The Ancestor Effect
- Thinking about our roots boosts intellect and confidence -
14 November 2011 | By
We all know that giving thanks is something
we “should” be doing. But recently a clinical study reported that thinking
positively about our family roots boosts emotional confidence and even
The 2010 study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology,
comprised four studies that pitted those who think about their roots
versus those who don’t before taking a battery of problem solving and
In the first study, the subjects consisted of two experimental groups and
a control. A third of the subjects were instructed to think about their
deep roots from the
century, another third to think about their great grandparents, and the
control group did no such preparation.
What were the subjects specifically asked to think about? They were told
to imagine their ancestors, how they lived, their professions and their
families, the trials they faced, and what these ancestors would tell them
if they were around today.
Results indicated that both groups that looked back performed
significantly better on the problem-solving test than the control.
The second study by the same research group then extended these findings
with a less obvious direction: by having the experimental group construct
a family tree before taking a battery of intelligence tests. In this way,
the experimental group was not told exactly what to think, but still had
to consider their ancestors to complete the activity.
Again, the group that meditated upon their roots performed better on the
test scores. They also scored higher on a test of “perceived life
control.” In other words, those who considered their pasts said they felt
more control over their life, career, and ability to best adversaries than
those who did not.
The group was still not satisfied with the conclusions. What is this
ancestor effect? How does “ancestral salience” work? The researchers,
comprised of social psychologists from Germany and Austria, conducted a
third study to test if thinking about living ancestral relatives
(grandparents and great grandparents) versus distant ancestors made a
difference. The test scores of this group were compared to a control group
that was instructed to think about a close friend who is still living.
This time, both family groups outperformed the friends group, but with no
significant difference between the deep ancestral groups and the living
ancestral groups. So the effect is not simply due to thinking about people
you like and who happen to be alive.
In a final study, the group tested this “likability” factor within the
ancestral groups. Subjects were instructed to either focus on negative or
positive aspects of their ancestors, compared with a control group that
did no meditations before a battery of tests. Again, both ancestral groups
outperformed the control.
So even if we don’t perceive to like our ancestors, thinking about them
still leads to a mental state that boosts intellectual performance and
Tapping into the Ancestor Effect
So keep your ancestors close at hand. Every day, think about the people
who are responsible for putting you on the planet. Consider their hard
work throughout the ages, their resilience in tough times, and their
Make a family tree, and research your roots.
Even a simple five-minute meditation in the beginning of the day can
instil confidence that spills over into your decision making and your
ability to deal with the problems that arise today.
Making space in your home can focus this daily meditation and remind you
of your roots when you go about your daily life. Find a photograph of a
family member who has passed on and who you particularly admire. Frame it
and keep it visible in a part of the house you see every day. Make it a
daily ritual to give thanks by spending a moment looking at this
photograph or some other object from the past. Even better, set up a shelf
for ancestral remembrances and spend a minute a day looking upon it and
thinking of those who came before.
Let the blessing go back in time, and fuel their strength, too. They are
smiling upon us and giving us courage, even the nasty ones.
 Fischer, P., Sauer, A., Vogrincic,
C., and Weisweiler, S. (2010). The ancestor effect: Thinking about our
genetic origin enhances intellectual performance. European Journal of
Social Psychology. 41 (1), 11-16.
Reproduced by permission from
The Ancestor Effect
See also - Dream
Studies & The Dream Tribe