Science behind positive and self-affirmation

People come from different walks of life and pave a path for themselves to get success. During this process, many face problems which are almost always out of their control, holding them back from achieving their dreams. Difficult times become more difficult if the person does not think positively and makes sure to treat his/her failures as a part of life and move ahead from them. 

This is where a positive attitude and self-affirmation comes into play. These two things, when incorporated side by side into one’s personality, makes it easier to climb the stairs of success. This attitude is what determines who reaches their goal that they always dreamt of and the reason behind this technique holding true to its stand and staying effective has a lot to do with the way the human mind is made. The following article will explore the science behind a positive attitude and how it can lead to a better life. 

What is self-affirmation?

Self-affirmation is a psychological concept that helps individuals recognize their self-worth and also helps them cope in situations that have the potential to decrease their productivity. Most often people lose their sense of worthiness when wanting to achieve something that seems far too impossible to achieve, or getting over the loss of something that is weighing that person down, making them feel like a failure. This is where telling yourself that you can achieve things despite the odds, is what self-affirmation is. It is the incorporation of positive thoughts in a sea of negativity, making oneself believe in their core values and later acting on them. 

It has been seen that positive self-affirmations can significantly reduce stress, increase well-being, and also play a huge part in improving academic performance. This psychological intervention also helps to mold a person into a strong individual who believes in himself and gets things done despite all the curveballs thrown his/her way.

The science behind positive attitude and self-affirmation

Since, it has been established that a positive outlook towards life and affirming oneself of all the good things, can actually help individuals deal with their problems in a better and effective way. There is evidence as to how the brain functions and handles this information and helps the person in his times of need. 

The pathways that have been studied to help process the brain connections through self-affirmation and positive counseling has shown to associate the ventral striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex of the brain. This shows that these positive emotions are stored in the memory of the brain. Another interesting observation about such an act showed that the correlation of past experiences with future goals also lit up many connections inside the brain, specifically involving the posterior cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex.

Self-affirmations can also help individuals deal with possible future threats in a better way when critically thought about it beforehand, affirming the mind that it will get out of it. Areas of the brain function better such as the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), when opposed to an actual threat. Therefore, they work by tuning these areas of the brain by regulating emotions as per their need. 

Clinical trials and their claims

A clinical trial conducted on 67 individuals to study the effects of positive self-affirmation on the areas of the brain to see if they increased the productivity of these individuals was done in 2015. A proper MRI contrasting was done to determine the effects of positive self-affirmations and the decisions made by these individuals to work on their future goals. They were given positive counseling to improve their physical well-being by letting go of their sedentary life. The results of this study showed that positive reinforcements about future rewards incorporated in these individuals increased the activity of MPFC, PCC, ACC, and VLPFC areas of the brain. 

This goes on to prove that motivating oneself towards any future goal has better chances of reaching it than having a pessimistic approach.


Self-affirmation can actually shape some areas of the brain in a way that helps with critical thinking about possible future threats. They are also reliable exercises that can give the motivation to do better in a task and inhibit the fear of failing and losing. 

However, this technique and its neural effects might only work for those who are open to positive changes in their lives. It does not work based on unrealistic affirmations, as the mind only believes rational thoughts in hopes of succeeding. Therefore, better productivity comes when affirming the mind about being able to put in the best of efforts and getting through a difficult task at hand in a given amount of time. 


  1. Cascio CN, O’Donnell MB, Tinney FJ, Lieberman MD, Taylor SE, Strecher VJ, Falk EB. Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience. 2016 Apr 1;11(4):621-9.
  2. Falk EB, O’Donnell MB, Cascio CN, Tinney F, Kang Y, Lieberman MD, Taylor SE, An L, Resnicow K, Strecher VJ. Self-affirmation alters the brain’s response to health messages and subsequent behavior change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2015 Feb 17;112(7):1977-82.
  3. Rose, S. (2020, July 25). Do Positive Affirmations Work? A Look at the Science. Retrieved July 31, 2020, from

Learn more about Meditation