Behavioral and psychophysiological processes underlying the relation between identity disruption and health
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Brown and McGill (1989) and Shimizu and Pelham (2004) found that people with low self-esteem were more likely to report physical symptoms after they experienced more positive life events. They argued that positive life events exacted a toll on the body for people low in self-esteem because such people experience identity disruption: positive life events are not consistent with their negative self-evaluations. This dissertation examined psychophysiological and behavioral processes underling this identity disruption process by conducting a laboratory experiment and five weekly Internet surveys. The laboratory experiment showed partial support for the idea that people low in self-esteem are more likely to experience physiological threats in response to positive feedback. The results from the Internet surveys replicated the identity disruption effect; both implicit and explicit self-esteem moderated the relation between positive life events and illness. However, although people low in self-esteem were more likely to engage in negative health behavior following positive life events, this behavior did not mediate the identity disruption effect. Furthermore, people low in self-esteem were not more likely to report reduced perceptions of control when they experienced positive life events. In short, this study replicated the identity disruption effect but failed to find clear evidence for the proposed mechanisms of the effect. The discussion focuses on possible ways to improve these methods in the future.