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PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST VOL. 4, NO. 1, MAY 2003 Copyright © 2003 American Psychological Society 1 DOES HIGH SELF-ESTEEM CAUSE BETTER PERFORMANCE, INTERPERSONAL SUCCESS, HAPPINESS, OR HEALTHIER LIFESTYLES? Roy F. Baumeister, 1 Jennifer D. Campbell, 2 Joachim I. Krueger, 3 and Kathleen D. Vohs 4 1 Florida State University; 2 University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; 3 Brown University; and 4 University of Utah Summary—Self-esteem has become a household word. Teachers, parents, therapists, and others have focused efforts on boosting self-esteem, on the assumption that high self- esteem will cause many positive outcomes and benefits—an assumption that is critically evaluated in this review. Appraisal of the effects of self-esteem is complicated by several factors. Because many people with high self-esteem exaggerate their successes and good traits, we emphasize ob- jective measures of outcomes. High self-esteem is also a het- erogeneous category, encompassing people who frankly accept their good qualities along with narcissistic, defensive, and conceited individuals. The modest correlations between self-esteem and school performance do not indicate that high self-esteem leads to good performance. Instead, high self-esteem is partly the re- sult of good school performance. Efforts to boost the self- esteem of pupils have not been shown to improve academic performance and may sometimes be counterproductive. Job performance in adults is sometimes related to self-esteem, al- though the correlations vary widely, and the direction of cau- sality has not been established. Occupational success may boost self-esteem rather than the reverse. Alternatively, self- esteem may be helpful only in some job contexts. Laboratory studies have generally failed to find that self-esteem causes good task performance, with the important exception that high self-esteem facilitates persistence after failure. People high in self-esteem claim to be more likable and at- tractive, to have better relationships, and to make better im- pressions on others than people with low self-esteem, but objective measures disconfirm most of these beliefs. Narcis- sists are charming at first but tend to alienate others eventu- ally. Self-esteem has not been shown to predict the quality or duration of relationships. High self-esteem makes people more willing to speak up in groups and to criticize the group’s approach. Leadership does not stem directly from self-esteem, but self-esteem may have indirect effects. Relative to people with low self-esteem, those with high self-esteem show stronger in-group favorit- ism, which may increase prejudice and discrimination. Neither high nor low self-esteem is a direct cause of vio- lence. Narcissism leads to increased aggression in retaliation for wounded pride. Low self-esteem may contribute to external- izing behavior and delinquency, although some studies have found that there are no effects or that the effect of self-esteem vanishes when other variables are controlled. The highest and lowest rates of cheating and bullying are found in different sub- categories of high self-esteem. Self-esteem has a strong relation to happiness. Although the research has not clearly established causation, we are per- suaded that high self-esteem does lead to greater happiness. Low self-esteem is more likely than high to lead to depression under some circumstances. Some studies support the buffer hy- pothesis, which is that high self-esteem mitigates the effects of stress, but other studies come to the opposite conclusion, indi- cating that the negative effects of low self-esteem are mainly felt in good times. Still others find that high self-esteem leads to happier outcomes regardless of stress or other circumstances. High self-esteem does not prevent children from smoking, drinking, taking drugs, or engaging in early sex. If anything, high self-esteem fosters experimentation, which may increase early sexual activity or drinking, but in general effects of self- esteem are negligible. One important exception is that high self-esteem reduces the chances of bulimia in females. Overall, the benefits of high self-esteem fall into two cate- gories: enhanced initiative and pleasant feelings. We have not found evidence that boosting self-esteem (by therapeutic in- terventions or school programs) causes benefits. Our findings do not support continued widespread efforts to boost self- esteem in the hope that it will by itself foster improved out- comes. In view of the heterogeneity of high self-esteem, indis- criminate praise might just as easily promote narcissism, with its less desirable consequences. Instead, we recommend using praise to boost self-esteem as a reward for socially desirable behavior and self-improvement. Most people feel that self-esteem is important. It is difficult, if not impossible, for people to remain indifferent to informa- tion that bears on their own self-esteem, such as being told that they are incompetent, attractive, untrustworthy, or lovable. In- creases and decreases in self-esteem generally bring strong emotional reactions. Moreover, these fluctuations are often co- incident with major successes and failures in life. Subjective Address correspondence to Roy F. Baumeister, Department of Psychology, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306-1270. PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST Benefits of Self-Esteem 2 VOL. 4, NO. 1, MAY 2003 experience creates the impression that self-esteem rises when one wins a contest, garners an award, solves a problem, or gains acceptance to a social group, and that it falls with corresponding failures. This pervasive correlation may well strengthen the im- pression that one’s level of self-esteem is not just the outcome, but indeed the cause, of life’s major successes and failures. But is self-esteem a cause of important consequences in life? In this monograph, we report the results of a survey of major research findings bearing on this question. Our mission was to conduct a thorough review of empirical findings—em- phasizing the most methodologically rigorous research stud- ies—to ascertain whether high self-esteem is in fact a cause of positive or negative outcomes. We anticipated we would find that self-esteem has positive value for bringing about some hy- pothesized benefits, but not others. Such a pattern would pre- sumably allow an accurate and nuanced understanding of just what high self-esteem is good for. This would be beneficial both for theory (in that it would promote a better understanding of self-esteem as well as the outcomes it predicts) and for prac- tical applications—and even for determining whether efforts at boosting self-esteem are worth undertaking in order to solve particular social problems. Self-esteem is literally defined by how much value people place on themselves. It is the evaluative component of self- knowledge. High self-esteem refers to a highly favorable glo- bal evaluation of the self. Low self-esteem, by definition, refers to an unfavorable definition of the self. (Whether this signifies an absolutely unfavorable or relatively unfavorable evaluation is a problematic distinction, which we discuss later in connec- tion with the distribution of self-esteem scores.) Self-esteem does not carry any definitional requirement of accuracy what- soever. Thus, high self-esteem may refer to an accurate, justi- fied, balanced appreciation of one’s worth as a person and one’s successes and competencies, but it can also refer to an in- flated, arrogant, grandiose, unwarranted sense of conceited su- periority over others. By the same token, low self-esteem can be either an accurate, well-founded understanding of one’s shortcomings as a person or a distorted, even pathological sense of insecurity and inferiority. Self-esteem is thus perception rather than reality. It refers to a person’s belief about whether he or she is intelligent and at- tractive, for example, and it does not necessarily say anything about whether the person actually is intelligent and attractive. To show that self-esteem is itself important, then, research would have to demonstrate that people’s beliefs about them- selves have important consequences regardless of what the un- derlying realities are. Put more simply, there would have to be benefits that derive from believing that one is intelligent, re- gardless of whether one actually is intelligent. To say this is not to dismiss self-esteem as trivial. People’s beliefs shape their ac- tions in many important ways, and these actions in turn shape their social reality and the social realities of the people around them. The classic study Pygmalion in the Classroom , by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968), showed that teachers’ false, unfounded beliefs about their students later became objective, verifiable realities in the performance of those students. In the same way, it is quite plausible that either high or low self- esteem, even if initially false, may generate a self-fulfilling prophecy and bring about changes in the objective reality of the self and its world. Then again, self-esteem might not bring about such changes. Many researchers, clinicians, teachers, parents, and pundits have taken it as an article of faith that high self-esteem will bring about positive outcomes. Such an assumption was per- haps reasonable several decades ago, given the lack of firm data either way and the anecdotal impressions and theoretical bases for assuming that self-esteem has strong effects. It is par- ticularly understandable that practitioners would accept this as- sumption without proof, because they cannot generally afford to admonish their suffering clients to hang on for a few decades until needed research is conducted. They must use the best evi- dence available at the time to design their interventions. By now, however, the excuse of inadequate data is begin- ning to wear thin. The fascination with self-esteem that began to spread during the 1970s infected researchers too, and in the past couple of decades, a number of methodologically rigor- ous, large-scale investigations on the possible effects of self- esteem have been conducted. We do not think all the final an- swers are in, but many of them are taking shape. There is no longer any justification for simply relying on anecdotes, im- pressions, and untested assumptions about the value of self- esteem. WHY STUDY SELF-ESTEEM? In the heady days of the 1970s, it might have seemed possi- ble to assert that self-esteem has a causal effect on every aspect of human life, and by the 1980s, the California legislature might well have been persuaded that funding a task force to in- crease the self-esteem of Californians would ultimately pro- duce a huge financial return because reducing welfare dependency, unwanted pregnancy, school failure, crime, drug addiction, and other problems would save large amounts of taxpayers’ money. However, as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and other grand thinkers could assert if they were alive today, even the most elaborate and persuasive theories about human behavior do not generally receive empirical support in all aspects. Thus, we note at the outset that we did not expect all the extravagant claims of the self-esteem movement to be supported. Even if the self-esteem movement was wrong in crucial re- spects, its positive aspects and contributions deserve to be rec- ognized and celebrated. The self-esteem movement showed that the American public was willing to listen to psychologists and to change its institutional practices on the basis of what psychology had to teach. It would not be in psychology’s best interest to chastise the American public for accepting the ad- PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST R.F. Baumeister et al. VOL. 4, NO. 1, MAY 2003 3 vice of psychologists. If errors were committed, perhaps psy- chologists should reduce their own self-esteem a bit and humbly resolve that next time they will wait for a more thor- ough and solid empirical basis before making policy recom- mendations to the American public. Regardless of the outcome of the self-esteem movement, it showed that there is a voice for psychology in public policy and discourse. If psychology uses that voice judiciously, it may still be able to make a major con- tribution to the well-being of society. The Appeal of Self-Esteem As self-aware and self-reflective creatures, many people in- tuitively recognize the importance of self-esteem. Not surpris- ingly, a great deal of psychological theorizing has focused on the motivation to protect and, if possible, enhance self-esteem. Research is showing that even psychodynamic defense mecha- nisms, which Freud originally understood as ways of keeping threatening sexual and aggressive impulses at bay, serve as strategies to bolster self-esteem (for a review, see Baumeister, Dale, & Sommer, 1998). But the desire to feel good about oneself is certainly not the only self-related motive at play. Having to cope with reality, people are also motivated to perceive themselves accurately and admit awareness of their undesirable characteristics (Swann, Stein-Seroussi, & Giesler, 1992; Trope, 1986). Nevertheless, people would rather learn positive things about themselves than negative things (Sedikides, 1993). Although they may want to know whether they are good or not, they much prefer to learn that they are good. Over the past few decades, the need for high self-esteem has risen from an individual to a societal concern. North American society in particular has come to embrace the idea that high self-esteem is not only desirable in its own right, but also the central psychological source from which all manner of positive behaviors and outcomes spring. This strong psychological claim has begun to permeate popular beliefs. Its corollary, the idea that low self-esteem lies at the root of individual and thus societal problems and dysfunctions, has obvious implications for interventions on both the individual and the societal level. The hope that such interventions might work has sustained an ambitious social movement. Nathaniel Branden, a leading fig- ure in the self-esteem movement, stated categorically that “self-esteem has profound consequences for every aspect of our existence” (Branden, 1994, p. 5), and, more pointedly, that he “cannot think of a single psychological problem—from anx- iety and depression, to fear of intimacy or of success, to spouse battery or child molestation—that is not traceable to the prob- lem of low self-esteem” (Branden, 1984, p. 12). Other advo- cates of the movement have endorsed this sentiment. Andrew Mecca, for example, is cited as saying that “virtually every so- cial problem can be traced to people’s lack of self-love” (Davis, 1988, p. 10). Academic and professional psychologists have been more hesitant to endorse strong categorical claims. Eminent clinical psychologist Albert Ellis, for example, is convinced that “self- esteem is the greatest sickness known to man or woman be- cause it’s conditional” (cited in Epstein, 2001, p. 72). Accord- ing to Ellis, people would be better off if they stopped trying to convince themselves that they are worthy. Others believe that concerns about self-esteem are a peculiar feature of Western in- dividualist cultures. According to this perspective, the search for high self-esteem is not a universal human motive, but a cul- tural or ideological artifact. Indeed, such a motive is difficult to detect in collectivist cultures, and especially in Japan (Heine, Lehman, Markus, & Kitayama, 1999). Even in Western culture, the need for high self-esteem seems to be a rather recent devel- opment (Baumeister, 1987). The Judeo-Christian tradition has long considered modesty and humility as virtues conducive to spiritual growth. In this tradition, high self-esteem is suspect because it opens the door to sentiments of self-importance. Medieval theologians considered pride or vainglory to be par- ticularly satanic and thus a deadly sin. To combat it, religious devotees cultivated an unattractive appearance (e.g., shorn hair, no makeup, unfashionable clothes, no jewelry), spoke with self-effacement, and submitted to degrading exercises (e.g., begging, prostrations, self-flagellations). Such practices are but a faint memory in contemporary pop- ular culture, in which high self-esteem seems to reign supreme. Prodded by Assemblyman John Vasconcellos, the then gover- nor of California George Deukmeijian agreed in 1986 to fund a Task Force on Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsi- bility with a budget of $245,000 per annum for several years. Vasconcellos argued that raising self-esteem would help solve many of the state’s problems, including crime, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, school underachievement, and pollution. At one point, he expressed the hope that raising self-esteem would help balance the state’s budget because people with high self- esteem earn more money than people with low self-esteem and therefore pay more taxes (Winegar, 1990). It is easy to dismiss and satirize such claims (Dawes, 1994). However, Vasconcellos and the task force also speculated astutely about the possibility that self-esteem might protect people from being overwhelmed by life’s challenges and thus reduce failures and misbehaviors, much as a vaccine protects against disease. Concurrent with its activities in the field, which included creating self-esteem committees in many California counties, the task force assembled a team of scholars to survey the rele- vant literature. The results were presented in an edited volume (Mecca, Smelser, & Vasconcellos, 1989). Echoing Branden (1984), Smelser (1989) prefaced the report by stating that “many, if not most, of the major problems plaguing society have roots in the low self-esteem of many of the people who make up society” (p. 1). But the findings did not validate the high hopes of the task force, and Smelser had to acknowledge that “one of the disappointing aspects of every [italics added] PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST Benefits of Self-Esteem 4 VOL. 4, NO. 1, MAY 2003 chapter in this volume . . . is how low the associations between self-esteem and its [presumed] consequences are in research to date” (p. 15). Given that the correlations were so low, the ques- tion of whether low self-esteem in fact caused the societal problems did not even arise. The lack of supportive data created a dilemma. Should a no- tion as attractive as self-esteem be abandoned and replaced with more promising concepts, or should the validity of the ev- idence be questioned? The editors and the authors opted for a mix of these two strategies. Some retreated to a defense of self- esteem on a priori grounds. Undeterred, Smelser (1989) main- tained that diminished self-esteem stands as a powerful independent variable (condition, cause, factor) in the genesis of major social problems. We all know this to be true, and it is really not necessary to create a special California task force on the subject to convince us. The real problem we must address—and which the contributors to this volume ad- dress—is how we can determine that it is scientifically true. (p. 8) Others, however, acknowledged the limitations of the findings and called for additional study, or tried to fit more complex the- oretical models of self-knowledge to the data. Our report is fo- cused primarily on studies conducted since the review by the California task force. Instead of examining the merits of the more complex models of self, we have retained the hypothesis that global self-esteem causes desirable, adaptive, and benefi- cial behaviors. There is a certain beauty to this hypothesis be- cause it is simple, clear, and testable. There have also been sufficient methodological advances in study design and statisti- cal analysis that warrant a fresh look at the evidence. Meanwhile, the self-esteem movement was not deterred by the disappointing findings of the task force. After it was dis- banded in 1995, the National Council for Self-Esteem inherited its mandate, which was subsequently taken on by the National Association for Self-Esteem, or NASE. Vasconcellos (now a member of the California Senate) and Jack Canfield ( Chicken Soup for the Soul ) are on NASE’s advisory board, and such media personalities as Anthony Robbins ( Unlimited Power ), Bernie Siegel ( Love, Medicine, and Miracles ), and Gloria Steinem ( A Revolution From Within: A Book of Self-Esteem ) are members of a “Masters Coalition,” created by NASE. The mission statement of NASE minces no words about the pre- sumed benefits of self-esteem. Its goal is to “promote aware- ness of and provide vision, leadership and advocacy for improving the human condition through the enhancement of self-esteem” (NASE, 2000). The goal of the Masters Coalition is no less ambitious. “It is hoped that the Master Coalition can, in a meaningful way, facilitate the actualization of society and lead to the amelioration, if not elimination, of various negative influences which have operated in part to trivialize and demean the human condition” (NASE, 2000). It is hard not to conclude that the self-esteem movement has ignored its own major scholarly document (i.e., the Mecca et al., 1989, volume). In the quest for enhanced self-esteem, any tool in the psychological—and pseudopsychological—box is thrown into the fray, including disparate psychological models that have given rise to such popular notions as the “inner child”; the “self-image”; principles of proper grieving; “super learning”; “community networking”; “relaxation techniques” and their effects on overall mental and physical well-be- ing; the principles of “neuro-linguistic programming”; and the well- founded scientific basis for the connection between the body and the mind and the effect of this interface on overall wellness. (NASE, 2000) Even a contributor to the volume edited by Mecca et al. (1989) argued that self-esteem must be enhanced, although its causal role is far from established. “To abandon the search for esteem- related solutions . . . is to admit defeat before exploring all our options” (Covington, 1989, p. 74). Was it reasonable to start boosting self-esteem before all the data were in? Perhaps. We recognize that many practitioners and applied psychologists must deal with problems before all the relevant research can be conducted. Still, by now there are ample data on self-esteem. Our task in this monograph is to take a fresh look and provide an integrative summary. An Epidemic of Low Self-Esteem? A key assumption of the self-esteem movement is that too many people have low self-esteem. Under this assumption, raising self-esteem becomes a meaningful goal. But what does “too many” mean? Self-esteem scales are designed to capture valid individual differences that exist in a population. Thus, a good measure will yield a distribution of scores from low to high. However, unlike some other measurement instruments, such as IQ tests, that are constructed to yield symmetrical dis- tributions centered around an arbitrary mean (e.g., 100), self- esteem scales allow skewed distributions to emerge. The average score typically lies far above the midpoint of the scale, often by more than a standard deviation (Baumeister, Tice, & Hutton, 1989). The fact that most people score toward the high end of self-esteem measures casts serious doubt on the notion that American society is suffering from widespread low self- esteem. If anything, self-esteem in America is high. The aver- age person regards himself or herself as above average. The skewed distribution of self-esteem scores raises two methodological issues. First, when researchers split samples at the median to distinguish between respondents with high ver- sus low self-esteem, the range of scores among respondents classified as having low self-esteem is much greater than the range of scores among respondents classified as having high self-esteem. A good number of respondents in the low self-es- teem category have scores above the midpoint of the scale. In other words, the classification of a person as someone with low self-esteem has no longer an absolute, but only a relative mean- ing. Second, correlations involving variables with skewed dis- PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST R.F. Baumeister et al. VOL. 4, NO. 1, MAY 2003 5 tributions tend to be smaller than correlations involving variables with symmetric distributions. Moreover, when self-esteem is raised selectively for those respondents with the lowest initial values, correlations between self-esteem and relevant outcome variables shrink further, not necessarily because the elevation of self-esteem had the desired causal effect, but simply because of the restriction in the range of scores. It is always necessary to ask whether relevant outcomes also changed in the desired direction. The standard finding that most self-esteem scores are high raises the possibility that at least some scores are affected by deliberate or unwitting self-enhancement (Krueger, 1998). Brown (1986), for example, found that people high in self-es- teem were also most likely to rate themselves more positively than they rated other people. Because self-enhancement may involve invalid and undesirable distortions of the self-concept, it is unwarranted to rush to boost everyone’s self-esteem. In short, we find no evidence that modern Western societies are suffering from an epidemic of low self-esteem. If anything, self-esteem seems generally high in most North American sam- ples. Regardless of their race, gender, or socioeconomic status, Americans already appear to live in a “culture of self-worth” (Twenge & Campbell, 2001, p. 325). Indeed, levels of self- esteem increased at a time when the self-esteem movement be- moaned the lack of self-love. Disturbingly, academic performance decreased at the same time (Twenge & Campbell, 2001). PROBLEMS AND CHALLENGES Measurement of Self-Esteem Many scales are available for measuring self-esteem, and different investigations have used different ones, which com- pounds the difficulty of comparing results from different inves- tigations (especially if the results are inconsistent). Blascovich and Tomaka (1991) reviewed multiple measures and found them of uneven quality, giving high marks to only a few (such as Fleming & Courtney’s, 1984, revision of Janis & Field’s, 1959, scale, and Rosenberg’s, 1965, global self-esteem mea- sure). In essence, self-esteem scales ask people to rate them- selves in response to questions such as “Are you a worthwhile individual?” “Are you good at school or work?” “Do people like you?” and “Are you reliable and trustworthy?” When re- searchers check self-esteem measures against the so-called lie scales (also called measures of social desirability, because they assess tendencies to give distorted, even unrealistic answers just to make a good impression), they conclude that self-esteem scores are somewhat contaminated by people’s efforts to make themselves look good. These measures also obscure needed distinctions between defensive, inflated, narcissistic, and so- called genuine high self-esteem. (We discuss different varieties of high self-esteem in the next section.) Unfortunately, there is no objective criterion against which to compare self-reported self-esteem, because of the nature of the construct: Self-esteem essentially consists of how a person thinks about and evaluates the self. In the case of intelligence, for example, self-ratings can be compared against objective performance on intellectual tests, and the results can (and often do) show that people’s self- reports of their own intelligence are wrong. But there is no known basis for saying that certain people really have more or less self-esteem than they think they have. To overcome these measurement problems, some research- ers measure implicit , or unfakeable, self-esteem by using a va- riety of subtle methods, such as reaction times to good and bad thoughts that can be paired with the self (Greenwald & Farn- ham, 2000). Though promising, this research has only recently begun, and it therefore does not play a significant role in this review. Despite the potential pitfalls of explicit (i.e., self-report) measures, the fact that scores on different scales are positively correlated (e.g., Greenwald & Farnham, 2000) is an indication that they can be used with some confidence. Even more signifi- cantly, the Rosenberg scale, which is by far the most popular among researchers, has been shown to be highly reliable (e.g., if a person completes the scale on two occasions, the two scores tend to be similar). As a measure of global self-esteem, this scale is unidimensional (Gray-Little, Williams, & Han- cock, 1997; Robins, Hendin, & Trzesniewski, 2001). Indeed, its reliability is so high that a single item (“I have high self- esteem”) may be sufficient (Robins et al., 2001). Heterogeneity of High Self-Esteem The high internal consistency of self-esteem measures may mask the possibility that a variety of psychological processes contribute to high (or low) scores. One approach to studying the heterogeneity of self-esteem is to examine the pattern of scores across multiple measurement instruments. Schneider and Turkat (1975) suspected that some people’s high self-esteem is defensive rather than genuine, and that these individuals could be identified if they also scored high on the Marlowe- Crowne Social Desirability Scale (Crowne & Marlowe, 1960). The concept of defensive self-esteem has recently been refined by the distinction between deception of others (i.e., impression management) and deception of the self (see Paulhus, 2002, for a review). High self-esteem is considered defensive if it is cou- pled with high scores on a self-deception scale (which has items such as “I always know why I do things”). Taking a different approach, Kernis and his colleagues (see Kernis & Waschull, 1995, for a review) measure both the over- all level and the temporal stability of self-esteem. In many studies, the stability of self-esteem, either by itself or in combi- nation with level of self-esteem, has been shown to predict behav- ioral outcomes. Baumeister and his colleagues (e.g., Baumeister, 1993; Baumeister, Smart, & Boden, 1996) found that behaviors and outcomes are often more variable for people high in self- PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST Benefits of Self-Esteem 6 VOL. 4, NO. 1, MAY 2003 esteem than for people low in self-esteem. For example, studies often fail to yield a significant correlation between aggression or violence and self-esteem, in part because high self-esteem is associated with both the presence and the absence of aggres- sion. Kernis’s work leads to similar conclusions. People with high but unstable self-esteem score higher on measures of hos- tility than do people with low self-esteem (whether stable or unstable), whereas people with high but stable self-esteem are the least hostile (Kernis, Grannemann, & Barclay, 1989). In other words, people with high self-esteem are found at the ex- tremes of both high and low hostility. A third approach is to measure narcissism along with, or even instead of, self-esteem. The construct of narcissism in- volves highly favorable, even grandiose views of self, a sense of being special or unique, fantasies of personal brilliance or beauty, and the belief that one is entitled to privileges and ad- miration by others (see American Psychiatric Association, 2000). In normal populations, scores on the Narcissistic Per- sonality Inventory (Emmons, 1984; Raskin & Hall, 1981) cor- relate substantially with self-esteem (Rhodewalt & Morf, 1995; Sinha & Krueger, 1998). The heterogeneity of high self-esteem is indicated by the finding that some people with high self- esteem are not narcissistic, whereas others are; the reverse is not true (i.e., there are very few narcissists with low self- esteem). Bushman and Baumeister (1998) measured both self- esteem and narcissism in laboratory studies of aggression. Nar- cissism, but not self-esteem, predicted aggression, and only when the target was someone who had previously insulted the participant. The idea that narcissistically high self-esteem is unhealthy is further supported by the finding that narcissists’ high self-esteem tends to be unstable (Rhodewalt, Madrian, & Cheney, 1998) and self-defensive (Paulhus, 1998). Taken together, these lines of research suggest that some low correlations between self-esteem and socially relevant be- haviors or outcomes conceal the tendency for different categories of high self-esteem to produce opposite responses. Researchers who believe in the value of so-called genuine or healthy self- esteem may find that they can obtain more valid correlations with desirable outcomes if they control variables such as nar- cissism, self-deception, or temporal stability. The broader im- plication is, however, that the category of people with high self-esteem is a mixed bag that contains individuals whose self- opinions differ in important ways. Theorists and researchers have linked low self-esteem to other constructs, generally focusing on the links between low self-esteem and pathologies such as depression. Recently, low self-esteem has begun to be associated with more general con- cepts such as emotional lability (a tendency for strong emotions to occur in both directions) and low internal locus of control (a generalized belief that the self is not in control of what happens). Although there are moderate associations between low self- esteem and pathology (see the section on Coping and Depres- sion), there is also evidence against the notion that the con- structs of low self-esteem and depression are isomorphic. Correlations between self-esteem and depression are of only moderate strength, ranging from .4 to .6 (e.g., Joiner, Alfano, & Metalsky, 1992). Also, a theoretical standpoint indicates that although the psychological processes associated with self- esteem and depression may overlap somewhat (e.g., Abramson, Metalsky, & Alloy, 1989), they are not identical. Rather, the concept of depression has been characterized by a constellation of symptoms, of which low self-esteem is one (Roberts & Monroe, 1999). But low self-esteem is neither necessary nor sufficient for depression. A recent analysis of the interrelations among self-esteem, neuroticism, locus of control, and feelings of being effective points to a more serious methodological problem regarding their overlap. Judge, Erez, and Bono (2002) found that these con- structs are highly related and reflect one overarching construct (which they said was neuroticism, broadly defined). Judge et al. concluded that the ability of any of these constructs to uniquely (i.e., independently) predict outcomes is quite poor, and they urged psychological scientists to begin thinking of each con- struct in tandem with the others. We concur with this suggestion and hope that researchers will include more of these measures in studies of the effect of self-esteem on objective outcomes. Global Versus Domain-Specific Self-Esteem The heterogeneous nature of people who score high on self- esteem measures is not the only reason why the predictive power of global measures of self-esteem is limited. Another reason is that it is difficult to detect a correspondence between a global attitude and specific behaviors or outcomes (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975). It is not to be expected, for example, that a global sense of being worthy, competent, and popular will pre- dict performance on a trigonometry quiz. Many people may consider mathematical ability to be irrelevant to global self- appraisal, and so their self-esteem could be utterly irrelevant to how well they can perform numerical calculations. Predictions improve when self-esteem is measured for the domain of inter- est and among people who consider this domain to be person- ally important (Crocker & Wolfe, 2001). If relevant domains are hierarchically organized, it is important to measure self- esteem at the appropriate level of specificity. If the domain be- comes too narrow, the assessment of specific self-esteem may yield only trivial results. For example, a high correlation between people’s success at doing long division and their self-evaluation for this task may simply result from people’s awareness of their ability in this domain. If so, any attempts to improve perfor- mance by way of enhancing self-esteem would fail. The difficulties of relating global self-esteem to specific be- haviors may be overcome, in part, by aggregating behaviors into bundles. But aside from differences in levels of specificity of measurement, there is also a difference in affectivity. Global self-esteem is heavily invested with feelings about the self, whereas specific facets of self-esteem include a variety of self- related thoughts (Brown, 1998; Rosenberg, Schooler, Schoen- PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST R.F. Baumeister et al. VOL. 4, NO. 1, MAY 2003 7 bach, & Rosenberg, 1995). It is perhaps because of its high af- fective relevance that global self-esteem has been the preferred target for well-intentioned interventions. Interventions at the level of domain-specific self-esteem would arguably become both more fragmented and less affectively charged. For these reasons, we focus our review on global self-esteem. Floccinaucinihilipilification The word floccinaucinihilipilification is allegedly the longest word in the Oxford English Dictionary, and it is defined as “the action or habit of estimating as worthless.” The definition of low self-esteem involves making a disparaging or low-worth judg- ment about the self, yet there is mounting evidence that people with low self-esteem are not merely negative about themselves. Rather, they express a generally negative attitude toward many events, circumstances, people, and other realities. That is, they have a tendency toward floccinaucinihilipilification. The problem this raises for the researcher is twofold. First, it is difficult to distinguish the general negativity from the spe- cific low self-esteem. A good example of this problem emerged in the research literature on prejudice. In early work, research- ers assumed that people with low self-esteem would have more prejudice than others toward out-groups, and studies in which people simply rated other groups seemingly confirmed that people with low self-esteem expressed more negative attitudes toward them than did people with higher self-esteem (see Wills, 1981, for review). But Crocker and Schwartz (1985) pointed out that if people rate themselves and their in-groups negatively, it is hardly fair to label them as prejudiced for rating out-groups negatively, too. Such general floccinaucinihilipilifi- cation can be corrected by subtracting the ratings of self or the in-group from the ratings of the out-group, and when this was done, the finding was reversed: People with high self-esteem showed greater in-group bias and greater prejudice than people with low self-esteem (see also Aberson, Healy, & Romero, 2000; Crocker & Luhtanen, 1990; Crocker, Thompson, McGraw, & Ingerman, 1987). Second, floccinaucinihilipilification raises the very substan- tial danger that self-reports will show spurious correlations be- tween self-esteem and other outcomes. A general tendency toward floccinaucinihilipilification may cause certain people to describe themselves in disparaging terms, thus generating low scores on self-esteem, as well as to describe their lives and out- comes in disparaging terms, thus furnishing the appearance of maladaptive behaviors and pathology. This is one reason why it is important to obtain objective outcome measures. Need for Objective Measures All too often, results involving self-esteem are based on the self-report of outcome variables. The problem this raises can be illustrated by the case of a researcher who asks people, “How good are you at juggling red beanbags?” and then takes their answers as indications of their self-esteem in the beanbag- juggling sphere. If the researcher also decides to use self-reports to measure performance, almost exactly the same question could be used as a measure of performance. The resulting high correlation between the measures of self-esteem and perfor- mance would reflect nothing more than the fact that the same question was asked to measure different constructs. It is essential to keep in mind that self-esteem is measured almost exclusively (and unavoidably) by self-report. People score high in self-esteem because they respond to a question- naire by endorsing favorable statements about themselves. The habit of speaking well of oneself does not abruptly cease when the respondent turns from the self-esteem scale to the question- naire asking for self-report of other behaviors. People who like to describe themselves in glowing terms will be inclined to re- port that they get along well with others, are physically attrac- tive, do well in school and work, refrain from undesirable actions, and the like. That is how they get high scores in self- esteem, but researchers may easily mistake this identical ten- dency as evidence that self-esteem predicts or even causes a broad range of positive outcomes. Over and over during our survey of the literature, we found that researchers obtained more impressive evidence of the benefits of self-esteem when they relied on self-reported outcomes than when they relied on objective outcomes. The research on the relationship between self-esteem and physical attractiveness provides a good exam- ple of such a discrepancy. Most self-esteem scales do not con- tain items that specifically ask whether respondents consider themselves physically attractive, but they do measure the glo- bal tendency to speak well of oneself. It seems plausible that people who speak well of themselves in general would rate their physical attractiveness more highly than others. Then again, it is plausible that physically attractive people would end up with higher self-esteem than other people, if only because attractive people are treated more favorably than unattractive ones throughout life—they are more popular, more sought af- ter, more valued by lovers and friends, and so forth. Several studies have explored correlations between global self-esteem and self-rated attractiveness, generally finding very strong positive relationships. Harter (1993) described results from multiple studies indicating that the correlation was around .85. This is a remarkably strong connection, indicating that people’s physical attractiveness accounted for more than 70% of the variance in their self-esteem. If this result is correct, it means that people’s self-esteem is mainly based on their ap- pearance. But one cannot easily rule out the possibility that the correlation received an unfair boost by the general tendency to speak well of oneself. People who score high on self-esteem by claiming to be wonderful people in general may claim to be physically attractive, and people who rate themselves relatively poorly overall may derogate their appearance. Hence, it is important to obtain more objective measures of physical appearance, to match up with the subjective measures of self-esteem. Diener, Wolsic, and Fujita (1995) obtained self- esteem scores from a broad sample of individuals and then PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST Benefits of Self-Esteem 8 VOL. 4, NO. 1, MAY 2003 photographed everyone. The photographs were shown to other judges, who rated them for attractiveness, thus providing an objective measure of physical attractiveness unaffected by self- report. The ratings of attractiveness based on full-length pic- tures showed a trivial correlation of .06 with self-esteem—not even a significant correlation. Head-and-shoulders photos fared only slightly better, with a correlation of .14, which suggests that physical attractiveness accounted for less than 2% of self- esteem. Even this figure may be inflated, because it could be that people with high self-esteem take particular care to present themselves in a favorable light, such as by wearing attractive clothing and jewelry. When these props were removed to pro- duce unadorned photos of the participants’ faces, the correla- tion of judge-rated attractiveness with self-esteem was .00. In that same investigation, however, self-reported physical attrac- tiveness was found to have a hefty ( r � .59) correlation with self-esteem. Thus, people’s ratings of their own good looks ac- counted for 35% of the variance in their self-esteem, whereas objective ratings of their looks had a negligible relationship to their self-esteem. People with high self-esteem are gorgeous in their own eyes, but objective observers do not see any difference. Similar findings were reported by Gabriel, Critelli, and Ee (1994), who obtained peer ratings of attractiveness from photo- graphs. The correlations with self-esteem were negligible: r � � .01 for males and r � � .04 for females. Again, though, peo- ple with high self-esteem rated themselves as more attractive than those with low self-esteem. The discrepancy is sobering. What seems at first to be a powerful relationship between physical good looks and high self-esteem turns out to be nothing more than a pattern of con- sistency in how favorably people rate themselves. Those who say they are very good overall tend to say that they look good, too. When other people are brought in to judge unadorned pho- tographs, however, people with high self-esteem do not emerge as any more attractive than people with low self-esteem. Inflated views of one’s own attributes are not confined to physical attractiveness. Gabriel et al. (1994) also asked partici- pants to rate their own intelligence and then gave them an intelligence (IQ) test. People with high self-esteem rated them- selves as significantly more intelligent than people with low self-esteem ( r � .35). But the results of the objective IQ test did not justify these favorable claims, for there was no signifi- cant relationship between self-esteem and IQ scores ( r � � .07). The authors also reported that self-esteem was significantly correlated ( r � .38) with the discrepancy between self-rated in- telligence and objectively measured intelligence. This finding confirms that people with high self-esteem exaggerate their in- telligence more than people with low self-esteem. Weight has long been associated with self-esteem, espe- cially in modern Western cultures that glorify slender, young- looking bodies (especially for women). Hence, a lighter body weight should be associated with high self-esteem, whereas obesity should be linked to low self-esteem. Consistent with that view, a meta-analysis (which statistically combines the re- sults of multiple studies) by C.T. Miller and Downey (1999) found a significant correlation ( r � � .24) between actual body weight and self-esteem. But the correlation of self-esteem with self-rated body weight was much stronger ( r � � .72). Thus, people with high self-esteem are a little slimmer than others, but not nearly as much as they think. The broad implication of these examples is that self-reports are likely to contain substantial biases that can easily yield mis- leading empirical findings. People with high self-esteem claim to be successful, attractive, and wonderful in many respects. Objective evidence sometimes paints a much different picture, and many of the ostensible (self-reported) advantages claimed by people with high self-esteem are clearly disconfirmed. The systematic discrepancies between objective and self- reported outcomes led us to conclude that we should set up our literature search and review to emphasize objective measures of outcomes whenever possible. This vastly reduced the amount of material we could use. But the material that re- mained is far more reliable and convincing insofar as the re- sults are based on objective measures. To be sure, objective measures are not always possible to obtain, and reliance on self-report is thus inevitable in some spheres. For example, in the case of happiness, there is almost no alternative to self-report. Even when it is necessary to use self-report, however, we urge researchers to emphasize the most objective, concrete, and verifiable data possible. It seems likely, for example, that global self-ratings of intelligence are more vulnerable to bias and inflation than self-reports of grades in specific courses or scores on specific tests. Behavioral self- reports (e.g., “How many cigarettes did you smoke yester- day?”) should be more reliable than vague or “in general” rat- ings of one’s own behavior (e.g., “How much do you smoke? Very much, some, not very much, or not at all?”). The bias in self-report may well be partly responsible for the popularity of self-esteem among teachers, parents, thera- pists, and others who seek to intervene in people’s lives in a positive fashion. A rise in self-esteem may well cause a person to honestly believe that he or she is doing better in many spheres, even if these beliefs are utterly false and stem from the positive illusions that attend high self-esteem. If both teacher an...

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