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Reflecting on values transcends the self and increases love and acceptance

Previous research has shown that when people reflect on their values they are less defensive and more willing to accept information about behaviors which may be damaging to their health, such as smoking or drinking too much coffee. It was previously thought that this reduction in defensiveness results from a boost in self esteem. Yet, two recent studies by Jennifer Crocker and colleagues shows that reflecting on values transcends the self. This is because people are focusing on other people or things: they found that reflecting on values increases positive emotions such as love, empathy and acceptance. The authors state that the beneficial outcome of reflecting on values may arise from an increase in the love hormone Oxytocin.

The first study asked people to rank six values: government, religion/morality, social life, science, business, and arts.  Then the experimental group wrote for 10 minutes about their top value while the control group wrote about an unimportant value.  After this both groups rated how much love, empathy and other positive emotions they felt while writing: the researcher found that feelings of positive emotions were higher in the experimental group

The second study involved smokers and non smokers who wrote about an important or not important value.  Then both groups read a fake article about how smoking causes a bulge in the main artery of the heart.  Those in the study group were less defensive after reading the article.

 While the study did not look at whether people actually did change their behaviour, such as whether they gave up smoking or not, it did provide some clearer insight into how to encourage people to accept advice about their potentially life threatening behaviour practices.  The study has implications for the me centred world prevelant in modern culture, because focusing on values takes the spot light off the individual and encourages them to think about other things and people, and this increases positive emotions such as love, empathy and so on.  The authors say  ?these studies raise the prospect that reminding people what they love or care about may enable them to transcend the self and may foster learning under difficult circumstances?  To read the press release click here. To listen to Jennifer Crocker talk about some of her other research click here.

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