329 Values & Defensiveness

Researched by Crocker, Jennifer., Niiya, Yu., & Mischkowski, Dominik. (2008).

Written by Bethany Wellman, M.S.

Defensiveness to avoid criticism can be an obstacle in communicating effectively. Past research indicates that reflecting on an important value can reduce defensiveness.

To understand why, psychological researchers did two studies. Participants (about 250 undergraduates) ranked six values in order of personal importance. For 10 minutes, one group wrote about their most important value, the other wrote about their least important value. Then answered questions about their feelings when writing.

Results indicated that participants who discussed important values reported more positive feelings of love and connection, than those who wrote about an unimportant value. The second study, replicated this effect, but to elicit defensiveness they also reviewed information on unhealthy outcomes of smoking. Results showed smokers who wrote about a value that resulted in feelings of love and affection, were more likely to accept the article’s harmful findings compared with smokers who wrote about an unimportant value (thus, were more defensive). Love explained the relationship between values affirmation and acceptance of threatening information for smokers, but not for nonsmokers.

To help reduce defensiveness and increase concern for others outside ourselves, remember what is important, our values, rather than temporary self-threat and protecting ourselves.


Crocker, J., Niiya, Y., & Mischkowski, D. (2008). Why does writing about important values reduce defensiveness? Self-affirmation and the role of positive, other-directed feelingsPsychological Science, 19, 740-747.

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