises” in one of the conference’s symposia.

“Presenting at the affirmation conference was an incredible experience. It was really nice to have a smaller community get together to discuss research, as I am more familiar with giant conferences where it can feel very passive — just listening to talks and not connecting with other researchers,” Smith said.

He continued, “This was the first conference I've attended where I felt like I really had impactful conversations with a range of scholars I wouldn't have interacted with otherwise, and I am so thankful for the organizers for putting together such an opportunity.”

Packed with flash talks, symposia and a poster session, attendees also had the opportunity to hear from Claude Steele, the founder of self-affirmation theory, in an interview with CMU’s David Creswell. In his own research, Creswell discovered that self-affirmation promotes recovery from breast cancer, improves problem-solving under stress and reduces biological stress reactivity.

The Society for Personality and Social Psychology and the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center provided funding for the conference.

Pictured above: Kody Manke, Omid Fotuhi, Janine Dutcher and Kevin Binning organized the Self-Affirmation: Mechanisms and Theory Conference.