Debriefed but still troubled? About the (in)effectiveness of postexperimental debriefings after ego threat.

Psychological researchers often use powerful experimental manipulations to temporarily reduce participants’ well-being. Postexperimental debriefings are intended to eliminate such detrimental effects. However, experimentally induced beliefs can persevere even when the underlying information is explicitly discredited. The present research investigates, in the context of ego-threatening manipulations, whether postexperimental debriefings reestablish participants’ prestudy conditions. In 6 studies, participants received false feedback about their intelligence (Studies 1 and 5) or their attractiveness and likability (Studies 2–4 and 6), completed dependent variables indicative of well-being (Studies 1, 2, and 4–6), or aggressive behavior and hostile attributions (Study 3), and were thoroughly debriefed. Participants reported lower well-being and exhibited more hostile attributions after receiving negative compared with neutral or positive feedback. These effects were not eliminated when participants had been debriefed before completing the dependent variables, either in writing (Studies 1–6), in person (Studies 4 and 5), or when additionally writing a self-affirming essay (Studies 4 and 5). A prolonged and extensive personal debriefing (Study 6) was most effective in reducing the aversive effects of ego threat. Follow-up assessments revealed that affective consequences of the ego threat persevered for 2 weeks and longer. Internal meta-analyses corroborated these results, but also showed that all debriefing versions, even if not fully effective, ameliorated the effects of ego threat at least to some extent. Taken together, the present findings illustrate the only partial effectiveness of different debriefing procedures, stress the importance of carefully designing postexperimental debriefings to avoid ethical concerns, and more generally point to potentially effective ways to deal with negative feedback and personal threats. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)