Friday, March 02, 2007

"You're Ruining My Self-Esteem!" – Part 2

From Ash:

News stories on the problem of inflated self-esteem are hitting the wire faster than I can keep up with them, and you probably have seen at least one of these by now, so I won't specifically comment on the SDSU report (at least I get a copy of the report itself), other than to say that I love Jean Twenge's mentioning little kids being taught to sing, to the tune of Freres Jacques: "I am special, I am special, Look at me." Sent shivers up and down my spine.

But it ties in nicely with what I wanted to write about today and tomorrow. According to the University of Michigan's Dr. Jennifer Crocker, who runs the Institute for Social Research's Contingencies of Self-Esteem Lab, the problem isn't whether or not someone has high self-esteem or low self-esteem.

The real problem is the energy people devote into maintaining or boosting the level of self- esteem they have.

Crocker has described this as "the costly pursuit of self-esteem."

In her research, Crocker has come to a conclusion that tracks Dweck's very closely. That is, essentially, that when people spend their lives trying to achieve positive self-esteem, they pursue only that which builds their esteem levels. And, accordingly, they jettison anything that won't promote their self-esteem.

And that means developing a self-image of what they're good and bad at – they chase the labels they identify with, and they can't deal with any threat to those labels. (You can see how this equates almost exactly with Dweck's fifth graders. It's all about image-maintenance.)

In one of my favorite of the Crocker studies, she found that college-students who define themselves by their academic status spend more time studying than those who define themselves less by their grades – but there's no evidence that they get better grades. They just study more. There is actually evidence that those who define themselves by academic standing may even do worse: by the end of the school term, they report being more stressed, and having a greater number of conflicts with their professors and peers.

Her other research on college students has found that these students drop-out of classes they might not do well in. They also find it more difficult to pick a major or field – they're afraid to commit to something because they're afraid of not succeeding.

In other words, when their entire self-worth is defined by their academic transcript, they aggressively try to defend it – to the point that they start shooting themselves in the foot.

Tomorrow, more on how the costly pursuit of self-esteem plays out, and then Po and I are going to start on some new topics we've been working on.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting comments about dropping classes. When there is a lot of pressure to maintain your GPA, it is understandable that you would drop classes where you do not do well. For example, chemistry is not my forte although I loved science as a kid. Because I was not strong in math, my grades in chemistry brought down my GPA which hurt my chances of getting into the college of my choice.

I always was willing to try classes and stay in class to learn the material even though my grades were not always wonderful.

I wonder if I used my energy to focus on what I was good at instead of trying so hard to pass classes where I had to work on my weak areas all the time, would my writing be better?

I did get into one of my choices, but the irony is I had to take remedial English classes because it seemed all of my energy was spent trying to improve my weak areas like math and science.


12:45 PM  

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