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The Effects Of Excuse Validation In Reducing Negative Affect Essay, Research Paper

Excuse-making is a common strategy people invoke to feel better following a negative event. When excuses are advanced in public, their effectiveness may depend on whether they are validated by others. The present study was conducted to assess the emotional impact on participants of having their excuses validated by a supportive stranger in a conversation about a real life negative event, as compared to receiving no support from an attentive audience. Participants were thirty one male and thirtynine female undergraduate students, who participated for course credit. participants’ affective state was assessed prior to and after talking to a supportive stranger who either validated or did not validate their excuses. It was hypothesized that participants in the excuse-validation condition would report lower levels of negative affect at the post-conversation assessment than participants whose excuses were not validated. The results indicated that excuse-validation is an effective form of social support and is necessary for publicly made excuses to alleviate negative affect.

Social psychology is replete with evidence that people who receive information that threatens their sense of self, such as a negative evaluation, will distort the information in self-serving ways (see Miller & Porter, 1988; Snyder & Higgins, 1988; Taylor & Brown, 1988, for reviews). Snyder, Higgins, and Stucky (1983) have demonstrated that making excuses (e.g., trivializing negative feedback, making an external attribution for the cause of an unfavorable outcome) is a common way in which people attempt to construct a less threatening reality following upsetting experiences.

In vestigations of excuses and related processes tend to focus on excuses people make in private, laboratory contexts after receiving some form of negative feedback (see Snyder & Higgins, 1988, for a review). The results of this research suggest that processes that help people evade responsibility for their negative outcomes, such as excuses, are beneficial. Excuses preserve people’s self-concepts and alleviate negative affect associated with unfavorable outcomes (Snyder & Higgins, 1988; Taylor & Brown, 1988).

It is unclear whether excuses provide relief from negative events when they are advanced outside of the lab, in public contexts. Few researchers have assessed the effectiveness of publicly-made excuses. Three studies (Denton & Zarbatany, 1995; mehlman & Snyder, 1985; Schonback, 1990), however, suggest the effectiveness of publicly-made excuses may depend on the audience who receives the excuse and context in which the excuse is invoked.

A study by Schonback (1990) revealed that audiences in competitive or antagonistic contexts (e.g., people on an opposing side of a dispute) have a vested interest in challenging people’s excuses, which constrains the excuse-maker’s ability to evade responsibility and to alleviate negative affect. Similarly, a study by Mehlman and Snyder (1985) demonstrated that excuses examined by an “all knowing” electronic audience in an experimental context were constrained by anticipated challenges to their validity, and, therefore, less effective than privately-made, unexamined excuses in relieving negative affect.

In contrast, in a study of social support strategy effectiveness, Dendton and Zarbatany (a995) observed that when people discussed real life negative experiences with friends during supportive conversations, their friends not only agreed with their excuses (i.e., provided excuse-validation) but also made excuses for them. In terms of the effectiveness of excuses and excuse-validation in reducing negative affect, Denton and Zarbatany (1995) reported that the excuses poeple made for themselves were ineffective in reducing negative affect; but, friends’ validation of these excuses helped alleviate negative affect. Indeed, the validation of excuses by friends was found to be a more effective support strategy than any other form of social support or coping assessed in this study (i.e., excuse-making, emotional support, advice, discussing a more pleasant topic). The correlational nature of this study, however, does not permit conclusions to be drawn about whether excuse-validation caused reductions in negative affect or was a consequence of negative affect reduction.

The present study was a first attempt to test the effectiveness of excuse-validation as a social support strategy in a controlled experiment. Participants discussed a real-life negative event with a supportive stranger who either validated their excuses or listened attentively without providing excuse-validation (Denton & Zarbatany, 1995) and related research on the effects of implicit (Mehlman & Snyder, 1985) and explicit (Schonbach, 1990) challenges to people’s excuses, it was expected that participants whose excuses were validated would benefit more from the supportive conversation than participants whose excuses were not validated.


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