Self-Affirmation Among the Poor: Cognitive and Behavioral Implications

Crystal C. Hall, Jiaying Zhao, Eldar Shafir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


The poor are universally stigmatized. The stigma of poverty includes being perceived as incompetent and feeling shunned and disrespected. It can lead to cognitive distancing, diminish cognitive performance, and cause the poor to forego beneficial programs. In the present research, we examined how self-affirmation can mitigate the stigma of poverty through randomized field experiments involving low-income individuals at an inner-city soup kitchen. Because of low literacy levels, we used an oral rather than written affirmation procedure, in which participants verbally described a personal experience that made them feel successful or proud. Compared with nonaffirmed participants, affirmed individuals exhibited better executive control, higher fluid intelligence, and a greater willingness to avail themselves of benefits programs. The effects were not driven by elevated positive mood, and the same intervention did not affect the performance of wealthy participants. The findings suggest that self-affirmation can improve the cognitive performance and decisions of the poor, and it may have important policy implications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)619-625
Number of pages7
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • behavioral intervention
  • benefits take-up
  • cognition(s)
  • executive control
  • fluid intelligence
  • intervention
  • policy making
  • poverty
  • self-affirmation
  • stereotyped attitudes


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