New study at Renison gets international attention

Marigold talks to students

Research by Renison Professor Denise Marigold suggests that not everyone wants cheering up, and people around the world are taking notice.  

Marigold, Assistant Professor, Social Development Studies, and lead author of the article, will have her team's findings appear in the July issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. More than 50 news outlets have shared her findings, including The New York Times, the Huffington Post, New York Magazine, the Pacific StandardGlobal News, and The Guardian, as well as on NBC's Today Show. 

Listen to an interview with Marigold on the 570 News Midday Show

People with low self-esteem have overly negative views of themselves, and often interpret critical feedback, romantic rejections, or unsuccessful job applications as evidence of their general unworthiness. In a series of studies, Marigold and her colleagues at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University found that they likely don't want you to try to boost their spirits.

"People with low self-esteem want their loved ones to see them as they see themselves. As such, they are often resistant to their friends’ reminders of how positively they see them and reject what we call positive reframing–expressions of optimism and encouragement for bettering their situation," said Marigold.

These individuals usually prefer negative validation, which conveys that the feelings, actions or responses of the recipient are normal, reasonable, and appropriate to the situation. So a friend could express understanding about the predicament or for the difficulty of situation, and suggest that expressing negative emotions is appropriate and understandable.

The researchers found no evidence that positive reframing helps participants with low self-esteem. And in fact, the people providing support to friends with low self-esteem often felt worse about themselves when they attempted to cheer up their friend.

Some study participants indicated that supporting friends with low self-esteem could be frustrating and tiring. The researchers found that when these support providers used positive reframing instead of negative validation in these situations, they often believed the interaction went poorly, perhaps because the friends with low self-esteem were not receptive and the efforts didn't work.

"If your attempt to point out the silver lining is met with a sullen reminder of the prevailing dark cloud, you might do best to just acknowledge the dark cloud and sympathize," said Professor Marigold.

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