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.
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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.
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?
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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. Cai, H. Self-esteem and culture: Differences in cognitive self-evaluations or affective self-regard?. Campbell, J. Self-concept clarity: Measurement, personality correlates, and cultural boundaries.
The Feeling Self: Self-Esteem
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70 1 , Campbell, W. Narcissism and commitment in romantic relationships: An investment model analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28 , — Narcissism, self-esteem, and the positivity of self-views: Two portraits of self-love. Carlson, E. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1 , — Crocker, J.
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The costly pursuit of self-esteem. Psychological Bulletin, , — Emler, N. Self esteem: The costs and causes of low self worth. York: York Publishing Services. Greenwald, A.
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