When are positive views of myself harmful? an experimental test of interactive effects of self-enhancement, stress severity, and context controllability on mental health

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Psychology


Department of Psychology


Advisor: Erin M. O'Mara


A wide array of research has shown that people tend to view themselves in a positively biased manner, known as self-enhancement. Some findings show that self-enhancement promotes positive mental health, while others reveal that it can be harmful. Recent research suggests that self-enhancement's impact on mental health during negative experiences depends on how stressful and controllable the experience is. It also suggests that one's motivation to address the negative experience affects the mental outcomes that manifest from self-enhancement. The main objectives of the present study were to examine how self-enhancement affects mental health while experimentally manipulating stress severity and context controllability, and identify the role of motivation in determining mental health outcomes through self-enhancement. Eighty-four undergraduate students completed questionnaires pertaining to dispositional self-enhancement, mental health, and motivation. Physiological measures of heart rate and blood pressure were collected before and after participants were told they would be presenting a speech in front of a panel of judges, in which stress severity and context controllability were manipulated through how the judges would behave and evaluate the speech. The results showed that self-enhancement, stress severity, and context controllability in the context of public speaking do not significantly interact to predict mental health or physiological reactivity, and motivation does not significantly mediate the association between these variables. The approach of examining the association under experimental conditions is unique from the previously conducted longitudinal methods and may contribute to the inconsistency in findings between studies. It may be that the controlled context of the experiment was too specific in order to observe the effects. Future research, however, is needed to further explore the possibility of testing the effects of self-enhancement, stress severity, and context controllability through natural and realistic contexts, yet with experimental control to see whether and how the effects occur.


Self-perception, Stress tolerance (Psychology), Self-deception, Speech anxiety, Clinical Psychology, context controllability, mental health, motivation, self-enhancement, stress severity

Rights Statement

Copyright © 2014, author