Much research has shown that after being self-affirmed, people respond to challenges in healthy, productive ways, including better task performance. The current research demonstrates that self-affirmation can also deflate motivation and performance, a pattern consistent with goal disengagement. We posited that being self-affirmed and then attempting but failing at a task would lead people to retreat from the goal. In support of this hypothesis, 4 experiments found that the combination of self-affirmation and the experience of failure led to demotivation and effort reduction. Experiment 1 found that self-affirmed participants, more so than nonaffirmed participants, reported being open to goal disengagement. Experiment 2 found that affirming core values before trying a task beset with failure reduced task motivation and performance. Experiment 3 demonstrated the robustness of the effect and found that failure on one task reduced motivation and performance on a new but related task. Experiment 4 revealed that being self-affirmed and experiencing failure caused participants to feel less capable of pursuing their goals, which produced poorer performance. These findings suggest that affirming the self can lead people to internalize the implications of failure, which in turn leads to goal disengagement.
- Goal disengagement