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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 self-enhancement can be harmful to mental health. Recent research suggests that self-enhancement’s impact on mental health during negative experiences depends on context controllability and stress severity. It also suggests that one’s motivation to address the negative experience affects the mental outcomes manifested from self-enhancement. The main objectives of the present study are to a) experimentally examine how self-enhancement, stress severity, and context controllability interact to affect mental health, b) identify the role of motivation in determining mental health outcomes through self-enhancement, and c) examine if physiological reactivity to stress changes depending on one’s degree of expressing self-enhancement. Undergraduate students completed questionnaires pertaining to self-enhancement, mental health, and motivation. The participants also experienced stress by being told they will present a speech to a panel of judges who will evaluate their speech and performance. They were told the judges are either warm and kind (low stress) or cold and harsh (high stress), and tend to evaluate the performance based either on the quality of the speech (high control) or on their own personal views (low control). Physiological measures of heart rate and blood pressure were taken before and after the participants were introduced to the speech task. This study provides an understanding as to how stress severity and context controllability interact with self-enhancement to predict mental health, and how motivation affects the interaction. Additionally, it contributes to answering the question of when self-enhancement is helpful, and when it is harmful, for mental health.

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Graduate Research

Primary Advisor

Erin O'Mara

Primary Advisor's Department



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