Attention control skills may counter negative effects of social rejection

November 14th, 2007 - 2:07 am ICT by admin  
“Social rejection is inevitable in society. But our findings suggest that if people with low self-esteem can improve their attention control skills, they might feel less terrible about themselves and counter the negative effects of rejection,” said Anett Gyurak, a graduate student who co-authored the study with Ozlem Ayduk, a UC Berkeley assistant professor of psychology.

The researchers admit that further research is required to develop remedies to improve attention control. They, however, speculate that training the mind to focus for extended time periods and behavioural therapy that teaches people with low self-esteem to take a more positive or contextual approach to disappointment may help.

Published in the journal Psychological Science, the study involved 38 females and 29 males. All the participants filled out a questionnaire known as the Rosenberg self-esteem scale, which is the most widely used self-esteem measure in the social sciences.

Thereafter, they completed a questionnaire on their ability to focus on tasks at hand without distraction.

Depending on how the participants scored on the Rosenberg scale, the researchers organised them into two groups-low self-esteem and normal-to-high self-esteem. Each participant viewed images showing positive, neutral, negative and rejection themes while being subjected to sporadic loud noises.

The researchers measured the force of the participants’ eye-blinks in response to the abrupt sounds so as to judge their threat response, a reflex that prepares the body to “fight” or “flee” from perceived attack or harm to survival. They used paintings to stimulate a variety of emotions.

“This ancient evolutionary system is incredibly useful when we are faced with a real physical threat and need to flee quickly from harm’s way. But in this experiment, participants were minimally threatened in that they were simply asked to view emotionally charged paintings,” Gyurak said.

The researchers found that all the participants blinked more strongly with each sound in response to such negative images as dead animals or mutilated bodies. However, people with low self-esteem blinked more forcefully in response to rejection themes such as the lonely, alienated people in Edward Hopper’s paintings.

Paintings with negative themes or acceptance themes, such as lovers embracing, did not elicit the same response in people with low self-esteem, say the researchers.

“The potency with which rejection activates the threat system in people with low self-esteem suggests that fear of rejection runs extremely deep in low self-esteem people,” Gyurak said.

What emerged as an even more encouraging finding was that people with low self-esteem, who scored higher for attention control-such as the ability to focus-were able to tone down their knee-jerk reactions to perceived threats.

“These results show how maladjustment, such as low self-esteem, is determined on many levels, and that having a vulnerability factor such as low self-esteem can be overcome by the ability to control attention, opening the possibility for interventions in populations at risk for mental health problems,” Ayduk said.

“Low self-esteem is heavy baggage that plagues people with feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. This study suggests that improving concentration and focusing abilities could stop this negative cycle,” Gyurak added. (ANI)

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