Evaluation of Oneself

Self-esteem is a general evaluation of self-concept along a good-bad or like-dislike dimension: Do you generally like yourself and feel you are a worthwhile, good person? Do you feel that others respect you? Do you feel you are basically a decent, fair person? Do you take pride and satisfaction in what you have done, in who you are, and in who you would like to become? Self-esteem is the sum of your positive and negative reactions to all the aspects of your self-concept.

Most of us have a mixed reaction to ourselves; we have to take the bad with the good, and we acknowledge that we have both strengths and weaknesses. How we feel about ourselves can change from day to day and even from hour to hour . When we do something that is not consistent with our self-concept, such as hurt someone' s feelings, but we do not think of ourselves as uncaring, then we may experience a dip in self-esteem. Such fluctuations, howeve , occur around our average level of self-esteem. Most personality psychologists are interested in self-esteem in terms of our average level of self-esteem, our characteristic standing on the self-esteem dimension. For example, do we generally have a positive, a neutral, or a negative evaluation of ourselves?

Personality researchers have begun to acknowledge that people can evaluate themselves positively or negatively in dif ferent areas of their lives. For example, you

Table 14.1 Items in a Global Self-Esteem Questionnaire

1.

True

False

I feel good about myself.

2.

True

False

I feel I am a person of worth, the equal of other people.

3.

True

False

I am able to do things as well as most other people.

4.

True

False

On the whole, I am satisfied with myself.

5.

True

False

I certainly feel useless at times.

6.

True

False

At times I think I am no good at all.

7.

True

False

I feel I do not have much to be proud of.

Source: Adapted from Marsh, 1996.

Source: Adapted from Marsh, 1996.

may feel pretty good about your intellectual abilities, but perhaps you are shy with members of the opposite sex. Consequently, you may have high academic self-esteem but lower self-esteem when it comes to dating or feeling attractive to others. Global self-esteem may be a composite of several individual areas of self-evaluation. Each of these subareas can be assessed separately, and researchers can examine self-esteem about various areas of life. For example, there is a scale for measuring three aspects of self-esteem: performance self-esteem, appearance self-esteem, and social self-esteem (Heatherton & Polivy , 1991).

Although there are distinct areas of life in which people can feel more or less confident of themselves—such as friendships, academics, and appearance—self-estee measures of these content areas are moderately correlated. This means that people who tend to have high self-esteem in one area also tend to have high self-esteem in the other areas. Sometimes researchers find it useful to examine specific areas of sel esteem, such as appearance self-esteem in persons at risk for eating disorders. However, the majority of researchers find it useful to think of self-esteem as the person s global or average evaluation of their whole self-concept. T able 14.1 shows a global self-esteem questionnaire that is widely used by researchers in this area. This measure assesses a person' s overall self-esteem, and by reading and answering the items for yourself you will get an idea of what self-esteem means in terms of the measures used to assess this construct. High scores on self-esteem are obtained by answering items 1-4 as "T rue" and items 5-7 as "False."

Research on Self-Esteem

Much of the research on self-esteem concerns how people respond to evaluation. Being evaluated is a very common occurrence, especially during the school years. Homework is evaluated, tests are given, and children receive regular reports on their performance. Even outside school, a lot of play in childhood also involves evaluation, such as occurs with competitive games. In adulthood, the games change but the evaluation continues. At most jobs, there is usually some form of evaluation done on a regular basis, and the workers receive feedback on their performance at least in the form of the size of the raise they get that year. There is also competition and evaluation in many other areas of adult life, such as finances, marriage, and children, where people often compare how they ar doing with their neighbors. Because self-esteem is linked to evaluation, much of the research on this topic concerns how people react to criticism and negative feedback.

Reactions to Criticism and Failure Feedback

Many laboratory studies have been conducted on how people high and low on self-esteem react to failure and criticism. In general, participants are taken into the laboratory and instructed to complete an important task. For example, they may be given an intelligence test and told that norms are being developed and that they should try to do the very best they can, since they are representing their school in this norming project. Usually this gets the participants very involved and motivates them to want to perform well. The researcher then scores the test when the subjects are finished, and the researcher i critical of the participants' performance, saying that they did very poorly . The research question is "How are high and low self-esteem persons af fected by this criticism and personal failure?" The research has looked mainly at how failure feedback af fects subsequent performance on similar tasks, and whether failure af fects high and low self-esteem persons differently (Brown & Dutton, 1995; Stake, Huf f, & Zand, 1995). The participants are of fered the opportunity to work on a similar intelligence test after the failure feedback. The researcher then looks at how hard the participants try , how well they do, and whether they give up on the subsequent dif ficult tasks. The findings sug gest that, following failure, low self-esteem persons are more likely to perform poorly and to give up earlier on subsequent tasks. For high self-esteem persons, on the other hand, failure feedback seems to spur them into action on subsequent tasks, and they are less likely to give up and more likely to work just as hard on the second task as they did on the first (Brown & Dutton, 1995)

Why is it that failure seems to incapacitate low self-esteem persons but seems to encourage high self-esteem persons into renewed effort? Researchers think that people readily accept feedback that is consistent with their self-concept, so, for low self-esteem persons, failure feedback on the first task is consistent with their self-concept and it confirms their views that they are the kind of people who fail more than suc ceed. And, so, when confronted with the second task, low self-esteem persons, who have just had their negative self-view confirmed with failing on the first task, belie they will also fail on the second task and, so, do not try so hard or just give up. For high self-esteem persons, however , failure is not consistent with their existing self-concept, so they are more likely not to accept this feedback. Also, it is likely that they will discount the feedback, perhaps thinking that failure on the first task must hav been an accident or a mistake. Consequently , they are motivated to try just as hard the second time, and to not give up, because they do not see their self-concept as the kind of people who fail. Psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues (e.g., Baumeister, Tice, & Hutton, 1989) ar gue that high self-esteem persons are concerned with projecting a successful, prosperous, and thriving self-image. Low self-esteem persons, on the other hand, are most concerned with avoiding failure. It is a dif fer-ence of emphasis: high self-esteem persons fear not succeeding; low self-esteem persons fear failure.

Self-Esteem and Coping with Negative Events

Other research on high self-esteem persons has examined the strategies these people use to get through life. Unpleasant events can happen to everyone. High self-esteem persons appear to maintain their positive evaluation through the ups and downs of everyday life. Have high self-esteem persons somehow figured out how to cope more e fectively with these challenges of life? How do high self-esteem persons overcome the disappointments, shortcomings, losses, and failures that are a normal part of being human?

One strategy identified by Brown and Smart (1991) is that, following failure i one area of life, the high self-esteem person often will focus on other areas of life in

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