A common way of doing this for many people around the world is through social networking sites. There are a growing number of studies exploring how we do this online and the effects that it has on our self-worth. When our friends do not respond to our updates, however, this can negatively impact how we feel about ourselves. One study found that when regular Facebook users were assigned to an experimental condition where they were banned from sharing information on Facebook for 48 hours, they reported significantly lower levels of belonging and meaningful existence.
Whether online or offline, then, feeling ignored by our friends can dent our self-worth. We will explore other social influences on our self-esteem later in this chapter. Although we can all be quite good at creating positive self-esteem by doing positive things, it turns out that we often do not stop there. The desire to see ourselves positively is sometimes strong enough that it leads us to seek out, process, and remember information in a way that allows us to see ourselves even more positively.
The students then wrote explanations for why this might be true. The experimenter then thanked the participants and led them to another room, where a second study was to be conducted you will have guessed already that although the participants did not think so, the two experiments were really part of the same experiment. In the second experiment, participants were given a questionnaire that supposedly was investigating what different personality dimensions meant to people in terms of their own experience and behavior.
Figure 3. You can see that the first memory listed by participants in both conditions tended to reflect the dimension that they had read was related to success according to the research presented in the first experiment.
It appears that the participants drew from their memories those instances of their own behavior that reflected the trait that had the most positive implications for their self-esteem—either introversion or extroversion, depending on experimental condition. The desire for positive self-esteem made events that were consistent with a positive self-perception more accessible, and thus they were listed first on the questionnaire.
Other research has confirmed this general principle—people often attempt to create positive self-esteem whenever possible, even it if involves distorting reality.
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We tend to take credit for our successes, and to blame our failures on others. We think that our sense of humor and our honesty are above average, and that we are better drivers and less prejudiced than others. We also distort in a positive way, of course our memories of our grades, our performances on exams, and our romantic experiences. Once again, though, there are some important cultural differences to note with people in individualistic cultures pursuing these self-enhancing strategies more vigorously and more often than those from more collectivistic backgrounds.
Indeed, in a large-scale review of studies on self-enhancement, Heine concluded that these tactics are not typically used in cultures that value interdependence over dependence. In cultures where high self-esteem is not as socially valued, people presumably do not feel the same need to distort their social realities to serve their self-worth.
There is also considerable personal diversity in the tendency to use self-enhancement. We emphasize our positive characteristics, and we may even in some cases distort information—all to help us maintain positive self-esteem. There can be negative aspects to having too much self-esteem, however, particularly if that esteem is unrealistic and undeserved. Narcissism is a personality trait characterized by overly high self-esteem, self-admiration, and self-centeredness. Narcissists tend to agree with statements such as the following:. Narcissists are also more likely to bully others, and they may respond very negatively to criticism Baumeister et al.
Given the social costs of these traits, this is troubling news. What reasons might there be for these trends? Twenge and Campbell argue that several interlocking factors are at work here, namely increasingly child-centered parenting styles, the cult of celebrity, the role of social media in promoting self-enhancement, and the wider availability of easy credit, which, they argue, has lead to more people being able to acquire status-related goods, in turn further fueling a sense of entitlement.
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As narcissism is partly about having an excess of self-esteem, it should by now come as no surprise that narcissistic traits are higher, on average, in people from individualistic versus collectivistic cultures Twenge et al. The negative outcomes of narcissism raise the interesting possibility that high self-esteem in general may not always be advantageous to us or to the people around us. A key point is that it can be difficult to disentangle what the effects of realistic versus unrealistic high self-esteem may be.
Nevertheless, it is to this thorny issue that we will now turn. Teachers, parents, school counselors, and people in many cultures frequently assume that high self-esteem causes many positive outcomes for people who have it and therefore that we should try to increase it in ourselves and others. Perhaps you agree with the idea that if you could increase your self-esteem, you would feel better about yourself and therefore be able to work at a higher level, or attract a more desirable mate.
If you do believe that, you would not be alone. They began by assessing which variables were correlated with high self-esteem and then considered the extent to which high self-esteem caused these outcomes. They found that high self-esteem does correlate with many positive outcomes. People with high self-esteem get better grades, are less depressed, feel less stress, and may even live longer than those who view themselves more negatively. High self-esteem people also work harder in response to initial failure and are more willing to switch to a new line of endeavor if the present one seems unpromising.
Thus, having high self-esteem seems to be a valuable resource—people with high self-esteem are happier, more active, and in many ways better able to deal with their environment. On the other hand, Baumeister and his colleagues also found that people with high self-esteem sometimes delude themselves. But objective measures show that these beliefs are often distortions rather than facts. Such findings raise the interesting possibility that programs that increase the self-esteem of children who bully and are aggressive, based on the notion that these behaviors stem from low self-esteem, may do more harm than good Emler, If you are thinking like a social psychologist, these findings may not surprise you—narcissists tend to focus on their self-concerns, with little concern for others, and we have seen many times that other-concern is a necessity for satisfactory social relations.
Furthermore, despite the many positive variables that relate to high self-esteem, when Baumeister and his colleagues looked at the causal role of self-esteem they found little evidence that high self-esteem caused these positive outcomes. For instance, although high self-esteem is correlated with academic achievement, it is more the result than the cause of this achievement. Programs designed to boost the self-esteem of pupils have not been shown to improve academic performance, and laboratory studies have generally failed to find that manipulations of self-esteem cause better task performance.
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Baumeister and his colleagues concluded that programs designed to boost self-esteem should be used only in a limited way and should not be the only approach taken. Raising self-esteem will not make young people do better in school, obey the law, stay out of trouble, get along better with other people, or respect the rights of others. And these programs may even backfire if the increased self-esteem creates narcissism or conceit.
Baumeister and his colleagues suggested that attempts to boost self-esteem should only be carried out as a reward for good behavior and worthy achievements, and not simply to try to make children feel better about themselves. Although we naturally desire to have social status and high self-esteem, we cannot always promote ourselves without any regard to the accuracy of our self-characterizations. If we consistently distort our capabilities, and particularly if we do this over a long period of time, we will just end up fooling ourselves and perhaps engaging in behaviors that are not actually beneficial to us.
Some individuals who audition on television talent shows spring to mind. Their pursuit of unrealistic goals may also take valuable time away from finding areas they have more chance to succeed in. When we self-enhance too much, although we may feel good about it in the short term, in the longer term the outcomes for the self may not be positive. In some cases, the cognitive goal of obtaining an accurate picture of ourselves and our social world and the affective goal of gaining positive self-esteem work hand in hand. Getting the best grade in an important exam produces accurate knowledge about our skills in the domain as well as giving us some positive self-esteem.
In other cases, the two goals are incompatible. Doing more poorly on an exam than we had hoped produces conflicting, contradictory outcomes. The poor score provides accurate information about the self—namely, that we have not mastered the subject—but at the same time makes us feel bad. This sets up a fascinating clash between our need to self-enhance against our need to be realistic in our views of ourselves.
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Delusion versus truth: which one wins out? The answer, of course, as with pretty much everything to do with human social behavior, is that it depends.
But on what does it depend? One factor is who the source is of the feedback about us: when we are seeking out close relationships, we more often form them with others who verify our self-views. Another related factor is the part of our self-concept we are seeking feedback about, coupled with who is providing this evaluation. Who would you want to give you self-enhancing feedback? Who would you want more honesty from? Under certain conditions, verification prevails over enhancement. However, we should not underestimate the power of self-enhancement to often cloud our ability to be more realistic about ourselves.
If there is room for doubt, then enhancement tends to rule. Also, if we are confident that the consequences of getting innaccurate, self-enhancing feedback about negative aspects ourselves are minimal, then we tend to welcome self-enhancement with open arms Aronson, We must be able to accept our negative aspects and to work to overcome them. The ability to balance the cognitive and the affective features of the self helps us create realistic views of ourselves and to translate these into more efficient and effective behaviors.
In some extreme cases, people experience such strong needs to improve their self-esteem and social status that they act in assertive or dominant ways in order to gain it. As in many other domains, then, having positive self-esteem is a good thing, but we must be careful to temper it with a healthy realism and a concern for others. Aronson, E. Psychological Inquiry, 3 4 , — Baumeister, R. Does high self-esteem cause better performance, interpersonal success, happiness, or healthier lifestyles?
Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4 1 , 1— Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem. Psychological Review, 1 , 5— Brown, J.
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Cai, H. Self-esteem and culture: Differences in cognitive self-evaluations or affective self-regard?.