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Fluid compensation following threats to self-concept clarity

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We examined defensive responses to self-clarity threats, finding that self-uncertain participants gave larger rewards to a social hero, but larger punishments to a social transgressor, than self-certain participants (Study 1). To examine whether there are individual differences in defensiveness to meaning threats, we included moderators, showing that high self-esteem individuals (HSE) thinking about self-inconsistencies gave more polarized evaluations of someone criticizing vs. complimenting their ingroup than self-consistent HSEs (Study 2). We found similar responses to a relational self-clarity threat, among individuals for whom relationships are self-defining (Study 3). Results held controlling for the impact of the self-clarity manipulations on self-esteem. This research is compatible with the meaning maintenance model, which stipulates that various meaning threats elicit fluid compensatory efforts designed to restore general feelings of meaningfulness. We discuss limitations and future directions.
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Keywords: Meaning; relational self; self-concept clarity; self-defense; self-esteem

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, Bates College, Lewiston, ME, USA 2: Universal McCann, New York, NY, USA 3: Kennebec Valley Community College, Fairfield, ME, USA

Publication date: March 3, 2016

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