Sherman (2013) proposed that the affirmation of an individual’s self-worth in one area can protect against negative behaviours in other areas. Rubin (2020) hypothesised that greater intentions for using time management strategies will occur in participants who self-affirm before watching a persuasive video message. In the present research, 414 participants who were undergraduate students from an Australian university or from an international participant pool called Prolific responded to an online Britton and Tesser’s TM Questionnaire after completing both, a writing task either present or absent of self-affirmation and viewing a persuasive video message. Participants in the self-affirmation condition had greater intentions to use time management strategies. Contrary to predictions, this research demonstrates no significant evidence for our hypothesis. This could be attributed to shortcomings in the methodology and research design that does not consider all immediate factors.
Minutes Before the Deadline: The Effects of Self-Affirmation on Attitudes Towards an Individual’s Intention to Adopt Time Management Strategies
Rubin (2020) states that “self-affirmation occurs when people highlight the positive aspects of themselves that they value”. The self has an objective to protect the integrity of an individual, when there is a threat to this, a defensive response can occur (Sherman & Cohen, 2006). In this situation self-affirmation could uncouple the connection between one’s integrity and hostility to a different attitude and reduce the impact leaving the individual more receptive to persuasive messages (Sherman, 2013). Therefore, the use of self-affirmation can result in less defensive behaviours from an individual, increasing the chance that they will adopt to attitude changing behaviours. For instance, eating healthy foods and exercising to avoid obesity or diabetes. The effect self-affirmation can have on attitude change is important as this natural defensive motivation where people do not want to admit their wrongs or shortcomings can lead to risky and unhealthy behaviours. Understanding this effect can allow for an approach towards attitude change that reduces or improves unhealthy behaviours.
The rationale behind this study lies in the importance of generalisation across various settings to provide evidence for the effect of self-affirmation. Previous research has surrounded the implications of self-affirmation in the sole context of health and improvements in unhealthy behaviours that can help or reduce the harm for people at risk by how they receive healthy behaviour promoting messages (Epton, Harris, Kane, van Koningsbruggen, & Sheeran, 2015; Sweeney, & Moyer, 2015, as cited in Rubin, 2020). To demonstrate that this effect can generalise across contexts, the present research differs by considering whether the same self-affirmation effect from this theory, can be replicated in an educational context. Although there has been prior research for self-affirmation in educational settings there has not been any specification on time management. Instead, the focus has been on academic achievement and, the influence affirming a valued attribute has on performance between genders (Martens et al., 2017).
University students have many deadlines that require a good sense of time management. Since these are tied directly to achievement and performance, some students can become defensive when improving their strategies is mentioned as there is a want not to be wrong or to admit shortcomings. If by thinking positively about their attributes, they can become less defensive and more accepting towards changing their attitude about time management strategies to allow for the beginning of healthier and more efficient time management behaviours, then self-affirmation is useful. Therefore, this research study aims to test the self-affirmation effect. Whether a university student’s intentions to use time management strategies after exposure to a persuasive video message can be significantly influenced by the presence or absence of self-affirmation.
The independent variable of this research is self-affirmation and whether this was present or absent. We manipulated this through writing tasks on allowing each participant to show a value that was either important or not important to them. The self-affirmation writing task version promoted positive thinking about themself while the control condition absent of self-affirmation forced the participants to write about a value that displays the negative or insecure aspects of themselves. This created mindset has a predicted influence on the level of intention towards adopting time management strategies and whether the participant is more or less defensive. The dependent variable is the intention to adopt time management strategies. We measured these intentions via an adapted version of Britton and Tesser;s (1991) Time Management Questionnaire.
Based on the previous research on the Self-Affirmation Theory (Sherman, 2013; Sherman & Cohen, 2006) and receptiveness to messages (Epton et al., 2015; Sweeney, & Moyer, 2015, as cited in Rubin, 2020), Rubin (2020) assumed that self-affirmation would stimulate stronger intentions to adopt time management strategies. Therefore, Rubin (2020) hypothesised that there should be a greater intention for an individual to use time management strategies after viewing a persuasive video message that encourages time management improvement if they have self-affirmed beforehand.
There were a total number of 414 participants who were either undergraduate students enrolled in an Australian university or from an international participant pool called Prolific. Participants included 124 men, 285 women and 5 participants who identified as other. These participants had a mean age of 22.94 years (SD = 6.56). Randomisation occurred in the assigning of conditions for participants. There were 226 participants randomly assigned to the control condition of no self-affirmation and 188 participants randomly assigned to the self-affirmation condition.
Measures and Procedure
We followed the procedure depicted by Rubin (2020). We conducted this research using an online survey involving three sections: a writing task, a persuasive video message and a time management questionnaire.
This between-groups design randomly assigned participants to either the control or self-affirmation conditions. In the control condition, self-affirmation was absent as we asked participants to write about a value of their choice from the ten listed that was least important to them. In the self-affirmation condition, we asked participants to write about a value from the ten listed that was most important to them. They responded to the question “Please explain how you have shown this value outside of your university life”.
After completing the writing task, the participants viewed a 2-minute persuasive message video called “Time Management Mistakes” that encourages using time management strategies by identifying common time management mistakes and their negative effect on the participants.
After the participants have responded to the writing task and viewed the video, we then measured their intention to use time management strategies in the future via a questionnaire. We used an adapted version of Britton and Tesser’s (1991) Time Management Questionnaire. This questionnaire consists of 17 statements about intentions to adopt time management strategies. Participants rated their opinion via a 7-point Likert scale anchored at each end of 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 7 (Strongly Agree). Participants completed the research study in approximately 15 minutes.
The Cronbach alpha coefficient was .90 for the 17 intention to adopt time management strategies (IATMS) items measured in the adapted version of Britton & Tesser’s Time Management Questionnaire, indicating a strong internal reliability.
We averaged the scores from the 17 items across the IATMS scale to result in an overall index of a single average score. This score ranged between 1 and 7 for each participant. Depicting 1, as a minimum indicating little intention to adopt the time management strategies and 7 as the maximum or stronger intention to use these strategies in the future.
We performed an independent samples t-test on the participants’ mean scores for the IATMS data, comparing between our control and self-affirmation conditions. Participants randomly assigned to the self-affirmation condition demonstrated a greater intention to adopt time management strategies in the future (M = 5.22, SD = 1.03) than the participants within the control condition (M = 5.13, SD = 0.87). Therefore, we found no significant difference between our conditions.
This positive direction, while consistent with our hypothesis, did not support our predictions of the effect self-affirmation has on intentions to adopt time management strategies as it was not statistically significant t(401) = -0.97, p = .330.
Consistent with the hypothesis, participants in the self-affirmation condition had stronger intentions to adopt time management strategies than participants in the control condition. However, contrary to predictions, although there was a positive influence, the effect of self-affirmation was not statistically significant.
The theory and hypotheses are correct as supported by previous research, whereas the methodology and research design may have limitations. This explains how the expected results of a positive direction between self-affirmation and our dependent variable can occur while also the unexpected outcome of a non-significant effect for self-affirmation in this research design.
In the previous research, there is the same manipulation of the self-affirmation variable, but the dependent variables and the results differ. The results discovered within recent meta-analyses conveyed that self-affirmation has a significant effect in regards to attitude change when in the position to be persuaded by received messages (Epton et al.,2015; Sweeney, & Moyer, 2015, as cited in Rubin, 2020). However, in the present research, the results differ. Whereby, this significance between self-affirmation and changed attitudes towards a dependent variable was not found. In the present research, the self-affirmation effect was applied to an educational context which contrasts to the purely health-based domain of the previous research into self-affirmation. This was to demonstrate the generalisability of this effect outside of purely health-related outcomes. This present research was also advantageous in the better manipulation of the self-affirmation variable despite the differing results.
An alternative explanation to consider is the possibility that the hypothesis and theory are invalid for this specific domain. The items on Britton and Tesser’s Time Management Questionnaire tested for strong internal reliability and was adapted specifically towards constructs and content within the educational area. There is a chance that the hypothesis could be invalid as the new domain of time management lacks extensive research.
Yet, there is still a preference for the primary explanation in which the hypothesis and theory are valid, and it is the methodology and research design that has a weakness. The hypothesis for the self-affirmation effect is founded throughout previous research and not just within the health field. Covering domains differing and similar to time management; there is a demonstration of similar outcomes of statistical significance. When looking at activity in the part of the brain responsible for positive valuation, Falk et al. (2015) noticed that participants in self-affirmation conditions had more activity levels. Harris, Harris & Miles (2017) studied the influence of self-affirmation on the performance of executive functioning tasks such as inhibition. Inhibition in the form of goal maintenance and attentional vigilance for self-regulation or, to be able to remain concentrated on a goal regardless of distractions, was seen to be better performed by those who self-affirmed. Therefore, since managing distractions and prioritising are essential components of efficient time management strategies, an increase in executive functioning would make it more likely that time management would display a significant effect.
Hanselman et al. (2017) at the time of conducting a large-scale experiment as a replication of the same method a smaller sample used to generate a significant positive impact, demonstrated no evidence of a significant effect. Even though the setting and procedure were the same, the large sample size for some unknown reasoning did not have the same results. Therefore, the research design of 414 participants could be too large of a sample to produce the expected results of statistical significance.
A limitation of this research study could reflect the influence of sample size as an explanation for non-significant results. We are unable to establish what within this research study that self-affirmation has a statistically significant effect on behaviours or attitude change.
Future research into this domain should continue to demonstrate variance in sample size to ascertain whether, for an educational context, if smaller sample sizes are required to produce a significant effect. Future research should also consider other factors that influence the specific topic of time management strategies for university students. As personality traits have an impact on behaviours and attitudes, an approach could consider the Big 5 personality traits, especially Conscientiousness. The ability to prioritise and manage distractions are characteristics of people who are self-disciplined and strive for achievement, those who are high in Conscientiousness. Therefore, people scoring low in Conscientiousness would have different results to those who are high in Conscientiousness if the effect of self-affirmation were generalised for certain personality traits.
The findings of this present research do not support the hypothesis of self-affirmation affecting intentions to adopt time management strategies but does not disprove the self-affirmation theory. As a modern study without any prior research into this area, the purpose, or implications on the real world that the results from this research can have would be to commence further research. Pointing out time management as a focal point for university students and acknowledging that there was a positive effect between attributing a positive value to yourself so that you can overcome your defences to change towards better attitudes and healthier behaviours.