Psychopathology & Therapy
The Good Life (Philosophy)
Humor and Laughter
Thinking and Reasoning
Cognitive Illusions and Fallacies
If one were to take a historical look at how self-criticism and selfenhancement were viewed during the times of the ancient Greeks, one would find that self-criticism was not necessarily attached to notions of vice and negative functioning, and self-enhancement was not necessarily attached to notions of virtue and positive functioning.
Indeed, the notion of selfcriticism involving a process of not blindly accepting one's own opinions (or those of others) as true was central to Plato's use of the Socratic method and his view that the unexamined life was'not worth living. And perhaps this notion is no better illustrated than in his famous allegory of the cave.
One day, according to Socrates, these prisoners were released from the cave. As they ascended to the opening of the cave, they experienced acute pain as they were struck by the brilliance of the sunlight. Thus, engaging oneself in the self-critical process of discovering truth was an act that Plato appreciated as central to living a worthwhile life but that was also necessarily challenging and even threatening to most. Only as time passed did these former prisoners begin to realize that they had falsely perceived shadows as objects, rather than as the reflections of objects. This self-critical process ultimately involves an emerging sense of enlightenment and true awareness of the self and world. Although the meaning of this story has multiple layers and dimensions, one can clearly see how the allegory represents Plato's great appreciation for the value of self-critique as a way for rational individuals to obtain true and essential knowledge of themselves and the world around them. In that regard, self-criticism is a constructive process, rather than a destructive one.
Just as for Plato an absence of self-criticism was a major limitation to truly knowing oneself, an excess of self-enhancement can be said to have been a similar concern for Aristotle in the search for the good life.... In contrast to those who followed Epicurus and emphasized the maximization of pleasure or self-enhancing experiences, Aristotle emphasized the importance of keeping such self-enhancing pursuits and activities in check by emphasizing balance and right proportion. This focus is most clearly represented in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics...For Aristotle, not only a lack or deficiency of character but also an excess of character could prevent one from living a life in accordance with virtue. Thus, consider the notion of courage as a virtue.
Within Aristotle's doctrine of the mean, therefore, the truly courageous individual is one who demonstrates the ability to engage in the proper proportion or amount of courageousness as determined by the context and resources at hand. Thus, the virtue of courage resides between the vice of cowardice (not having or demonstrating sufficient courage in
What is important is that for Aristotle, the pursuit of eudaimonea, in contrast to the Epicurean pursuit of pleasure, required individuals to keep self-enhancing tendencies bounded and in check by evaluating the goodness of those characteristics against the outcomes they produced.... In these ways, Aristotle appreciated the possibility that all virtues could easily become vices if the proper amount was not expressed in different situations.
In modern times, many leading psychological theories of psychopathology hold that negative schemas of the self are a major contributor to or cause of mental illness. Within classical psychoanalytic theory, Freud believed the psyche comprised three distinct functions: the id, the ego, and the superego. When these different functions operate without extreme conflict, then anxiety is avoided. However, in some cases, intrapsychic conflict arises and anxiety or neurosis can result.
Indeed, several psychodynamic theorists following Freud expanded on this point, arguing that self-critical behaviors were the root of psychopathology. For example, Horney referred to the "tyranny of the should" and argued that individuals become neurotic when they are driven by critical inner commands to satisfy some idealized image of the self.
In addition to psychodynamic and humanistic theories, modern cognitive theories have tended to emphasize self-critical behaviors, broadly defined, as antecedents to mental disturbance. For example, Beck proposed that a pessimistic triad involving negative schemas about the self, future, and the world was causally related to emotional disorders.... In all, growing evidence points to self-critical behaviors as a cause of or concomitant with maladjustment and negative emotional outcomes.
Just as researchers have found self-criticism to represent a maladaptive force in modern life, other researchers have found self-enhancement to represent an adaptive force linked to good health and well-being.
The importance of self-enhancement has been underscored in more recent years with the emergence of a positive focus in psychology. Building on earlier works that focused on trying to understand ways in which individuals may optimally develop and interact with their changing environments, Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi argued for the development of a positive psychology that had as its aim "to begin to catalyze a change in the focus of psychology from preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building positive qualities".
The modern notion of self-criticism as bad and self-enhancement as good may be more common in the West and less common in the East. Western cultures are typically considered to be individualistic given their emphasis on attending to the needs of the self over others. Thus, for most Westerners the attainment of personal happiness rather than group happiness is highly regarded and sought after, as codified and expressed in historical works such as the Declaration of Independence of the United States.
Self-enhancement for Westerners is thus believed to represent a constructive process that allows them to maintain and support the independent self. Eastern cultures (i.e., cultures found in mariy Asian countries) have been considered collectivist, given their focus on fostering a view of the self as fundamentally interrelated with significant others.... Therefore, self-criticism for Easterners is believed to represent a constructive process that allows them to maintain and support the interdependent self or the group. Taken together, these culturally different patterns indicate a need to consider more inclusive models and a need to situate the field's understanding of self-criticism and self-enhancement.
It is clear from past and present notions of self-criticism and selfenhancement that these constructs involve complex ideas that are sometimes competing and sometimes complementary. Because these notions represent theoretical constructions, caution, if not skepticism, is needed regarding any singular meaning or value of self-criticism and self-enhancement across different contexts.
First, most people do not hold accurate views of themselves. Instead, they inflate their virtues, exaggerate their ability to bring about desired outcomes, and believe their future will be rosier than base rate data can justify. Second, if not too extreme, these biases are generally advantageous, promoting a variety of criteria normally associated with adaptation and health. Taylor and Brown coined the term positive illusions to refer to these beliefs.
Accurate self-knowledge has long been seen as essential for effective functioning. For example, Jahoda defined the mentally healthy person as one who is capable of perceiving the self as it actually is, without distorting one's perceptions to fit one's wishes, and Maslow wrote that healthy individuals are able to accept themselves and their own nature, with all of its discrepancies from their ideal image.
It is easy to see how such a thesis developed. Grossly inaccurate selfviews are detrimental to well-being. People who hallucinate or experience delusions of grandeur are not paragons of mental health. Whether other, less extreme divergences from reality are detrimental to well-being is another matter. Taylor and Brown's theory applies only to mildly distorted self-views that paint a self-portrait just slightly better than reality warrants. At no time did they state or imply that excessive self-enhancement is better than moderate self-enhancement. This point is often overlooked by those who have criticized their approach.
When Taylor and Brown published their findings in 1988, there was virtually no research on the role of illusions in romantic relationships. Since then, research in this area has proliferated, and three findings have emerged. First, people view their relationship partners in unrealistically positive terms. They believe their partner is better than most other people, and they view their partner more positively than their partners view themselves or are viewed by others. Second, couples view their relationship in unrealistically positive terms. They believe their love is stronger than other people's love and that the problems that beset other people's relationships, such as poor communication skills or incompatible interests, pose less of a threat to their own relationship. Third, couples believe that they have more control over their relationship's outcomes than do most other people and that they are more apt to remain together than are most other couples. Moreover, this relationship superiority bias occurs across cultures. In short, when thinking about their relationships, people exhibit the same three biases Taylor and Brown identified as being characteristic of self-perceptions: They view their relationship in overly positive terms, exaggerate their ability to bring about desired outcomes, and are unrealistically optimistic.
These tendencies predict relationship success. People who idealize their partner and view their relationship in overly positive terms are more satisfied with their relationship, more committed to it, and more apt to remain together than are those who are more accurate and balanced. The effect is strongest when both partners exhibit these tendencies, providing evidence for an effect we call illusion collusion. Simply put, happy, satisfied, and committed couples support one another's positive biases and illusions.
In other words, recovery from traumatic events often involves restoring the positive illusions that were in place prior to the experience. Positive illusions drive the recovery process. People regain a favorable self-image, recapture perceived control, and reclaim optimism by construing events in overly positive ways. For example, they believe that they are coping better than are most other victims and have more control over the course of their disease than they actually do. They also construct a view of the future that is unrealistically optimistic in light of their condition.
Numerous studies have found that optimists are more inclined than pessimists to use problem-focused coping strategies. When faced with a stressful situation, optimists seek out relevant information and actively attempt to solve their problems, either by directly attacking the source of distress or by looking at the situation in ways that cast things in the most positive light (e.g., believing they have learned a lot from the experience and are a better person for having gone through it).
Some studies find a negative correlation between self-enhancement and interpersonal evaluations, whereas others find the opposite to be true. Still others have found that selfenhancing people make a positive first impression but are later disliked, or are disliked only if they have recently been threatened or thwarted. In short, whether self-enhancement engenders interpersonal acceptance or rejection is uncertain. One thing is clear, however: Self-enhancing people perceive their relationships as being more supportive and fulfilling than do those who are more balanced or self-deprecating. Insofar as perceived support from others is a valuable resource in times of stress, these positive beliefs would seem to have salutary consequences.
People need to be attentive to the costs and benefits of their choices in situations like these, and some studies have found that people who exaggerate their belief to bring about desired outcomes make poorer choices when making decisions under uncertainty... If the task is uncontrollable (as is true in many artificial laboratory settings), positive illusions may well prove maladaptive, as people will persist in courses of action that are destined to fail. If, however, people have some control over the outcome (as is usually true in the real world), positive illusions will probably be beneficial, as people who are efficacious and optimistic will work hard to bring about a desired outcome.
Under most situations, people who regard themselves in positive terms believe they are in control of their lives and look forward to a bright and prosperous future fare better than do those who lack these perceptions. To be sure, excessively positive self-relevant beliefs can be problematic, but this fact was never in dispute.
Although research in this area is just beginning, early findings suggest that positive illusions are beneficial when they are accompanied by high self-esteem but detrimental when they are accompanied by low self-esteem.
Self-criticism in psychopathology can include such elements as negative and critical thoughts directed toward one's own personal or physical characteristics, excessive self-blame for shortcomings, the inability to accomplish goals and tasks in accordance with unrealistically high standards, and the low regard with which individuals believe they are being appraised by others. Such self-critical thoughts, beliefs, and attributions have been linked to the etiology or maintenance of several forms of psychopathology including depression, social anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders. Self-criticism in psychopathology is quite pervasive.
Although many theorists have noted that individuals with depression appraise themselves in a negative manner, Beck was among the first to recognize that negative views of the self reflect a core symptom of depression. In Beck's model, these negative views are theorized to result from faulty information processing that leads to errors in thinking and interpreting experiences and in generating inappropriately self-critical thoughts. In what Beck termed a negative cognitive triad, he observed individuals with depression not only hold critical views regarding the self but also tend to evidence negative views of the world and the future. This conceptualization suggests that self-critical beliefs are not solely about current experiences but also reflect a global view of the world and also extend into the future. In this model, reality is distorted and self-interpretations of one's life and experiences are systematically biased in the direction of emphasizing negative features and information. This distortion leads to selfcriticism by the individual who has depression that fosters a view of the self as deficient, inadequate, or unworthy. Furthermore, people with depression selectively attend to the negative even when alternative positive interpretations are reasonable and valid, thus maintaining a harsh and critical view of themselves while minimizing positive aspects of the self.
Beck adapted the idea of schemas to understand depression and suggested that individuals with depression possess dysfunctional self-schemas that contain preexisting critical and negative beliefs that lead individuals with depression to pay attention to information that supports these beliefs while ignoring disconfirming positive information. Viewed as a stable information-processing structure composed of negative self-representations, the negative self-schema is thought to dominate cognition during episodes of affective distress and produce dysfunctional information- processing patterns. Moreover, Beck argued that the self-critical thoughts generated by schemas are automatic in that they occur without conscious effort or choice.
Originally developed by Beck, cognitive treatments for depression typically focus on maladaptive cognitions and beliefs that are thought to have a role in the onset and maintenance of depression.
Central to most cognitive-behavioral therapies is a focus on changing the dysfunctional and automatic thoughts that are theorized to stem from maladaptive schemas. Working with the therapist, clients are taught to monitor their thinking and become aware of their depressogenic automatic thoughts. Once dysfunctional cognitions are identified, clients are instructed in ways to challenge and dispute the validity of these self-critical thoughts and beliefs. Clients are taught not to accept self-criticisms as being true, but to regard them as hypothetical propositions and, with the aid of the therapist, to examine the evidence for the validity of such faults and shortcomings in their life or behavior. The goal of cognitivebehavioral therapy is to ultimately replace self-critical thoughts and beliefs with more rational and realistic cognitions that will make it more likely for the client to engage in healthy positively reinforced behaviors not previously attempted.
Blatt and colleagues proposed the existence of two broad types of depression: anaclitic and introjective. Anaclitic depression is characterized by feelings of helplessness, weakness, and loneliness. Individuals with this type of depression have intense and chronic fears of being abandoned and left unprotected by others. However, introjective depression is characterized by feelings of worthlessness, inferiority, guilt, and a sense of having failed to live up to the expectations and standards of oneself and others. Because individuals with introjective depression have a strong fear of losing the approval of significant others, they engage in harsh self-criticism and evaluation. Blatt argued that people with introjective depression strive for excessive achievement and perfection as a result of their perceived inferiority coupled with a fear of disapproval from others they care about. Although they are typically highly competitive and often accomplish a great deal, they obtain little satisfaction from their success.
Blatt described self-critical people with depression as having strong needs to succeed that drive them to strive for goals and accomplishments that are often overreaching. Coupled with this drive to perform is a desire to not appear weak or deficient to others. Thus they are both vulnerable to the criticisms of others and highly self-critical of themselves. Much of this self-criticism, Blatt argued, arises from an irrational desire for perfection and unrealistically high standards of achievement that the individual cannot meet. Moreover, because of interpersonal difficulties, they are either unable or unwilling to turn to others for help.
Behavioral and self-regulation models have conceptualized perfectionism as a pursuit of unattainable standards that, when not accomplished, generates self-criticism and leads to generalized negative self-evaluations of many aspects of the self, often without a reduction in the attempt to achieve the unattainable goals.
The primary difference between the adaptive and maladaptive aspects of perfectionism appears to center on whether the high standards set by an individual are achievable or not, and how the individual reacts to mistakes when these standards are occasionally not met. Thus, adaptive perfectionism is theorized to be motivated by the desire for positive rewards and orderliness as contrasted with an excessive concern and avoidance of failure when performance does not meet unrealistically high standards, as is construed to be the case with maladaptive perfectionism.
Self-criticism is thus a concept that is inherent in depression theories and is a mechanism that may serve to maintain depression; individuals who respond to adverse life events by being unrealistically critical of themselves are prone to continue experiencing a negative affective state.
Individuals who are highly critical of themselves often experience struggles in many social domains, including relationships with romantic partners, family members, and friends. These interpersonal difficulties may result from the hypothesized insecurities that self-critical individuals have about attachment and social rank, their tendency to make few requests for social support, their relative lack of interpersonal goals, and the little pleasant affect they feel when acting communally.
Self-criticism is conceptualized as a continuous personality dimension that concerns one's self-appraisal. On the positive end of this continuum, self-criticism influences how one achieves a positive, realistic, and cohesive sense of oneself. For people with healthy levels of this trait, being self-critical is an affirming, inspiring factor that helps them to achieve their goals. For example, an aspiring athlete may use constructive self-criticism to achieve success in the form of self-feedback in the development of skills, disciplined training regimens, and competitive tactics. In this sense, self-criticism works much like adaptive perfectionism might in an ideal environment. However, for some people, self-criticism is an unhealthy, destructive force that leaves them feeling frustrated and discouraged. This discontentment occurs because some self-critical individuals become disapproving of themselves when they fail to achieve internalized standards and goals.
Self-critics have been described as ambivalent about interpersonal relationships, as they desire others' respect and approval while simultaneously fearing disapproval, loss of control, and their own autonomy. Previous research teams have described people with unhealthy levels of self-criticism as having poor mood management skills, high levels of negative affect, and maladaptive relationship schemas.
Other studies have also shown that self-critical behaviors in offspring may be a result of parents who put a high emphasis on achievement and control. These results support the idea that early parenting behaviors may play a role in both the development and maintenance of a self-critical personality style and interpersonal difficulties. They also indicate that self-criticism may be passed, genetically and environmentally, from one family member to the next.
Zuroff, Moskowitz, and Cote found that self-critical adults experienced less pleasant affect when acting communally than did those who were non-self-critical. Santor and Zuroff have also demonstrated that when interpersonal relatedness is threatened, self-critical women promote their status by controlling a shared resource, even at the expense of a close friend.
Self-critical young adults have also been found to experience more negative affect and less positive affect during social interactions and to set fewer interpersonal goals when compared with noncritical young adults. Self-report studies indicate that college-age selfcritics report having fewer friends and being less satisfied with their social support in comparison with noncritics...Thus, self-criticism appears to be correlated with a variety of negative interpersonal exchanges, poor social skills, and relatively unsatisfying relationships over the life span.
Hewitt and Flett have hypothesized that self-critics may, in an attempt to meet their achievement goals, become actively overloaded. This overloading may increase their chances of failure and also may create interpersonal stress or erode social support. In other words, self-criticism is a vulnerability that may generate stress and decrease social support over time, which may lead to increased distress for the self-critical individual.
Vettese and Mongrain assessed how self-criticism affects interpersonal communication. When selfcritics were asked to appraise their own and their partner's performance on a conflict-resolution task, they made proportionately more negative than positive statements about both their behavior and their partner's behavior. This behavior had the effect of eliciting more negative feedback about the self-critic from the partner...Thus, people who are self-critical appear to engage in negative communication styles with romantic partners following a stressful event.
Researchers have suggested that self-critical participants react in overtly hostile and less loving ways when engaging in conflict-resolution tasks with a romantic partner. These facts suggest that self-critical individuals may interpersonally precipitate an atmosphere that is unlikely to result in complete relationship satisfaction.
In other words, self-critical comments may initially have the effect of eliciting reassurance from others. However, if a self-critic's reassurance seeking behavior becomes excessive, it puts him or her at a heightened risk of increasing interpersonal stress and eroding his or her social support network.
It has also been consistently demonstrated that self-criticism is a personality characteristic dimension associated with depression. Finally, self-criticism has been linked to suicidality (a symptom of depression), such that self-critics demonstrate greater lethality and a greater intent to die than do non-self-critics. But how exactly is the relationship between depression or dysphoria and self-criticism explained?
One possibility originates from the fact that self-critics seek to gain approval of others through success (e.g., in academic or professional settings). When these people encounter life events that thwart their goals, they evaluate themselves harshly, a process that may serve as a catalyst of depression... Self-criticism has also been related to dysfunctional mood regulation techniques, such as venting and social isolation (ineffective mood regulation processes hypothesized to prolong negative affect).
Self-critics have been shown to be very concerned with how others perceive them, which influences how they interact with others and often has the effect of the self-critic publicly expressing critical self-views or requesting reassurance from others. This type of behavior has consistently been shown to negatively impact social relationships.
Finally, it is possible that self-critics use their behavior as a way to gain the approval and respect of others. Although, to our knowledge, the specifics of this process have not been elucidated, it is plausible to hypothesize that a self-critic may elicit the respect of others if he or she appears to be always striving for the best.
Although self-critics appear to elicit initially positive and overt feedback from others, many researchers point out that, eventually, self-criticism generates negative responses from the social environment.
In general, it appears that although self-criticism initially generates positive interpersonal reactions (in the form of both direct and indirect social support), when people in the social environment of the self-critical individual get too tired or too uncomfortable with this behavior, they display negative social responses.
For more than two millennia, Western philosophy has espoused accurate perceptions of self and the social world and viewed these accurate perceptions to be the ultimate virtue. Many theoretical and clinical psychologists have likewise extolled realistic and accurate selfperception, believing it to be a fundamental feature of mental health.
From this perspective, mentally healthy people have a relatively accurate sense of self, are willing to present this imperfect self to the social world, and distort reality primarily to maintain manageable levels of anxiety. In spite of this long tradition, the reality perspective on mental health has encountered a strong challenge. Taylor and Brown argued that the tendency to maintain overly positive and unrealistic self-perceptions of personality (i.e., positive illusions), as opposed to accurate self-perceptions, is characteristic of most people in general, and mentally healthy people in particular.
In their original formulation, Taylor and Brown defined selfenhancement as a "pervasive, enduring and systematic" tendency to hold unrealistically positive self-evaluations. This definition indicates selfenhancement is a "general, enduring pattern of error" and represents a distortion of reality.
For the purposes of this chapter, self-enhancement is defined as an overly positive view of one's own personality traits. This definition implies that an individual is unrealistic about a broad range of trait characteristics (as opposed to a single behavior), that this unrealistic self-view is distorted in a positive direction, and that the assessment of distortion is measured against a reality standard.
The assessment of self-enhancement is most often done with selfreport measures. Participants typically rate themselves in comparison with the "average" person on a variety of qualities and skills. The majority of participants rate themselves to be above average. Researchers argue that it is logically impossible for most people to be above average and cite this tendency as evidence of self-enhancement.
The assessment of self-enhancement by the social consensus approach compares participants' self-reports of personality with personality ratings by two or more informants who are acquainted with the participant. If participants' self-reports are more favorable than the informants' ratings, the participants are characterized as self-enhancers. However, a social consensus requires two or more people. A consensus of one does not count. The informants must agree about the participant's personality; but agreement does not guarantee validity.
Even if all of these conditions have been met, there still is no guarantee that this approach will yield a valid assessment of self-enhancement. In much the same way that early test developers learned that no perfect criterion exists with which to validate a new test, similarly no perfect criterion exists with which to assess a participant's self-rated personality traits. The logic of construct validity acknowledges this limitation and attempts to overcome it by arguing for the use of multiple, and different, criteria. Thus, even if two friends agree about a participant's personality, there may be very good reasons to doubt their "social consensus" represents a reasonable proxy for the truth. However, if unique consensus groups, such as clinical interviewers, parents, significant others, and work associates, provide similar personality portraits based on unique perspectives on the participant's life, it can be argued that a reasonable approximation of truth has been obtained.
From our perspective, the social consensus approach provides the optimal construct to measurement mapping. It emphasizes the assessment of a wide range of personality traits by self and acquainted others and the use of multiple types of criteria in accordance with the tenets of construct validity, and argues for the use of independent data sources to evaluate the adaptiveness of self-enhancement. Given these stated criteria, we now turn to a discussion of the psychological costs of self-enhancement.
According to the DSM-IV-TR, individuals with narcissistic personality disorder "have a grandiose sense of self-importance (Criterion 1). They routinely overestimate their abilities and inflate their accomplishments" and "expect to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements". Consistent with this description, several studies have demonstrated that the tendency to engage in self-enhancement is associated with narcissism.
Across these three studies a clear pattern emerged. Participants who viewed themselves more favorably than examiners and friends rated them were described by a completely independent group of observers as guileful and deceitful, having a brittle ego-defense, and being distrustful of people, subtly negativistic, hostile, and self-defeating. In contrast, those individuals with relatively accurate self-views were seen as cheerful, having high intellect, productive, sympathetic, and having poise and social presence.
Self-enhancement has been shown to correlate positively with self-reported ego-resiliency, self-reported selfesteem, self-reported positive affect, and self-reported general adjustment. The finding that self-enhancement is positively related to self-reported adjustment and negatively related to informant-rated adjustment has led some researchers to conclude that self-enhancement is a mixed blessing. That is, self-enhancement may be associated with poor interpersonal well-being but also positive intrapsychic well-being. This relationship is always open to the alternative explanation that self-enhancers hold unrealistically positive views of their own adjustment.
Some researchers have suggested that a little bit of self-enhancement is the optimal amount for good mental health. This statement may ultimately be true, but the current arsenal of methodological techniques does not permit researchers to make absolute assessments, only relative ones. As a result, in any given study, individuals found to score slightly above the mean on self-enhancement may, in an absolute sense, be accurate, self-enhancing, or self-derogating.
On When Self-Enhancement and Self-Criticism Function Adaptively and Maladaptively, C. Sedikides, M. Luke
Weposit that the continuity and vitality of the self-system depend on the effective and complementary functioning of self-enhancement and self-criticism. In particular, we discuss the ways in which self-enhancement and selfcriticism interact both adaptively and maladaptively.
Our analysis is based on a time-honored conceptual and methodological distinction between two self-evaluation motives. The self-enhancement motive propels thought and behavior in the service of maintaining, protecting, or increasing the positivity of the self-concept. In contrast, the selfassessment motive fuels thought and behavior toward maintaining, protecting, or increasing the accuracy of the self-concept.
Evidence for the preponderance of the self-enhancement motive would be obtained if participants endorsed as self-descriptive, solicited more information about, or recalled to a greater degree positive rather than negative statements— especially high-accuracy statements. However, evidence for the preponderance of the self-assessment motive would be obtained if participants endorsed as self-descriptive, solicited more information about, or recalled to a greater degree high- rather than low-accuracy statements, regardless of their valence.
We conceptualize self-enhancement as the tendency to focus on and emphasize positive aspects of one's self-concept (e.g., traits, abilities, goals); one's life (e.g., likelihood of desirable events happening, capacity to control such events); or incoming self-relevant information (e.g., feedback). We make the important assumption that a consequence of the self-assessment motive is selfcriticism. That is, when opting for accuracy rather than positivity of information or self-knowledge, people may question their intentions, go beyond the information given and engage in deep and objective autobiographical searches, ask the hard questions about the kind of person they are, and draw to a close by criticizing themselves. Self-criticism, then, is the tendency to focus on and emphasize negative aspects of one's self-concept, one's life, or feedback.
We refer to adaptive as involving or precipitating the presence of positive outcomes (e.g., relatively high life satisfaction and self-esteem, optimism, a sense of control, the ability to set and pursue desired goals, the belief in self-improvement) or the absence of negative outcomes (e.g., depressive symptoms, unhappiness, pessimism, low self-esteem, a sense of lack of control over one's life, the inability to set and pursue goals, a feeling of stagnation) for the individual. It follows that maladaptive connotes the absence of positive outcomes or the presence of negative outcomes for the individual.
The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines symbiosis as "interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both" and as "a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups." In the context of this chapter, we define symbiosis as a mutually beneficial relationship between self-enhancement and self-criticism.
In addition, the New Oxford Dictionary of English defines parasite as "an organism which lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the other's expense" and "a person who habitually relies on or exploits others and gives nothing in return." In the context of this chapter, self-enhancement and self-criticism are considered as having a parasitic relationship when one undermines the other while coexisting. Furthermore, self-enhancement and self-criticism are considered as having an antisymbiotic relationship when they are antagonistic and preclude each other.
In summary, anticipated objective feedback (i.e., expert evaluation) instigates self-criticism, which, in turn, tones down self-enhancement. This process involves adaptive outcomes for the individual. One such outcome is a stronger sense of control and self-efficacy and a clearer and more accurate self-concept: The individual has now learned from experience and knows where he or she stands. In essence, participants look at themselves through the eyes of the evaluator and readjust the positivity of their self-views accordingly.
In the second type of symbiotic relationship between self-enhancement and self-criticism, the following scenario unfolds: Self-enhancement encounters a realism barrier, which gives way to a somewhat critical self-view, which prompts a self-improvement orientation....When participants receive unfavorable feedback about a modifiable trait. This negative affective state is likely to spawn self-focus and self-questioning. It is interesting, however, that despite being hurt by the feedback, participants do not abandon their will for improvement....Stated otherwise, when a modifiable (rather than an unmodifiable) trait is at stake, participants turn self-criticism into self-improvement with obvious adaptive implications (e.g., higher optimism, stronger sense of control over the future).
In the third type of a symbiotic relationship between self-criticism and self-enhancement, the following scenario takes place: Self-criticism is offset by compensating mechanisms such as positive mood, success experiences, and close relationships. The result is an improvement orientation, as manifested by the solicitation of accurate but liability-focused feedback or by the propensity for upward social comparison. This orientation, in turn, gives rise to more defensible and verifiable self-enhancement patterns.
Participants who were bolstered by positive mood, a success experience, or a close-positive relationship indeed manifested a preference for accurate and potentially improving feedback, despite the fact that such feedback focuses on their intellectual or personality limitations. Such an improvement orientation obviously has adaptive consequences: Armed with a better understanding of gaps in their knowledge or weaknesses in their personality, participants may rechannel personal resources (e.g., time, practice, task analysis) in a bid to ameliorate their current level of skill, especially when their goal is salient or personally important.
Comparisons between the self and more fortunate others provide an informative and diagnostic basis for one's self-beliefs and aspirations, thus grounding the self-concept in empirical reality. A consequence of this process is temperate self-enhancement. The individual will think of the self in ways that are more measured, verifiable, and defensible.
In a parasitic relationship, the two tendencies coexist, although one enfeebles the other. We consider such a relationship in the context of neuroticism. The defining feature of neuroticism is affective instability. In particular, neuroticism correlates with, and predisposes the individual toward, negative affect (e.g., anxiety, distress, unhappiness).
Neurotics tend to construe threat, even if no threat or minimal threat exists. Threat construals may be due to negative biases in information processing and retrieval as well as the tendency to monitor rather than label one's mood and subsequently to engage in rumination. Such biases are associated with relative lack of emotional and motivational (i.e., goal-relevant) clarity.
In summary, the coexistence of positive and negative self-cognitions in neurotics—along with their ambivalent and unstable emotionality—is relatively debilitating and contributes to maladaptive outcomes.
In an antisymbiotic relationship, self-criticism and self-enhancement are antagonistic and preclude one another. An illustrative case of such a relationship is perfectionism. Perfectionism has been defined as a private desire for perfection, the drive to achieve exceedingly high and faultless goals, and "the striving to be perfect and to avoid error or flaw".
Perfectionists are dissatisfied with their performance even when, according to objective indicators, they should be pretty pleased with it. Chronic performance dissatisfaction is associated with a variety of maladaptive outcomes. Perfectionism is associated with self-loathing, distress, depression, unresponsiveness to therapies for depression, anorexia in young adults, and bulimia in women with low self-esteem.
The final type of an antisymbiotic relationship between self-enhancement and self-criticism that we consider is narcissism. This trait is defined in terms of a self-aggrandizing, self-centered, dominant, and manipulative orientation. Also, narcissists score high on disagreeableness and extraversion, and score high on agency but low on communion. In terms of attachment styles, narcissists have a positive perception of the self and a negative perception of others.
In the case of failure feedback, narcissists (compared to non-narcissists) derogated the evaluator as incompetent and unlikeable and were prepared to convey their impression in a face-to-face encounter with the evaluator. In another study, narcissists who received failure feedback for their performance on an interdependent task blamed the outcome on their partner, even when the partner was a friend. In still another study, narcissists who received failure feedback behaved aggressively toward the evaluator.
Narcissists, then, cannot do wrong in their own eyes and are unforgiving and vengeful toward others. Does this entitled and egocentric orientation have negative implications for psychological health? The evidence does not indicate so. Narcissism is inversely related to sadness, loneliness, and depression, and is positively related to subjective well-being. The relation, however, between narcissism and psychological health is mediated by self-esteem: Narcissism is beneficial for psychological health insofar as it is linked with high self-esteem.
It is paradoxical, then, that an antisymbiotic relationship between selfenhancement and self-criticism confers adaptive outcomes. However, there are reasons to believe that such a relationship also bears maladaptive outcomes. Narcissists report higher variability on positive mood, negative mood, and mood intensity over the course of several days. In addition, narcissists experience more negative affect in response to interpersonal stressors and more volatile emotion in romantic relationships. Moreover, narcissists experience more extreme affective reactions to social comparison information; in particular, they report stronger positive affect following downward social comparison and stronger hostility following upward social comparison.
These findings would suggest that narcissistic self-esteem is unstable or contingent. Finally, because of their inability to forgive, narcissists are deprived of the beneficial consequences of forgiveness for psychological health. Thus, although narcissism is adaptive in some ways, it is maladaptive in others.
In other words, narcissists are attracted to prospective partners who offer them admiration rather than intimacy, favor a game-playing love, and report low levels of commitment to dating relationships. Also, narcissists are not bound to be popular group members, given that they exhibit in abundance the self-serving bias: They take credit for their successes and displace blame for failures on others. What do others think of the narcissist? In the first social encounters, narcissists give off a positive impression, as they appear energetic, intense, and confident. However, as interpersonal interactions accrue (by the seventh weekly social interaction, to be exact), narcissists are increasingly seen as self-centered, conceited, uninteresting, and hostile.
In summary, the narcissistic interpersonal style is likely to be particularly costly in the long run. Narcissism is not only damaging to other persons or the group but also maladaptive to the individual's long-term goals.
In narcissism, self-enhancement impedes self-criticism. Both parasitic and antisymbiotic relationships have maladaptive implications... Recurrent self-criticism, for instance, is associated with negative mood and hopelessness as well as depressive symptoms, major depression, and shame.
Self-criticism is an offshoot of the self-assessment motive, and it is adaptive only when it is engaged for relatively brief periods and in the service of adaptive (i.e., self-improving) action.
Today there is debate regarding whether we should promote self-enhancement at all. One review concluded, "We have not found evidence that boosting self-esteem (by therapeutic interventions 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 outcomes". This determination creates a problem for clinicians when clients complain of low self-esteem or present problems for which low self-esteem seems to be a contributing factor. When (if ever) and how should therapists promote self-enhancement in psychotherapy?
If the client seeks self-enhancement as a result of unrealistic beliefs regarding the value of high self-esteem, it would be appropriate for the therapist to advocate a more realistic view of self-esteem and to encourage the client to consider other goals for treatment. However, if low self-esteem presents a reallife problem for the client or if it contributes to problems such as depression, avoidance, or lack of assertion, then working to promote adaptive selfenhancement may be quite appropriate.
The available evidence does not support the idea that therapists should indiscriminately seek to enhance self-esteem. However, it is compatible with the idea of selectively working to promote selfenhancement when low self-esteem is a problem.
When therapist and client focus on specific situations in which the client's problems are manifested, it is easier to obtain detailed information. As a consequence, it is easier for therapist and client to develop a clear understanding of the client's problems and identify promising interventions.
A number of studies on the importance of the therapeutic relationship in behavior therapy have found that the personal relationship between therapist and client contributes significantly to treatment outcome. Posttreatment ratings provide evidence of the importance of the therapist's understanding, interest, respect, sympathy, and encouragement.
It can be argued that low self-esteem is the product of negative selfevaluation. In Fred's case, thoughts such as "I'm not good enough," "I've never really been successful," "Nothing ever works out for me," "I'll never get anywhere," and "I'll fail" played a major role both in his low self-esteem and in his depression. One option for addressing such thoughts is for the therapist to work to identify the specific thoughts occurring in problem situations and then help the client to come up with more adaptive alternatives
Another option for dealing with negative thoughts is for the therapist to help the client devise behavioral experiments in which the client tests the validity of the thoughts in real-life situations.
Early cognitive-behavioral approaches conceptualized low self-esteem in terms of negative self-evaluations and tended to presume that one simply needs to eliminate negative thoughts to increase self-esteem. However, it has been argued more recently that the ratio of negative self-evaluations to positive self-evaluations may be more important than the absolute number of negative self-evaluations. One can change this ratio by decreasing the frequency of negative self-evaluations or by increasing the frequency of positive self-evaluations.
Clients can also be asked to actively watch for legitimate opportunities to give themselves a pat on the back or can be asked to keep a running list of accomplishments, steps in the right direction, and good tries. Clients often are less harsh in evaluating others' performance than they are in evaluating themselves. When this is the case, it can be useful to prompt them to consider evaluating themselves in the same way as they evaluate others.
It has been argued that humans experience what has been termed the confirmatory bias. Once a belief has been acquired, people tend to selectively attend to experiences that confirm that belief and to overlook or discount experiences that would disconfirm that belief... In such cases, interventions that simply address specific selfevaluations are likely to prove insufficient. It can be important to modify any dysfunctional beliefs about the self that are present.
Often it is useful to start by explicitly examining the pros and cons of self-criticism. Clients initially may not recognize the drawbacks of constant self-criticism or may overestimate the benefits of self-criticism.
Many individuals who have learned to use self-criticism as a strategy for improving performance or avoiding mistakes have little idea of what alternative strategies they might consider. Adaptive alternatives can be identified in a variety of ways. Therapist and client can jointly brainstorm alternatives, the therapist can ask the client to think of examples of people they know who do well without constant self-criticism, or the therapist can propose an alternative strategy. Some possible alternatives include moderating the amount of self-criticism, using self-criticism selectively, balancing attention to one's flaws and shortcomings with an equal amount of attention to one's strengths and accomplishments.
Verbal discussion alone usually is not sufficient to reduce the amount of self-criticism. It can be important to explicitly plan how the client can put adaptive alternatives into practice and to test them in real-life situations. Behavioral experiments can be a particularly useful way of doing this.
If an individual regularly faces significant others who are harshly critical, who are demeaning, or who are protective and helpful in a way that implies that the client is incompetent, this situation can contribute substantially to low self-esteem and can undermine the therapist's attempts to promote adaptive self-enhancement. The therapist then is faced with a choice between working to modify dysfunctional interactions or working to help the individual to cope effectively with the dysfunctional relationship.
Often, the negative evaluations expressed by others contribute to low self-esteem. In this case, it can be useful to help the client to look critically at the other person's opinions and to draw a distinction between that individual's opinions and his or her own opinions.
It is important to note that generic psychotherapy isn't necessarily effective as a treatment for depression. In fact, when an individual with depression is simply encouraged to express his or her feelings while the therapist listens sympathetically, the client may experience little relief or may actually become more depressed.
Some individuals believe that it is necessary for them to strive to perform tasks perfectly. Such individuals typically set high standards and react with harsh criticism when those standards are not met. As a result, they often fall short of their standards for themselves, criticize themselves harshly, and have low self-esteem in response to perceived failures. Many individuals enter treatment seeing their perfectionism as one of their good points, not as a problem to work on. Therefore, it is important to begin treatment by explicitly examining the pros and cons of perfectionism.
Realistic positive feedback from others can be quite useful in promoting self-enhancement. One option is for the therapist to make a point of providing the client with positive feedback regarding accomplishments, progress, steps in the right direction, and so on. However, it can be important for the therapist to be judicious in directly providing positive feedback. If there is too large a discrepancy between the therapist's feedback and the client's self-perception, the client may reject or discount the therapist's feedback ("You're just saying that to make me feel better").
Often, clients report that certain activities, such as spending time with supportive friends or performing tasks they are skilled at, increase their selfesteem. Simply increasing the amount of time spent in activities that raise self-esteem can be quite useful. The therapist may need to help the client find time for such activities or may need to address cognitions that discourage him or her from doing so.
It is important to be realistic about the client's abilities, to help them choose activities for which positive experiences are likely, and to help them use appropriate standards for self-evaluation. It is possible to set up many situations as "no lose" by framing them as an experiment in which the goal is to find out if the activity is something that the client enjoys and can master with practice. This way, if the client tries the activity and finds that he or she enjoys it and is getting better at it, the client has succeeded in discovering that the activity is a good match for him or her. However, if the client tries the activity and discovers that he or she does not enjoy it or has difficulty mastering it, the client has succeeded in discovering that the activity is not a good match for him or her. The focus is on evaluating the activity, not on evaluating the client.
Working to directly promote self-enhancement is one option, but other interventions are worth considering as well. One alternative is to work toward self-acceptance. Adopting a view such as "I've got strengths and weaknesses but all-in-all, I'm OK" could be a promising alternative to constant self-evaluation.
Another alternative to self-enhancement is a modification of the "feel the fear and do it anyway" approach that is used with anxiety problems. If an individual who feels inadequate chooses to go ahead and face challenges in manageable steps anyway, the benefits are often substantial. Individuals are often surprised to discover that they are more adequate than they expected, that they become more adequate with practice, and that others can accept them despite their shortcomings.
Finally, some individuals have low self-esteem because of repeated negative experiences in interpersonal relationships. When these negative experiences are due to poor social skills, working to improve social skills and social problem-solving skills can be quite useful. Increased success in interpersonal interactions can have a substantial impact on the individual's self-esteem.
When it comes to criticizing other persons, it seems a widely shared understanding that such criticism should benefit the individual criticized... It ought, for example, to inform its recipient that something is wrong, what precisely about it is wrong, and how this something might be changed in the future. It ought, in sum, to be adaptive—to assist the individuals criticized in adjusting their behavior in such a way that they can function more successfully in their worlds. When criticism fails this understood requirement, it is typically regarded as failing its task. We say that it was "unconstructive," "unhelpful," "failed to provide its recipient with any information about how to change," and the like.
Degrading labels that persons assign to themselves tend to be impervious to contradictory empirical evidence. Once individuals brand themselves with these labels, they tend, in the face of such evidence, not to alter the label but to assimilate new facts to it...Thus, these labels often prove quite enduring and resistant to change, even in the face of massive evidence of their invalidity.
In my clinical experience, it is not the pursuit of perfection per se but its use as an all-or-nothing standard of adequacy that proves so destructive to clients. With respect to its consequences, perfectionism dooms its practitioners to a chronic sense of failure and misery. Success is for the most part impossible, and so the individual is forever "getting a zero." Demoralization and even behavioral paralysis set in when virtually nothing he or she does ever results in a sense of pride, appreciation, or accomplishment. Finally, the individual who uses perfectionistic standards typically exhibits a highly negative focus. What draws his or her attention are deficits from the standard upheld, not any positive actions or accomplishments that might be appreciated.
A person's self-esteem is that person's summary appraisal of his or her own worth or goodness. As such, it is clearly and directly a product of the individual's functioning as a critic of self. If persons repeatedly brand themselves "unlovable," "selfish," "screwed-up," and the like; repeatedly declare themselves failures for not living up to impossible standards; repeatedly attack themselves in hateful, abusive ways; or engage in other injurious self-critical practices, their self-esteem will be abysmal.
When individuals engage repeatedly in such actions as branding themselves with disqualifying labels, declaring themselves ineligible, and judging themselves failures vis-a-vis impossible standards, they are likely to be depressed. When they appraise themselves in such a way that the situations they must confront seem too much for them, they will be anxious. When they judge themselves the bearers of highly stigmatizing, socially discrediting characteristics, they will experience shame. When they repeatedly evaluate themselves as morally deficient and blameworthy, they will experience guilt.
When, as critics of themselves, individuals believe the worst, they will be all too ready to concur with the negative criticisms of others. When others criticize them, they cannot defend themselves, and their experience will be that they are highly vulnerable to being devastated and defined by these others: "They must be right; if they find me lacking, I must be lacking."
The basic goal of psychotherapy for critic problems, as conceived here, is to enable persons to abandon destructive, maladaptive modes of selfcriticism in favor of more adaptive and humane ones.
Many clients are substantially unable to observe themselves as critics. In their reports about themselves, they are able to report the consequences of their self-critical acts (e.g., "I came away feeling so inferior" or "I just got this horrible sinking feeling that I am so insignificant to others") but not the acts themselves. The sense created in them is that their pain emanates from unknown sources, or that it "comes from out of nowhere."
Such individuals are in a poor position from which to change. They have a serious problem but are unacquainted with what might be termed its business end. They know the effects, but not the causes of these effects. Thus, the therapist must help them to recognize both the fact that they are the producers of their own misery and the details regarding the precise nature of their self-critical acts. The following represent three means of assisting clients in this regard.
When clients have attained some competence at more constructive self-critical practices, they might be directed to catch themselves in the act of destructive selfcriticism and attempt immediately to counteract this by implementing more beneficial modes of criticizing themselves.
In some cases, clients will get to a point at which they recognize that self-criticism is at the root of their problems but, when conveying their understanding of this, they will use expressions such as "my critic" or "my critical parent part," as if the behavior in question issued from some dissociated entity within them, not from them.... Such persons must be helped to "own" their critic acts; that is, they must be helped to come to a full recognition that they are the authors or perpetrators of these acts—a full sense that "I do this, I am its author, 1 am its perpetrator." Clients who fully appreciate this fact occupy positions of far greater control from which change is more possible.
Many clients believe that their favored modes of self-criticism will result in self-improvement and that failure to implement them will result in complacency and stagnation. If they do not hold themselves to the highest standards, or denounce themselves roundly for failures, or bring home to themselves the "truth" about what deficient creatures they are, they believe they will never become any better.
Many persons believe that it is wrong to think well of themselves. To do so amounts to an unacceptable egotism, boastfulness, or self-aggrandizement. Thus, to maintain the virtue of humility, they are required to think ill of themselves.
Other persons, by way of a second example, may criticize themselves because they fear that others will hold them responsible or expect too much of them. If they run themselves down, others may not expect too much from them or not be too harsh with them should they fail.
In my experience, the majority of clients who comply and meet with reasonable success in their attempts to take control of destructive critic behaviors abandon these behaviors over a period ranging from several days to several weeks. The modal report is that they cannot continue to perpetrate such actions consciously and deliberately once they have appreciated fully the exact nature of what they have been doing to themselves.
A therapist might be interested in conveying the core perspective contained in this chapter, namely, that the primary function function of criticism should be to enhance the quality of the behavior, and thus the quality of life, of the person criticized. Whereas few clients will exhibit a command of this perspective in the case of self-criticism, almost all will understand it in the case of one person criticizing another. Thus, the latter case becomes an excellent vehicle through which to communicate the perspective.
Clients repeatedly lock themselves into destructive self-critical practices by mistakenly regarding the whole matter as a truth issue. They do not see themselves as active critics with choices in such matters as what standards to uphold or how to respond to personal failings. Rather, they see themselves as victims—as persons compelled by the evidence to recognize factual, inescapable truths about themselves.
Morality is an important matter for many persons who are destructive critics of themselves. Indeed, as mentioned earlier, one of the reasons some persist in their self-lacerating ways is because they believe it is virtuous to do so and it is immorally egotistical to appraise themselves in more positive ways.
Thus, if clients can find ways to cease their reflex concurrence with the criticisms of others, and can instead assume control of their own ultimate appraisals, they can mute considerably the power of these criticisms to devastate and control them.
The central function of this prescription is the absolutely essential one of restoring clients to being their own ultimate critics. When they are successful, they retain an openness to the criticisms of others, but are no longer at their mercy.
The goal of individuals becoming competent, constructive critics of themselves is of the utmost importance to their ability to lead full, satisfying, participatory lives. Possessed of such critic competencies, they become far more able to live their lives in ways that are expressive of their genuine loves, interests, and values; and to do so unrestricted by crippling senses of ineligibility, disabling emotional states, excessive concern about the reactions of others, and other impediments.
A central goal of this volume was to underscore the idea that selfcriticism and self-enhancement are not stagnant constructs, but rather dynamic ones. As metamotives tied to fundamental notions of the self, their meaning and function are fluid and impact people's lives in a variety of ways, from helping us feel good about ourselves to protecting us from being foolhardy. Indeed, the contributors of this volume have collectively made it clear that self-criticism is not simply maladaptive or adaptive, but can be both. In a similar way, self-enhancement is not simply adaptive or maladaptive, but it too can be both.
Long before modern views linked perfectionism to potentially hazardous pursuits, a very different notion of perfectionism dominated. During the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, the perfect individual was defined as one who was "effective because his life [was] in harmonious attunement to society and nature, the universal order". Thus, the perfect individual lived a life that was in step with the world around him or her.
According to Frost et al., perfectionism is conceptualized as an individual differences variable involving excessive self-criticism associated with high personal standards, doubts about the effectiveness of one's actions, concerns about meeting social expectations (typically those of the parents), and an excessive focus on organization and neatness.
According to Hewitt and Flett, perfectionism refers to a multidimensional phenomenon composed of three relatively distinct dimensions, namely, self-oriented, otheroriented, and socially prescribed perfectionism. Self-oriented perfectionism refers to the tendency of an individual to set and seek high self-standards of performance. Other-oriented perfectionism refers to the tendency of an individual to expect that others should or will be perfect in their performance. Socially prescribed perfectionism refers to the tendency of an individual to believe that others expect perfection from him or her.
When an individual perceives a discrepancy between some standard and a goal, positive and negative outcome cognitions are believed to play a powerful role in determining approach and avoidance behaviors, respectively.
Performance perfectionism is believed to represent a multifaceted construct that is determined not only by the presence of positive versus negative outcome cognitions but also by the source of high standards of performance, namely, self (for example) versus other (for example).
Within Chang's framework, two aspects of performance perfectionism are considered to be adaptive and two aspects of performance perfectionism are considered to be maladaptive. Positive self-oriented performance perfectionism is defined by high personal standards of performance that involve positive outcome cognitions for the individual. Negative self-oriented performance perfectionism is defined by high personal standards of performance that involve negative outcome cognitions for the individual. Positive socially prescribed performance perfectionism is defined by high standards of performance placed on an individual by others that involve positive outcome cognitions for the individual. Negative socially prescribed performance perfectionism is defined by high standards of performance placed on an individual by others that involve negative outcome cognitions for the individual.
E. C. Chang found positive self-oriented performance perfectionism to be the most robust unique positive predictor of college academic performance (viz., exam scores, course grade) even after intellectual ability was controlled for....Indeed, if researchers studying perfectionism focused primarily on asking when or how perfectionism is maladaptive, then little progress could or would be made regarding the idea of perfectionism as also potentially adaptive.
Positive self-criticism may be defined by negative self-referent thoughts that are associated with positive outcome cognitions (e.g., "I'm not very smart, but if I study harder I should do better on my next exam"). Negative selfcriticism may be defined by negative self-referent thoughts that are associated with negative outcome cognitions (e.g., "I'm not very smart, so it is useless to even try to study for the next exam"). Positive self-enhancement may be defined by positive self-referent thoughts that are associated with positive outcome cognitions (e.g., "I'm smarter than most people, but I know if I study I'll ace the next exam no matter how hard it is"). Last, negative selfenhancement may be defined by positive self-referent thoughts that are associated with negative outcome cognitions (e.g., "I'm smarter than most people, but the teacher's exams are made to fail everyone so what's the use of studying?")
Building on earlier research on contingent self-worth, Crocker and her colleagues identified seven distinct contingencies of self-worth, namely, those involving others' approval (e.g., "My self-esteem depends on the opinions others hold of me"), appearance ("My self-esteem is influenced by how attractive I think my face or facial features are"), competition ("Doing better than others gives me a sense of self-respect"), competence ("My self-esteem is influenced by my academic performance"), family support ("It is important to my self-respect that I have a family that cares about me"), virtue ("My self-esteem depends on whether or not I follow my moral or ethical principles"), and faith ("My self-esteem goes up when I feel that God loves me"). Thus, within this model, a person's contingencies of self-worth are believed to impact fluctuations in state selfesteem, which rises or falls around its trait level when positive or negative outcomes emerge in domains most valued by the individual.
There are many proposed definitions of affect regulation, but most include the notion that, in the process of monitoring and evaluating affective states, individuals take action either to maintain or to change (enhance or suppress) the intensity of affect, or to prolonged or shorten the affective episode. "Affect" refers to the feeling tone a person is experiencing at any particular point in time. Feeling tones vary primarily in terms of hedonic valance, but they can also differ in terms of felt energy or arousal. If the feeling tone is strong, has a clear cause, and is the focus of conscious awareness, then we use the term "emotion" to refer to those feelings. However, if the feeling tone is mild, does not have a clear cause or referent, and is in the background of awareness, then we use the term "mood."
Why regulate affect? Affective states influence subsequent behavior, experience, and cognition, especially in terms of social consequences. So one function of affect regulation is to limit the residual impact of lingering emotions and moods on subsequent behavior and experience. Certainly, feelings provide important information to a person and serve to direct subsequent thought and behavior in mostly adaptive ways; therefore, the goal of affect regulation is not to prevent or short-circuit all affect.
Another important outcome of affect regulation is its relation to physical and mental health. Research on neural correlates of emotion, which shows that disruption in the ability to regulate the duration of negative affect and to suppress (or inhibit) it, may be crucial in explaining depression and other mood disorders
We believe that people regulate affect to achieve another superordinate goal: to maintain a global sense of subjective well-being. SWB, according to most experts, has two affective components at its core, both of which are considered as aggregates, or averages, over relatively long time periods. These two components are average levels of posi tive affect (PA) and negative affect (NA). Thus, people influence their SWB by regulating the "Big Two" affective states: PA and NA.
A good deal of literature suggests that negative life events have a stronger impact on subjective feelings than do positive events. Larsen presented data showing that negative events have a stronger gain function than do positive events in terms of producing affective reactions, that negative events produce more subjective consequences than do equally strong positive events, that strong NA reactions last longer than strong PA reactions, and that the cognitive system is designed to prioritize the processing of negative compared to positive information.
Distraction can involve disengagement from the problematic situation, or avoidance of thinking about the problem. The behaviors employed may involve engaging in somewhat low-effort but preoccupying activities (e.g., watching television, listening to music) or in more difficult activities (e.g., working on a hobby, reading an involving book) in an effort to get one's mind off of a negative event or emotion. A somewhat different slant on this is to focus on the future, when this problem is resolved.
To the extent that distraction is effective for affect regulation, it mostly likely works by interrupting or preventing rumination. Although most people respond to negative life events with a negative mood, those who are prone to depression or other emotion disorders have difficulty "getting over" or recovering from negative events. Rumination, viewed as a breakdown in negative affect regulation caused by focusing on feelings and enhancing negative cognitions, predicts depressive disorders, the onset of depressive episodes, and anxiety symptoms. Being able to control one's own thoughts through volitional effort to avoid thinking about some unpleasant event is the way to avoid rumination. Whereas this is often easier said than done, perhaps one approach to short-circuiting rumination is to engage, at least temporarily, in distraction.
Larsen found that venting was not an effective strategy for regulating sadness. In fact, occasions when a person expressed or vented sadness (e.g., by having a good cry) tended to be followed by occasions of elevated sadness. Expressions of sadness appeared to perpetuate the sad feelings into the next reporting occasion. Emotion feedback theories (e.g., facial feedback) suggest that the outward expression of an emotion serves to amplify the subjective impact or feeling of the emotion.
As such, venting would probably be more useful in the upregulation of positive emotions; that is, according to this line of thinking, smiling, laughing, or even postural adjustments, such as sitting up tall or holding one's shoulders back, can be used to increase positive feelings.
Cognitive reappraisal... involves the attempt to find meaning in, or develop a positive interpretation of, a problematic situation. Many terms have been used to describe this strategy, including "positive reappraisal," "cognitive restructuring," and "cognitive refraining". Tennen and Affleck used the term "benefit finding" to refer to the search for benefits in adversity, the so-called "silver lining" in every dark cloud. They reviewed an impressive amount of research showing that perception of benefits in otherwise negative experiences is associated with more adaptive long-term outcomes.
Gross makes the important observation that cognitive reappraisal can occur even before a negative emotion is evoked. As such, this strategy is useful even when negative emotions are anticipated.
Downward social comparison... concerns comparing oneself to others and, if the comparison is favorable to the self, then positive affective consequences accrue. After a negative event, comparing oneself to others who have experienced a more severe negative event can serve to put one's problem into perspective.
Correlational studies have shown that dispositionally happy persons are less affected by unfavorable social comparison information. Lockwood has demonstrated that the impact of downward comparison on self-evaluation is dependent on factors such as similarity to the comparison other and the likelihood that his or her fate might become one's own (perceived vulnerability). Although there is much to learn about social comparison processes, it is clear that people often look for worse-off others with whom to compare fates, thereby enhancing their own affective states.
Because some problems, like water under the bridge, cannot be recalled and fixed, it would seem that efforts expended on planning to avoid similar problems in the future might be useful. As such, after an unpleasant event, an improvement in mood might follow on the heels of explicitly planning to avoid such events in the future.
A common feature of behavioral approaches to self-management is the frequent use of self-reward. These techniques grow out of a tradition that views emotion disorders, especially depression, as being caused by a lack of appropriate reinforcing experiences, especially self-administered reinforcement.
Studies of daily experience have similarly shown that frequency of pleasurable activities is correlated with increased positive affect, though the causal direction (is mood causing the selection of more pleasant activities, or vice versa?) is still unknown. Nevertheless, in another study of daily experience, Fichman and colleagues found that engaging in pleasant, rewarding activities is the most successful strategy for reducing negative affect.
Fredrickson's theory of positive affect holds that the function of positive affect is, in part, to hasten recovery from negative events. In experimental studies, she has shown that, following a stressor, persons induced to a positive mood show faster cardiovascular recovery than those in a control condition. Such results suggest that the deliberate attempt to self-induce positive affect through self-reward may be especially useful in speeding recovery from negative events.
It may seem ironic that the use of energy (to exercise) actually elevates energy, but the impact of exercise on affect and felt energy has been reliably demonstrated in a number of studies. In other research with a group of athletes, exercise was rated as the most effective strategy for regulating anger, depression, fatigue, and tension. One possible explanation why exercise might be judged so positively, especially among athletes, is that it not only serves as a distraction from the negative affect they are trying to regulate, but it also is seen as a good and positive behavior in its own right, independent of its affectregulating impact.
Similarly, activities such as exercise or meditation, or even napping or going to sleep earlier than usual, that affect these important biochemicals are also likely to be associated with consequent changes in affective states.
One characteristic that almost always correlates with happiness is the number, quality, and frequency of relationships. Happy people spend time with others; they join groups, have many friends and loving relationships, build social support networks, and generally find the presence of others to be both a satisfaction and a motive for further social activity.
For example, telling one's story to someone else provides the opportunity to reframe the situation cognitively, allowing for a reappraisal and reinterpretation. It also provides distraction, changes the situation, and potentially elicits positive emotions.
It would seem that when one is angry, especially when on the verge of "flooding" or losing self-control, withdrawal from the situation is an appropriate strategy. For example, if a parent becomes so angry at a child that he or she is on the verge of abusive physical action, then leaving the scene can be an adaptive response. However, for most other negative emotions, including sadness, anxiety, or shame, findings in the literature suggest that spending time alone may not be adaptive.
Gratitude, or counting one's blessings.... This strategy is a bit like ruminating on the positive. It involves keeping a focus on one's strengths, or the events in life for which one can be thankful.... Across the studies, gratitude-outlook groups exhibited heightened well-being on most of the outcome measures relative to the control groups. The effect of counting one's blessings was not only particularly strong for measures of positive affect but it also produced interpersonal and self-reported health benefits.... Typically, gratitude is expressed for positive events. However, finding something in a negative event that is positive and worth being grateful for is a way of taking control over the event, thereby choosing to extract some benefit by perceiving the event as a gift.
How does gratitude work as an affect regulation strategy? One potential mechanism is that it may slow down adaptation to positive events. People habituate or adapt even to instances of great good fortune, such as winning a lottery. Gratitude may work to slow adaptation by consistently reminding one or refreshing the experience of the good event. Another potential mechanism whereby gratitude may work is by reminding the person of areas of his or her life that are going well. This may be especially useful in times of stress, or following particularly negative events.
Whatever the theory, most researchers agree that there are several different forms of humor, including derisive/disparaging, self-depreciating, and self-directed or mature humor, where a person laughs at his or her own disappointments or failings, or those of human nature in general. The latter is thought to be the most positive and beneficial form of humor.
Correlational studies show that persons with a sense of humor cope better with stress and illnesses, recover faster from illnesses, and appear to have enhanced immune system responses compared to low-humor persons.
The most frequently reported strategies included call, talk to, or be with someone; think positively; concentrate on something else; avoidance; listen to music; and try to be alone. In a daily study of a sample of trainee teachers, participants prospectively reported on their use of mood-regulation strategies every 2 hours for 2 weeks. Results showed that the most frequently used strategies were the diversionary strategies (e.g., distraction, rationalization, cognitive avoidance, and self-reward), which exceeded the frequency of more engagement-type strategies (e.g., reappraisal, seeking social support).
Thayer and colleagues assessed recollected effectiveness of strategies to change a bad mood, enhance energy, and reduce tension. Their results showed that people believed that the most effective strategy for changing a bad mood, judged both by self-ratings and by psychotherapists, was exercise, whereas controlling thoughts, reappraisal, and religious or spiritual activity were rated best to raise energy and reduce tension....In addition, Prizmic found that the most frequently used strategies were also the most effective strategies (i.e., cognitive reappraisal, socializing, focusing on feelings).
Davidson proposed increasing positive affect through meditation, which can potentially influence plastic changes in brain circuits controlling emotion. Further questions about maintenance concern whether more automatic forms of emotion regulation are associated with actual structural changes in the brain. In other words, when affect regulatory behaviors or strategies have long durations or occur with great frequency, changes in the central circuitry of emotion may actually occur.
One may have a perfectly clear idea that a good mood is preferred to a current bad mood, yet without sufficient ability to alter cognitive, behavioral, or emotional responses to approach the desired state, a good mood will remain elusive. This sort of self-regulatory failure is due to faulty self-regulatory operations. The self-regulatory strength model was first suggested by Baumeister, Heatherton, and Tice and elaborated in subsequent work. It proposes that faulty self-regulatory operations implicated in selfregulation failure result from a lack of self-regulatory resources. The core of the selfregulatory strength model is that the ability to regulate responses actively (that is, to "operate" so as to move the self closer to a desired state) relies on a limited selfregulatory resource. When regulatory resources have been depleted, self-regulation failure is more likely. Regulatory resources are required to resolve self-regulatory challenges successfully, and the expenditure and resulting depletion of regulatory resources are a cause of self-regulation failure.
Our review focuses on the executive functions of the self, with specific emphasis on selfcontrol and self-regulation. These volitional and active capabilities may be among the most important functions of the self. People are capable of transcending instinctual urges and stimulus-response conditioning, unlike other members of the animal kingdom. The ability to alter and control one's own behavior expands the range of human response options and outcomes dramatically.
The executive functions have been defined and researched primarily by cognitive psychologists, neuropsychologists, and clinicians. Broadly speaking, executive functions foster self-directed, intentional behavior. Some of these abilities include planning and problem solving, switching from one task to another, directing mental attention, resisting interference, troubleshooting, and performing novel tasks.
The automaticity of many behaviors sets important limits on the regulatory and executive functions of the self. Regulatory resources are only required in actions that demand active self-control, so automatic behavior does not rely on regulatory resources. Even when self-regulatory resources have been depleted, automatic responses such as efficient retrieval from memory and nonconscious goal-directed behavior should function appropriately.
The executive functions are construed as the active, conscious, and intentional core of the self, responsible for planning, initiating, and revising ongoing cognition and behavior. As such, the self's executive functions encompass self-control and self-regulatory abilities. Some theorists have suggested that the executive functions evolved to allow self-regulation, thereby giving the executive functions a central role in adaptive self-regulatory behavior.
Self-regulation involves the self acting on itself to alter its own responses. Strictly speaking, the self does not regulate itself as a whole. Emotions and thoughts are not the self, but are felt and thought (and possibly controlled) by the self. Regulation of the self's responses is usually initiated with the goal of achieving a desired outcome, such as improving one's mood or avoiding an undesirable outcome.
"Self-regulatory strength" refers to the internal resources available to inhibit, override, or alter responses that may arise as a result of physiological processes, habit, learning, or the press of the situation. Crucially, self-regulatory strength relies on a limited and depletable resource. When self-regulatory resources have been expended, a state of ego depletion results, and self-regulation failure is more likely.
Suppressing a forbidden thought may impair subsequent attempts to control emotions. Inhibiting an impulse to eat sweets may impair one's facility in making a difficult choice. According to the self-regulatory strength model, depleting regulatory resources in virtually any way will make subsequent self-regulation and executive functioning more prone to failure, regardless of the specific form of the regulatory challenge.
We have labeled this view of self-regulation the "strength" model, because self-regulation operates like strength: High at first, strength diminishes as the muscles are exerted, and only after some rest is strength restored to its initial power. Other implications of the analogy to strength are that people seek to conserve self-regulation once it begins to be depleted, and it can be gradually increased by exercise.
Other theories of self-regulation are plausible. In particular, a priori, it is possible that self-regulation operates as an information-processing schema instead of a strength. According to the schema view, self-regulation is essentially a matter of cognitive process ing that uses information about the self and the environment (including task demands) to calculate the optimal course of action, and behavior follows directly from those calculations. Still another possible theory of self-regulation considers it to be a skill (instead of a strength or a cognitive process). This view has been favored by developmental psychologists, who treat self-regulation as one among many skills that children gradually acquire as they grow up. If self-regulation is a general skill, then a person who performs well at one self-regulatory act is likely to perform well at another.
Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, and Tice showed that resisting temptation impaired subsequent self-regulated persistence on an apparently unrelated task.... Thus, apparently, resisting the temptation te eat depleted some inner resource, leaving participants less able to persist in the face of failure on the difficult puzzles. These results supported the predictions of the strength model and contradicted those of the schema and skill models.
Ego depletion has also been shown to impair physical endurance, persistence, and emotion regulation. In a first study, some participants were asked to control their emotions while viewing a sad film clip, whereas others were instructed to watch the clip naturally. Participants were then given a handgrip device and were asked to squeeze it for as long as they could. The handgrip task required self-regulation in the form of coping with physical discomfort and resisting the inclination to give up and relax one's hand muscles. People who had tried to alter their emotional reactions while watching the film clip exhibited poorer physical stamina compared to those who watched the film without trying to control their feelings, suggesting that the regulatory resources required for physical stamina had been depleted by the prior efforts at emotion control.
Students experiencing mental fatigue (or ego depletion, in our terminology) due to the long final exam were more likely to base their impressions of others on early, limited information. They formed their impressions quickly, considering only a portion of the available information. A comparison group of students that had not just finished a lengthy exam were not prone to "seizing and freezing" on the limited information; therefore, they based their impressions of the target persons on broader samples of information. It is probable that the nonfatigued participants had more regulatory resources at their disposal, and could freely expend those resources and avoid leaping to conclusions based on thin slices of information. Thus, these participants opted to consider a greater amount of information to form more accurate impressions than their depleted counterparts. The depleted students presumably formed incomplete or inaccurate impressions of the target individuals because they were prone to rely on incomplete, unelaborated information. These results are consistent with the self-regulatory strength model, in that depleted students appeared to lack the resources necessary for controlled cognitive processing.
These depletion patterns raise an important question: How might self-regulatory resources be strengthened, allowing people to meet challenges and improve the likelihood of successful self-regulation? If self-regulatory strength acts like a muscle, then temporary resource fatigue (ego depletion) should be a consequence of exertion. Over time, however, repeated exertion should lead to a stronger muscle, or a deeper well of resources on which to draw. Thus, one consequence of repeated self-regulation should be greater self-regulatory strength.
Other work is needed to explore how the self-regulatory resource may be replenished when it is temporarily depleted. Although systematic studies are lacking, circumstantial evidence indicates that sleep and other forms of rest help restore it. In particular, selfcontrol appears to get progressively worse the longer a person goes without sleep, even in the course of a normal day, which suggests that sleep serves a valuable function of replenishing a resource that is expended gradually throughout the day.
Further work is under way to explore the hypotheses that ego depletion can be counteracted by self-affirmation exercises (i.e., thinking favorable thoughts about the self) or by positive emotional experiences. Preliminary data suggest that these procedures do have some power to restore the self's capacity for self-control.
The premise that a successfully initiated behavior will be maintained over time can be found either implicitly or explicitly in most, if not all, models of behavioral decision making. Yet this premise is at variance with behavioral data obtained across a range of domains. Specifically, people who have successfully initiated a new pattern of behavior more often than not fail to sustain that behavior over time, for example, diet and exercise to produce weight loss, smoking cessation, substance abuse. Further evidence for a dissociation between the processes that underlie behavioral initiation and maintenance comes from the observation that intervention strategies that help people initiate changes in their behavior have not had a similar impact on rates of behavioral maintenance. The observation that initial behavioral success does not ensure continued success suggests that greater attention must be given to the manner in which newly enacted behaviors evolve into a habit.
The decision to adopt a new behavior is predicated on an analysis of the relative costs and benefits associated with different courses of action; the manner in which these models differ is the particular set of beliefs that is predicted to be most closely associated with a decision to take action. Consistent with their conceptual framework, these theoretical perspectives have primarily been used to explain why people engage in a particular unhealthy or healthy behavioral practice.
According to social cognitive theory, self-efficacy beliefs are a crucial determinant of both the initiation and the maintenance of a change in behavior. Confidence in one's ability to take action serves to sustain effort and perseverance in the face of obstacles. The successful implementation of changes in behavior bolsters people's confidence, which, in turn, facilitates further action, whereas failure experiences serve to undermine personal feelings of efficacy.
In fact, as we discuss in a subsequent section, it may be worth reconsidering the degree to which perceived self-efficacy affects the decision to maintain a behavior over and above its influence on the decision to initiate the behavior.
Taken together, the dominant theoretical approaches to the study of health behavior offer little guidance as to how the processes that govern the initiation and the maintenance of behavior change might differ. Because maintenance has been operationalized as action sustained over time, it is predicted to rely on the same set of behavioral skills and motivational concerns that facilitate the initial change in behavior. Yet this perspective remains at odds with the observation that people who successfully adopt a new pattern of behavior frequently fail to maintain that pattern of behavior over time.
Behavioral decisions, by definition, involve a choice between different behavioral alternatives. What differentiates decisions concerning initiation from those concerning maintenance are the criteria on which the decision is based. Decisions regarding behavioral initiation involve a consideration of whether the potential benefits afforded by a new pattern of behavior compare favorably to one's current situation and, thus, the decision to initiate a new behavior depends on a person's holding favorable expectations regarding future outcomes.
Because the decision to initiate a new behavior is predicated on obtaining future outcomes, it can be conceptualized as an approach-based self-regulatory process in which progress toward one's goal is indicated by a reduction in the discrepancy between one's current state and a desired reference state. Whereas decisions regarding behavioral initiation are based on expected outcomes, decisions regarding behavioral maintenance involve a consideration of the experiences people have had engaging in the new pattern of behavior and a determination of whether those experiences are sufficiently desirable to warrant continued action.
The feeling of satisfaction indicates that the initial decision to change the behavior was correct; furthermore, it provides justification for the continued effort people must put forth to monitor their behavior and minimize vulnerability to relapse. To the extent that people choose to maintain a behavior to preserve a favorable situation, the decision processes that underlie behavioral maintenance may be conceptualized as an avoidance-based self-regulatory process in which people strive to maintain a discrepancy between their current state and an undesired reference state.
To the extent that people's satisfaction with the behavior depends on their experiences meeting or exceeding their expectations, the unrealistically optimistic expectations that initially inspired people to make a change in their behavior may ultimately elicit feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment, thus undermining behavioral maintenance.
As regards behavioral initiation, we have distinguished between the decisions that underlie a person's efforts to initiate successfully a new pattern of behavior (i.e., the initial response phase) and the efforts involved with managing the new behavior and confronting the challenges associated with developing a sense of control over one's actions (i.e., the continued response phase). As we detail later, we believe the choices that people face during this period of time are distinct from those they face when deciding whether to maintain a behavior. As regards behavioral maintenance, we have distinguished between a phase in which people choose to maintain a pattern of behavior based on a repeated assessment of the behavior's value (i.e., the maintenance phase) and a phase in which people continue to maintain the behavior, but without any consideration of a behavioral alternative (i.e., the habit phase).
The first phase of the behavior change process, initial response, begins as soon as people embark on an effort to change their behavior and continues until they first manifest a significant change. For example, a person might enroll in a smoking cessation program and subsequently report having been smoke-free for 7 consecutive days. The successful performance of the desired behavior (e.g., being smoke-free) serves as an indication that the participant has responded favorably to the treatment or intervention. Although how the behavioral outcome is operationally defined will vary across domains, the measure should indicate that a person has reliably performed the desired behavior and, thus, the behavioral response is not due to chance.
Specifically, the likelihood that people will initiate a change in their behavior has been shown to be a function of both their confidence in their ability to execute the behavior and their belief that engaging in the new pattern of behavior will meaningfully improve their lives. In many ways, the onset of this phase of the behavior change process is characterized by a sense of optimism and hope, because people's attention is focused primarily on the reasons that have motivated them to attempt this change.
Once a person has reliably performed the desired behavior, the second phase of the behavioral process, continued response, begins. This phase is characterized by a tension between a person's ability and motivation to enact the new pattern of behavior consistently, and the challenges and unpleasant experiences that leave him or her vulnerable to lapses and relapses. It is during this period of time that people strive to gain a sense of mastery over their new behavior.
The point at which people transition out of this phase and enter a maintenance phase occurs when they not only perform the new pattern of behavior consistently but also do so with complete confidence in their ability to manage their behavior.
To the extent that people find the new behavior to be unpleasant or feel that it requires a considerable amount of mental and/or physical energy, their commitment to and confidence in their behavior may weaken, thus, making it difficult for them to complete this phase of the behavior change process.
The heightened salience of these costs can make this phase of the behavior change process particularly difficult and unpleasant, and may elicit a set of experiences that are in sharp contrast to the optimism and hope that characterized people's initial willingness to commit to the behavior change process.
Up until now, engaging in the new pattern of behavior reflected a struggle against pressures to relapse, but with the onset of a new phase in the behavior change process, the decision to engage in the unwanted behavior becomes more volitional. From the perspective of the theory of planned behavior, by the end of the continued response phase, perceptions of behavioral control should no longer moderate people's ability to translate their intentions into actions. The maintenance phase is characterized by the desire to sustain this new, successful pattern of behavior.
Hence, the decision to continue the behavior becomes less a function of a person's ability to perform the behavior and more a function of the behavior's perceived value. It is at this phase in the behavior change process that people complete the shift from focusing on what they expect the behavior to afford to assessing what outcomes the behavior has in fact afforded. A sufficient amount of time has passed since the onset of the behavior, so the consequences of the new behavior are now informative. Thus, people begin to form an integrated assessment of the relative costs and benefits afforded by the behavior to determine whether the behavior is worth continuing. To the extent that the cost-benefit analysis leads people to conclude that they are satisfied with the new behavior, they will choose to sustain the behavior and preserve the gains that have accrued.
Unlike the prior two phases of the behavior change process, people can remain in the maintenance phase indefinitely. As long as people feel the need to evaluate continually their perception of the relative costs and benefits of the behavior, they will remain in this phase. Because the value of continuing the pattern of behavior is continually reassessed, it is always possible that a person will choose to end the behavior after concluding that it is no longer worthwhile.
The transition to habit, the final phase in the behavior change process, occurs when people are no longer actively concerned about their ability to engage in the behavior or their evaluation of the outcomes afforded by the behavior. At this point in time, people engage in the behavior in the absence of any regular analysis of whether they should or should not continue to take action. In other words, the behavior sustains itself.
It is assumed that once people have reached the habit phase, they will continue in this phase until an event of sufficient magnitude causes them to reconsider the value of their behavior. Should this occur, people would shift back into the maintenance phase, where they would determine whether the behavior in question is of sufficient value to sustain.
There is strong empirical support for the thesis that people's confidence in their ability to engage in a behavior positively predicts subsequent behavior, and that successfully enacting a behavior heightens people's confidence in their behavior. However, is it appropriate to conclude that self-efficacy is an equally valuable predictor of behavior at all points in the behavior change process?
According to the proposed four-phase model of behavior change, the predictive value of self-efficacy shifts as people move from initiating to maintaining a behavior. Once people have shown that they can successfully manage their behavior, the decision to maintain that behavior is thought to have less to do with variability in people's perceptions of their ability to perform the behavior, and more to do with their willingness or desire to sustain the behavior.
A fundamental aspect of any effort to adopt a new pattern of behavior is the need to in- hibit a prior pattern of behavior. Baumeister and his colleagues have argued that to override, inhibit, or alter a dominant response tendency, people must possess a sufficient degree of self-regulatory strength, which is conceptualized as a limited, but renewable, cognitive resource that is drained whenever someone attempts to regulate his or her emotions, thoughts, or behavior.
External motivation refers to either extrinsic motivation that arises from the desire to gain (avoid) an externally imposed reward (punishment), or controlled motivation that arises from the desire to please others. Internal motivation refers to either the desire to obtain internally imposed rewards (intrinsic motivation) or the motivation to engage in a behavior to satisfy one's own needs (autonomous motivation; Deci & Ryan, 1985). Investigators have traditionally asserted that people are more likely to sustain a pattern of behavior over time if it is based on intrinsic or autonomous motivation compared to extrinsic or controlled motivation. The benefit associated with an internal motivation is that a person's assessment of the behavior is more under his or her control and less contingent on outside reinforcement.
Specifically, we examine how having a promotion or a prevention focus—as well as having "regulatory fit" between one's promotion or prevention focus and the manner in which one pursues a goal—can affect people's judgmental processes.
Regulatory focus theory proposes that self-regulation operates differently when serving fundamentally different needs, such as the distinct survival needs of nurturance (e.g., nourishment) and security (e.g., protection). The theory assumes that nurturance- related regulation involves a promotion focus, which is a regulatory state concerned with ideals, advancement, aspiration, and accomplishment (more generally, the presence or absence of positive outcomes). In contrast, security-related regulation involves a prevention focus, which is a regulatory state concerned with oughts, protection, safety, and responsibility (more generally, the absence or presence of negative outcomes.) Promotionfocused people prefer to use eagerness-related means, the type of means most suited to a concern with advancement, aspiration, and accomplishment.
In contrast, prevention-tocused people prefer to use vigilance-related means, the type of means most suited to a concern with protection, safety, and responsibility. Thus, regulatory focus theory goes beyond the basic, widely accepted hedonic principle that people approach pleasure and avoid pain, to an examination of people's strategic choices and manner of pursuing their goals. Notably, the theory proposes that differences in judgmental processes and goal pursuit can occur depending on regulatory focus above and beyond such fundamental factors as expectancy and value of attainment.
Research on regulatory focus theory has uncovered distinct patterns of sensitivities and emotional reactions to success and failure associated with promotion and prevention orientations. This chapter, however, reviews research that highlights the ways in which regulatory focus affects people's judgmental processes and strategic behavior (i.e., the more active components of self-regulation). In summary, we have known for some time that a promotion focus is associated with eagerness to find means of advancing success (i.e., ensure "hits"), whereas a prevention focus is associated with vigilance to reject mistakes that could produce failure (i.e., "correct rejections"). The question addressed in this chapter is, how do these strategic differences influence judgmental processes and behavior?
Which factors increase people's motivational intensity in goal pursuit? Expectancy x value (or subjective utility) theory provides a classic answer to this question. According to this theory, both higher expectancy and higher value of goal attainment increase motivational intensity. Beyond these main effects, motivational intensity is highest when the product of expectancy and value is highest. As people's expectancy for or value of goal attainment increases, the effect of the other variable on commitment also increases. For example, the high value of a goal should affect commitment more when the expectancy of goal attainment is high, rather than low.
Shah and Higgins proposed that chronic or temporary variability in people's strategic preferences may determine how expectancy and value interact to affect goal commitment. In particular, they proposed that promotion-focused people— who pursue their goals using eager strategies that involve ensuring hits and advancement— attempt to maximize their outcomes, and are thus especially motivated by a high expectancy of goal attainment when attainment is highly valued (or vice versa). Promotion- focused people, therefore, should demonstrate the classic expectancy x value effect on goal commitment.
In contrast, prevention-focused people—who pursue their goals using vigilant strategies that involve ensuring correct rejections and safety—view their goals as necessities when success is highly valued. It should matter less to prevention-focused people how likely they are to achieve such goals, which must be attempted regardless of difficulty or likelihood of success.
Thus, regulatory focus as a strategic preference was found to have a profound impact on goal commitment, whereby promotion strength increased the classic effect, and prevention strength actually reversed it.
Within decision-making contexts, people sometimes imagine, after a failure, how things might have turned out differently had they taken or not taken certain actions. Such counterfactuals have been shown to be an important judgmental process through which people learn from the outcomes of their decisions. Additive counterfactuals are thoughts about what might have happened had one taken a different action. Subtractive counterfactuals are thoughts about what might have happened had one not taken a particular action.
Thus, additive counterfactuals should be preferred by people with a promotion focus. In contrast, because subtractive counterfactuals lead people to imagine how things might have turned out differently had they avoided a mistake, they represent a vigilant strategy of reversing a past error of commission. Thus, subtractive counterfactuals should be preferred by people with a prevention focus.
Thus, regulatory focus has been found to have a strong influence on which information people judge to be most important about their past experiences in considering future action.
In summary, the research cited in this section indicates that regulatory focus as a strategic preference can have a profound effect on various judgmental processes. From expectancy x value effects on goal commitment to counterfactual thinking, from the generation of alternatives to the evaluation of attitude objects, from probability estimates to the individual and group formation of risky and conservative response biases, having a promotion versus a prevention focus has been found to be a critical determinant of people's cognitive processes while making judgments.
How does a promotion versus a prevention focus influence individuals' behavior in the pursuit of goals? An important strategic component of goal pursuit is determining when to initiate activity toward a goal—or, within some contexts, when to initiate one activity over another. It should be noted that goals can be represented as either minimal goals that people must obtain, or maximal goals that they hope to attain. Regulatory focus theory predicts that because a prevention focus reflects a tendency to view goal pursuit as a necessity, a prevention focus should engender pressure to pursue goals quickly to meet the minimum standards required by these goals. In contrast, because a promotion focus reflects a tendency to view goal pursuit as progress toward some ideal maximum goal, a promotion focus should not engender any particular pressure to pursue goals quickly.
Another important strategic component of goal pursuit is people's emphasis on speed (or quantity) of accomplishment versus accuracy (or quality) of their efforts. Regulatory focus theory predicts that because quickly covering ground maximizes the opportunity to achieve "hits," promotion-focused people should be likely to emphasize speed over accuracy. In contrast, because thoroughly scrutinizing task requirements and efforts exerted minimizes the possibility of committing errors, prevention-focused people should be likely to emphasize accuracy over speed.
In this situation, promotion-focused people's eagerness for hits should make them more open to change than prevention-focused people, and promotion-focused people should be more likely to switch to the new activity or object. These predictions were supported across five studies in which participants' regulatory focus was either measured or manipulated, and their choice of a new or an old activity or prize was assessed; that is, in all five studies, promotion-focused participants were more willing than preventionfocused participants to give up an activity they were currently working on or a prize they currently possessed for a new activity or prize.
Receiving success versus failure feedback on early attempts at goal attainment has been found to have different effects on the motivational systems and strategic behavior of people with subjective histories of promotion- versus prevention-related success (i.e., those with high "promotion pride" vs. "prevention pride"). Because people with high promotion pride are motivated through an eager strategy of attaining hits, and success feedback conveys information that they have attained a hit, success feedback maintains their eagerness to try for more hits. On the other hand, failure feedback conveys information that they have not attained a hit, and that their previous strategy of eagerness is not sufficient, thus reducing their eagerness. In contrast, because people with high prevention pride are motivated through a vigilant strategy of avoiding losses, and failure feedback conveys information that they have not avoided a loss, failure feedback maintains their vigilance to try to avoid additional losses. On the other hand, success feedback conveys information that they have avoided a loss, and that their previous strategy of vigilance is no longer necessary, thus reducing their vigilance.
In one study, chronically or situationally induced promotion- and prevention-focused participants were asked to think about a time in the past when they had failed either because of some action they had taken or not taken. The authors predicted that promotion-focused participants, because of their strategic tendency to maximize hits and avoid errors of omission, would feel worse about a failure resulting from an action they had not taken than from an action they had taken. In contrast, the authors predicted that preventionfocused participants, because of their strategic tendency to maximize correct rejections and avoid errors of commission, would feel worse about a failure resulting from an action they had taken than from an action they had not taken. As predicted, promotionfocused participants felt guiltier about an error of omission than about an error of commission, whereas prevention-focused people felt guiltier about an error of commission than about an error of omission.
In summary, in the research described in this section, the presence of regulatory fit between one's regulatory focus and strategic means of goal pursuit has a major effect on people's judgmental processes. Across domains such as rating the value of chosen attitude objects, the enjoyability of a task performed under fit or nonfit conditions, and the morality of one's own and others' actions, the interactive effect of regulatory focus and strategic means has been clearly identified as an important factor affecting the cognitive processes underlying people's evaluations.
Gollwitzer has proposed a distinction between goal intentions and implementation intentions. Goal intentions (goals) have the structure of "I intend to reach Z!" whereby Z may relate to a certain outcome or behavior to which the individual feels committed. Implementation intentions (plans) have the structure of "If situation X is encountered, then I will perform the goal-directed response Y!" Holding an implementation intention commits an individual to perform the specified goal-directed response once the critical situation is encountered. Both goal and implementation intentions are set in an act of willing: The former specifies the intention to meet a goal or standard; the latter refers to the intention to perform a plan. Commonly, implementation intentions are formed in the service of goal intentions, because they specify the where, when, and how of respective goal-directed responses.
Because forming implementation intentions implies the selection of a critical future situation, it is assumed that the mental representation of the situation becomes highly activated and, hence, more accessible. This in turn should make it easier to detect the critical situation and readily attend to it, even when one is busy with other things. This heightened accessibility should also facilitate the recall of the critical situation. Moreover, because forming implementation intentions involves first a selection of an effective goal-directed behavior that is then linked to the selected critical situation, initiation of the intended response should become automated. Initiation should become swift and efficient, and should no longer require conscious intention once the critical situation is encountered.
Two experiments by Bayer, Moskowitz, and Gollwitzer tested whether implementation intentions lead to action initiation even in the absence of conscious intent. In these experiments, the critical situation was presented subliminally, and immediacy of initiation of the goal-directed response was assessed. Results indicated that subliminal presentation of the critical situation led to a speed-up in responding in implementation-intention but not in goal-intention participants. These effects suggest that when planned via implementation intentions, the initiation of goal-directed behavior becomes triggered by the presence of the critical situational cue, without the need for further conscious intent.
Given that implementation intentions facilitate attending to, detecting, and recalling viable opportunities to act toward goal attainment and, in addition, automate action initiation in the presence of such opportunities, people who form implementation intentions should show higher goal-attainment rates compared to people who do not furnish their goal intentions with implementation intentions.
Finally, the strength of the mental link between the if and the then parts of an implementation intention should also affect how beneficial the formed implementation intentions turn out to be. For example, if a person takes much time and concentration encoding the if-then plan, or keeps repeating a formed if-then plan by using inner speech, stronger mental links should emerge, which in turn should produce stronger implementation- intention effects.
People need to protect an ongoing goal from being thwarted by their attention to attractive distractions or their falling prey to conflicting bad habits (e.g., the goal of being fair may conflict with the habit of stereotyping and prejudging certain groups of people). Two major strategies in which implementation intentions can be used to control the "unwanted," potentially hampering the successful pursuit of wanted goals, include (1) directing one's implementation intentions toward the suppression of anticipated unwanted responses, and (2) blocking all kinds of (even nonanticipated) unwanted influences from inside or outside by directing one's implementation intentions toward spelling out the wanted ongoing goal pursuit.
When motivation is high to begin with, increase-effort implementation intentions may create overmotivation that hampers task performance. It seems appropriate, therefore, to advise motivated individuals who suffer from being distracted (e.g., ambitious students doing their homework) to resort to ignore-implementation intentions rather than to implementation intentions that focus on strengthening effort.
In other words, implementation intentions that spelled out how to perform the task at hand were effective in protecting the individual from the negative effects associated with the induced detrimental self-states.... The findings of Gollwitzer and Bayer suggest a perspective on goal-directed self-regulation that focuses on facilitating action control without changing the self. It assumes that action control becomes easier if a person's behavior is directly controlled by situational cues, and that forming implementation intentions achieves such direct action control. As this mode of action control circumvents the self, it no longer matters whether the self is threatened or secure, agitated or calm, because the self is effectively disconnected from its influence on behavior.
It appears, then, that the self-regulatory strategy of planning out goal pursuit in advance via implementation intentions allows the person to reap the desired positive outcomes, without having to change the environment from an adverse to a facilitative one. This is very convenient, because such environmental change is often very cumbersome (e.g., it takes the costly interventions of mediators to change the loss frames adopted by conflicting parties into gain frames), or not under the person's control.
Given the many benefits of forming implementation intentions, a question of any possible costs arises. Three issues come to mind when we consider this possibility. First, action control by implementation intentions may be characterized by rigidity and may hurt performance that requires flexibility. Second, forming implementation intentions may be a very costly self-regulatory strategy, if it produces a high degree of ego depletion and, consequently, handicaps needed self-regulatory resources. Third, even though implementation intentions can successfully suppress unwanted thoughts, feelings, and actions in a given context, these very thoughts, feelings, and actions may rebound in a temporally subsequent, different context.
Finally, there is the question of how concretely people should specify the if and then parts of their implementation intentions. If the goal is to eat healthy, one can form an implementation intention that holds either this very behavior in the then part or a more concrete operationalization of it. The latter seems appropriate whenever a whole array of specific operationalizations is possible, because as planning in advance which type of goal-directed behavior is to be executed, once the critical situation is encountered, prevents disruptive deliberation in situ (with respect to choosing one behavior over another). An analogous argument applies to the specification of situations in the if part of an implementation intention. People should specify the situation in the if part to such a degree that a given situation no longer raises the question of whether it qualifies as the critical situation.
In this section, we have argued that forming plans that specify when, where, and how an instrumental, goal-directed response is to be implemented facilitates the control of goaldirected action. Specifically, we have suggested that making if-then plans (i.e., forming implementation intentions) that specify an anticipated critical situation and link it to an instrumental, goal-directed response is an effective self-regulatory strategy. Empirical data suggest that if-then plans facilitate goal attainment through heightened accessibility of the anticipated critical situation, making it easier to detect and attend to.
The effectiveness of implementation intentions, however, is moderated by a number of factors. If-then plans seem to be more effective with difficult rather than easy goal pursuits, when commitment to the respective goal intention is high rather than low, the goal intention is simultaneously activated with the implementation intention, commitment to the implementation intention is high rather than low, and the mental link between the if and then parts of the plan is strong rather than weak. People should also adjust the type of implementation intention formed to the self-regulation problem at hand. Although suppression- oriented implementation intentions are viable when certain distractions, temptations, and unwanted responses are anticipated, plans that bolster the ongoing goal pursuit are needed in situations in which goal pursuit is threatened by detrimental selfstates and adverse situational influences of which the individual is not aware.
Thus, forming implementation intentions is suggested as an effective and quite cost-free self-regulatory strategy. Through a simple act of willing, linking an anticipated critical situation with a goal-directed response, individuals are able to further their goal pursuits in a pretty dramatic fashion.
The concept of implementation intentions grew out of a more comprehensive approach to goal setting and goal striving: the model of action phases. The model of action phases sees successful goal pursuit as solving a series of successive tasks: deliberating wishes (potential goals) and choosing between them, planning and initiating goal-directed actions, bringing goal pursuit to a successful end, and evaluating its outcome. The task notion implies that people can self-regulate goal pursuit by developing the respective mindsets, thus facilitating task completion. Whereas the act of choosing goals activates cognitive procedures that facilitate decision making (i.e., deliberative mindset), the act of planning activates those processes that support the implementation of goals (i.e., implemental mindset).
When participants are asked to plan the implementation of a set goal, an implemental mindset with the following attributes is expected to develop: Participants should become closed-minded to distracting, goal-irrelevant information, while processing information related to goal implementation more effectively (e.g., information on the sequencing of actions). Moreover, to maintain commitment to a chosen goal, desirability-related information should be processed in a partial manner, favoring pros over cons, and feasibility-related information should be analyzed in a manner that favors illusory optimism. Self-perception of possessing important personal attributes (e.g., cheerfulness, smartness, social sensitivity) should be strengthened, whereas perceived vulnerability to both controllable and uncontrollable risks should be lowered (e.g., developing an addiction to prescription drugs or losing a partner to an early death, respectively). Thus, the implemental mindset facilitates goal attainment by focusing individuals on implementation-related information and prevents the waning of commitment to the chosen goal.
This suggests that the implemental mindset leads to slower encoding of nonrelevant information than does the deliberative mindset. Moreover, Beckmann and Gollwitzer observed that among planning individuals (compared to deliberative individuals), not only does information that is not relevant to one's goal receive less processing, but information that is directly relevant also receives enhanced processing.
Empirical results have also strongly supported the hypothesis that implemental mindset participants make biased inferences to maintain the positive evaluation of the chosen goal, thus sustaining high goal commitment.
There is also recent evidence that the implemental mindset generates greater persistence in goal-directed behavior. Brandstatter and Frank found that participants in the implemental mindset persisted longer at an unsolvable puzzle task (Study 1) and a self-paced computer task (Study 2).
This suggests that the mindset associated with planning can benefit the individual not only by facilitating action initiation but also by generating greater persistence in the face of obstacles. Most importantly, persistence in the implemental mindset was not found to be executed in a rigid fashion. Brandstatter and Frank observed that whenever a task was perceived as impossible, or when persistence was not beneficial, individuals in the implemental mindset disengaged much more quickly than did individuals in the deliberative mindset. Thus, persistence instigated by the implemental mindset seems flexible and adaptive, and not stubborn and self-defeating.
In this section, we have argued that becoming involved with planning the implementation of a chosen goal induces an implemental mindset that uniquely tunes a person to process information related to the implementation of goals. The activated cognitive procedures activated also guarantee that the individual stays focused (closed-minded), by disregarding irrelevant and peripheral information. Moreover, they ensure that biased inferences are made on the basis of encoded information in the direction of positive illusionary evaluations of the feasibility and desirability of the chosen goal. It is the sum total of the cognitive orientation of the implemental mindset that facilitates persistence in goal pursuit and successful goal attainment.
Perhaps the fundamental prerequisite of interpersonal life is that a person be minimally accepted by other people while avoiding wholesale rejection. Virtually all social affordances—such as friendship, social support, coalition membership, social influence, and pair bonds—require the individual to be minimally accepted by other people. Furthermore, only those who have established mutually supportive relationships with other people can count on others' assistance in terms of food sharing, physical protection, and care when ill, injured, or old. An individual who does not maintain a minimal level of social acceptance is at a decided disadvantage compared to one who is warmly accepted. Because of the numerous adaptive advantages of being accepted by other people, human beings are not only highly social animals but also possess a strong and pervasive need for acceptance and belongingness. Thus, given the vital importance of social acceptance and the disastrous consequences of rejection throughout human evolution, human beings developed a psychological system for regulating their relationships with other people—a psychological module that monitors and responds to events that are relevant to interpersonal acceptance and rejection.
The function of the sociometer is to monitor the interpersonal environment for cues that are relevant to a person's relational value in the eyes of other people. Although I initially described the sociometer as a mechanism that reacts to indications of social acceptance and rejection, the sociometer's function can be more precisely described as one of monitoring and responding to cues that reflect the individual's relational value—the degree to which other people regard their relationships with the individual as valuable or important.
People are exceptionally sensitive to events that have implications for their relational value and seem to monitor the environment for cues relevant to relational value on a preattentive level....In addition, people spend a good deal of time thinking about other people's perceptions and evaluations of them, and trying to anticipate how others will react to them in future situations. Some of these imaginings are idle ruminations, but others evoke deep concern, if they suggest that one's past, present, or future relational value is lower than desired. People regularly, easily, and often automatically monitor their relational value to others.
Indications that the individual is disapproved of or rejected— that his or her relational value is low (or declining)—lead to negative affect. Dozens of studies have shown that perceived rejection (i.e., low relational value) is associated with negative emotions such as anxiety, sadness, hurt feelings, and jealousy, and with focused attention to the problematic interpersonal situation.
When the sociometer detects cues that connote actual or potential rejection (i.e., unacceptably low relational value), it not only triggers negative affect but also instigates a process to assess whether one's low relational value is due to some personal action, shortcoming, or deficiency. In most cases, people at least entertain the possibility that others' low appraisal of their relational value is partly their own fault, which leads them to feel bad about themselves, that is, to experience low state self-esteem. However, when people are certain that their exclusion by other people does not reflect on them personally, their state self-esteem is unaffected.
Sociometer theory answers this question by proposing that, contrary to how it may appear, people do not need to feel good about themselves at all. Stated baldly, people do not have a need for self-esteem. Rather, people only appear to seek self-esteem, because they typically try to behave in ways that maintain or increase their relational value to other people. The various behaviors that have been attributed to people's efforts to maintain self-esteem reflect their efforts to maintain relational value in other people's eyes.
Many theorists have suggested that the ability to infer other people's thoughts, feelings, and intentions is linked to the ability to reflect on one's own internal states. We can draw inferences about the private states of others only by extrapolating from our own. As Humphrey observed, we can "imagine what it's like to be them, because we know what it's like to be ourselves". With enhancements in reflexive self-awareness, human beings were able to imagine how they were being perceived and evaluated by other people and to think consciously about how others might react if they acted in certain ways. Among other things, this ability would have allowed them to imagine whether particular actions would ultimately lead to acceptance or rejection.
Prior to the time that human beings became fully capable of modern forms of selfrelated thought, people would have had a sociometer of sorts, but it would have responded only to concrete social cues in the immediate situation and would have functioned based exclusively on affect. Only after people could think about themselves over time, adopt others' perspectives of them, and conceptualize themselves symbolically would they have had a modern sociometer that led them to feel good and bad about themselves as a result of the real or imagined evaluations of other people, including evaluations that had implications for acceptance and rejection.
The fact that the sociometer detects and responds to rejection even among people who adamantly deny it (and who may be unaware of it) not only suggests that contingent self-esteem is an inherent and normal feature of human nature but also that it often works outside people's conscious awareness.
In brief, people appear to possess a psychological mechanism (a sociometer) that monitors their interpersonal worlds for information relevant to relational value, alerts them through unpleasant emotions and lowered state self-esteem when their relational value is lower than desired or declining, and motivates behavior that helps to enhance relational value (and, hence, self-esteem). This system is essential for helping people to regulate their interpersonal behavior in ways that minimize the potential for rejection.
Unfortunately, like all other meters and gauges, the sociometer may be calibrated in such a manner that it does not accurately reflect the person's relational value to other people. It may, for example, be calibrated to be biased toward false positives (detecting threats to relational value that are not there) or false negatives (failing to detect real threats to relational value). It may also be unstable and overly responsive to cues that connote relational value, or be "stuck" and unresponsive to such cues. In each case, miscalibration undermines the sociometer's ability to regulate people's interpersonal behaviors in ways that help them to maintain an acceptable level of interpersonal acceptance. As we will see, many interpersonal and psychological difficulties can be conceptualized as miscalibrations of the sociometer.
The sociometer of a person with high trait self-esteem rests at a relatively high position, indicating a high degree of relational value when it is in "standby mode". Because of past experiences, such individuals implicitly assume that they are generally acceptable individuals with whom others value having relationships. As a result, they move through life feeling generally valued and having relatively high self-esteem even when direct evidence regarding their relational value is not available.
Because of the set point of their sociometers, people with low versus high self-esteem react to acceptance and rejection differently. For example, people with low trait self-esteem are not anxious, depressed, jealous, lonely, or rejection-sensitive because they have low self-esteem. Rather they are anxious, depressed, jealous, lonely, or rejection-sensitive because they go through life detecting a relatively low degree of relational value. Similarly, people with low self-esteem do not conform, abuse alcohol or drugs, or join gangs because they have low self-esteem, but rather because they regularly detect an inadequate amount of acceptance in their interpersonal environments and, thus, resort to extreme measures to boost their relational value.
One type of miscalibration occurs when the sociometer is set "too low"—that is, when it detects a lower amount of relational value in the interpersonal environment than actually exists.... The primary consequence of this kind of miscalibration is an oversensitivity to cues that connote potential relational devaluation. In the language of signal detection theory, the system will have a high proportion of false positives, registering benign (or even somewhat favorable) interpersonal events as potential threats to acceptance. As a result of the sociometer responding as if relational value is unacceptably low, the individual will experience frequent episodes of low self-esteem, along with rejection-related emotions such as social anxiety, jealousy, guilt, and embarrassment. Furthermore, the individual will often overreact to situations that pose a risk to relational value, either in terms of shy withdrawal or angry defensiveness.
For example, people who are high in rejection sensitivity seem to possess a sociometer that is calibrated in this fashion. Walking through life detecting a lower level of relational value that actually exists makes them hypersensitive to any indication of potential rejection and leads them to experience a large number of interpersonal encounters as rejecting. As a result, they often see rejection where none exists, and overreact to real and imagined relational devaluation. Viewed in this fashion, it is not surprising that rejection sensitivity correlates negatively with self-esteem. Given that self-esteem is a reflection of perceived acceptance, a sociometer that is calibrated low will result in both heightened sensitivity to rejection and lower self-esteem.
Koch, for example, found that people who scored low in trait self-esteem tended to respond to evaluatively ambiguous primes as though they were negative. In light of their low relational value set point, it is not surprising that people with low trait self-esteem tend to be more jealous and lonely than people with high self-esteem.
A sociometer that is calibrated too high will lead people to overestimate their relational value to others and, thus, show inadequate concern for how others perceive and evaluate them. Such a miscalibrated sociometer will fail to warn them when their acceptance by other people is in jeopardy.
Social life requires that people be attentive to how they are perceived, evaluated, and accepted by others. Although it is sometimes wise to disregard others' evaluations, effective interpersonal behavior cannot be predicated on erroneous perceptions of other people's reactions. Believing that one's relational value is higher than is the case results in a number of negative consequences, both for the individual and for those with whom he or she interacts.
At minimum, the person whose sociometer is calibrated too high will be disparaged, if not rejected, for being haughty, conceited, or snobbish. People dislike those who think that they are more relationally valuable than they are. Worse, people who overestimate their relational value (and, thus, have undeservedly high self-esteem) tend to influence, dominate, and exploit other people. They also tend to respond defensively and aggressively to suggestions that they are not as wonderful as their sociometers suggest.
The extreme case of this kind of miscalibration is narcissism, in which people feel more special, important, and self-satisfied than the objective feedback warrants. Conceptualizing narcissism as arising from a sociometer that is calibrated too high helps to explain the long-standing paradox of why narcissists have high, if not grandiose, levels of self-esteem yet react so strongly to criticism.
The problems that arise for people whose sociometers are calibrated too high highlight the risks of raising people's self-esteem artificially. Although psychologists, educators, and politicians have advocated raising self-esteem as a way to improve mental health, decrease maladaptive behavior, and eliminate social problems, raising self-esteem in a manner that is not commensurate with one's true relational value is a recipe for disaster.
An overactive sociometer leads people to experience extreme swings in affect and state self-esteem on the basis of relatively minor changes in the interpersonal environment. Mild signs of acceptance may evoke high self-esteem and euphoria, and mild signs of disinterest or disapproval may crush self-esteem and elicit despair. Such a sociometer responds disproportionately to changes in the interpersonal environment.
High degree of dependence on other people makes others' reactions vis-a-vis acceptance and rejection particularly important; an impoverished self-concept fails to provide an anchor from which one can assess one's relational value independently of immediate social feedback, and an overreliance on social approval renders one's relational value in other people's eyes more important than it needs to be.
A sociometer that does not react to interpersonal feedback cannot adequately assess the person's relational value to others. Although there are obviously instances in which people ought to disregard other people's reactions, chronically failing to do so will lead people to be ostracized by everyone, because they regularly fail to react intelligently to situations that ought to convey that their relational value is low or declining. Such individuals may be able to recognize devaluing feedback when they think consciously about it, but they do not automatically pick up on such cues easily.
People who rarely experience anxiety, hurt feelings, or guilt in situations in which others dislike, detest, or ostracize them may have a broken sociometer. Although no direct evidence has a bearing on this point, one exemplar of an insensitive (if not "stuck" sociometer) would seem to be the antisocial (or sociopathic) personality, which is characterized by impaired empathy and a weak conscience. The selfish, manipulative, and hurtful behaviors of a person with antisocial personality disorder often seem to stem from an indifference to how their actions are perceived and evaluated by other people, and to the ostracism that often results. For example, people with an antisocial personality are repeatedly deceitful, egocentric, irresponsible, and manipulative—characteristics that most people try to avoid, because they likely lead to rejection.
Positive illusions about the self undoubtedly make people feel better and, occasionally, allow them to maintain a positive attitude and motivation in the face of adversity. But over the long haul, positive illusions circumvent the sociometer's function. Convincing oneself that one is more acceptable than one actually is makes no more sense than convincing oneself that the car's gas tank contains more gasoline than it really does. It may make one feel better temporarily but, to the extent that it deters appropriate or remediative action, the ultimate outcome will often be negative.
Is it plausible that self-regulation aids people in gaining and maintaining interpersonal acceptance? Heatherton and Vohs argued that self-control may promote dyadic and group relations. They postulated that, from an evolutionary standpoint, people who were able to restrain their responses and modify their behaviors and conform to group criteria to gain acceptance would be less likely to be ousted from social groups and relationships. Furthermore, by virtue of their relationships with others, these self-controlled people would derive numerous benefits from their social connections (e.g., physical protection, shared responsibilities, more reproductive opportunities; see Baumeister & Leary, 1995). We posit that the formation and maintenance of strong social bonds is based in part on the degree to which people can achieve appropriate self-regulation. In our estimation, self-control provides a means for people to increase their belongingness by overriding their own selfish impulses for the good of others and adhering to societal rules for the purpose of inclusion.
One view of self-regulation posits that knowing the rules relative to where, when, and in what ways to control oneself is crucial to being an accepted member of society. If this is the case, then people who are responsive to societal selfregulation rules may, as a result, become more practiced at self-regulation. If the capacity for self-regulation can be increased through practice, then those who judiciously exercise their self-control abilities may become better overall self-regulators.
Past research has shown that when people interact with their friends, they behave modestly, because their friends' knowledge and memories of past events keep their overly aggrandizing statements in check. Conversely, a positive, self-enhancing style is mainly adopted with strangers, because only a small window of opportunity exists in which to make a positive impression on a new acquaintance.
Taken together, the results of these two studies indicate that engaging in new, unusual, or unfamiliar forms of self-presentation requires increased self-regulation, which, consequently, reduces self-regulatory capacity for additional goal pursuits.
It is axiomatic to say that one major function of interpersonal interactions is to achieve social influence. Analyses of influence attempts show that influence tactics can be split into two different types: alpha attempts (which involve boosting approach forces) and omega attempts (which involve reducing opposition). Presumably, it takes self-control to keep up one's resistance while others are trying to wear it down. Thus, the concept of omega strategies suggests that self-regulation may be involved in combating others' attempts to influence. One line of research demonstrates that self-regulation, as guided by a self-regulatory resource model, is a central determinant of people's ability to defend against others' attempts to persuade.
As social creatures, our ability to perceive and process information about others is of utmost importance. One theory about how humans make social inferences posits that people first characterize others by making dispositional inferences about them, and must then engage in effortful cognitive correction to account for situational demands. Given that correction requires overriding a personal attribution and replacing it with a situational attribution, it seems to require self-regulatory abilities to inhibit and replace a dispositional attribution. Accordingly, if a person is in a state of depleted regulatory capacity, characterization may occur without correction, thereby leading to inaccurate perceptions of others.
The idea that people are motivated by outstanding others who have regulatory strategies similar to their own suggests several implications for self-regulation in an interpersonal context. First, these studies suggest that people detect, at some level, variability in how others pursue their goals and also can recognize whether others have adopted a regulatory focus similar to their own. Second, people gravitate to those who will best inspire them and not, coincidentally, people who have a particular regulatory focus. In short, people are affected by the regulatory goals of others, and these effects influence goal motivations and personal inspiration.
In this section, we review evidence that good self-control is a crucial component of maintaining social ties and, conversely, that poor self-control has the potential to damage intimate relationships. A host of interpersonal phenomena depend on emotional regulation, cognitive control, and behavioral management; to best illustrate this point, we concentrate on direct and explicit tests of self-regulatory processes within the context of close relationships.
It is perhaps impossible to avoid conflict in a romantic relationship, which means that it is crucial for the health of the relationship that couples find a way to deal with conflict. "Accommodation" refers to a person's response in situations in which his or her partner has behaved in a manner that has the potential to damage the relationship. In these situations (called "accommodative dilemmas"), the responding partner has the choice to behave in kind by engaging in another destructive behavior or to respond in a constructive manner by trying to ameliorate potential interpersonal trouble.
Responses [to accommodative dilemmas can be] grouped into four categories: voice, exit, loyalty, and neglect. The category voice is active and relationship-oriented, and typically involves a person wanting to talk about issues constructively, whereas exit is active and selforiented, and describes people's behaviors that emphasize leaving the relationship. Loyalty is passive and relationship-oriented, and characterizes a person who benignly hopes that the conflict will resolve itself, whereas neglect is passive and self-oriented, and characterizes a person who may display laxity and carelessness about the relationship. Voice and loyalty are considered accommodative responses, and exit and neglect are nonaccommodative responses.
There is a strong desire to think well of the self and to take responsibility for positive outcomes, while placing blame on others when outcomes are negative. In close relationships, however, it is beneficial to put aside this bias and acknowledge others' roles in producing good outcomes, or to release them from culpability for bad outcomes. Not incidentally, research shows that maladaptive attributions (such as the SSB) are a warning sign of a troubled relationship. Vohs's data indicate that low self-control may be a significant factor in determining relationship-relevant attributions.
People who believe that they have alternatives to their romantic partner are more likely to be dissatisfied with their current partner and to have their current relationship fail. Miller studied gaze length as a sign of attraction to possible alternate partners, which he considered important, because longer gaze length indicates a deeper processing of a person's attributes and allows for consideration of the person at a more than superficial level. To test the influence of gaze length (as a proxy for consideration of alternate partners) on relationship status, Miller asked participants to view a series of slides of attractive, opposite-sex people for as long as they liked. He then measured the amount of time participants spent gazing at the photos. Miller found that participants' length of time gazing at the slides was a significant predictor of relationship dissolution 2 months later.
We tend to like people who tell us personal information about themselves. To boost being liked by a new acquaintances, it is best to tell a moderate amount about oneself—too little information communicates disinterest in forming a relationship, whereas too much overwhelms the listener. One individual difference that predicts degree of self-disclosure is attachment style: People with a secure attachment style favor moderate disclosures, people with an anxious-ambivalent style favor highly intimate disclosures, and people with a dismissive style favor nonintimate disclosures.
Ask anyone who has been rejected from a group, and he or she will tell you that it is a painful experience. Yet what sort of impact does it have on subsequent behavior? Recent research has determined that social exclusion leads to both self-defeating and antisocial behavior. One possible mechanism for these ill effects is that rejection leads to self-regulation failure, which in turn gives rise to self-destructive and antisocial responses.
A wide spectrum of findings from the interpersonal and social inclusion literatures suggests that social functioning is aided by a host of self-control strategies: When people actively control their emotions, guide their mental contents, override incipient impulses, and direct their behaviors, they increase their social belongingness. When people fail in these self-control endeavors, they are more likely to be ousted from groups and relationships. People who fail at self-regulation become narcissistic, retaliate in conflicted dyadic interactions, gaze longingly at an attractive alternative partner, engage in demeaning and harmful social behaviors (e.g., they are more likely to stereotype others), over- or underdisclose personal information, fail to live up to the standards set by positive role models, fall prey to others' influence attempts, and spoil a mixed-race interaction.
The biology-based and content-poor mechanics of life can be understood as the "hardware" that provides the necessary basis for any development. They include physiological processes associated with the encoding and processing of information, with basic motivational tendencies (approach-avoidance), and with basic emotional reactions (positive, negative). Already at birth, individuals differ in the basic physiological makeup underlying perception, information-processing, motivational expression, or emotionality.
Drawing on the mechanics of life, we accumulate declarative and procedural knowledge about the world and our self. The life pragmatics consist of those bodies of factual and procedural knowledge that help us to understand and control the world, identify and pursue personal goals, regulate our affective reactions, etc. The pragmatics of life are shaped by cultural contexts and individual choice. Life pragmatics comprise knowledge (i.e., knowing about world or self) and regulatory functions or skills (i.e., being able to produce desired and avoid undesirable outcomes).
The pragmatics of life as relevant to the functioning of self and personality. The pragmatics of self and personality encompass self-knowledge and self-regulatory competencies. Knowledge about the self pertains to trait conceptions of personality as well as to the self-concept. We define self and personality broadly to encompass all that we know about our behavior, past experiences, anticipated and idealized futures, needs and wishes, abilities, or weaknesses that characterize our selves. The concept of who we are and what we are like is closely related to how we pursue goals, evaluate our selves, or adjust our self-views or goals under threat. Thus, self-regulation constitutes the procedural part of our self-knowledge.
The mechanics and pragmatics of life mutually influence each other. Following Cattell's investment theory, we consider the life mechanics as the processual building blocks from which developmental progress in the life pragmatics can emerge. At first sight, one may think that the pragmatics are constrained by the "underlying" mechanics, and to a certain degree that is true. But most genetic as well as recent brain research has demonstrated that the richness or poverty of the (factual and procedural) knowledge we accumulate feeds back into the life mechanics and indeed may even change them.
This reciprocal interaction of mechanics and pragmatics emphasizes the limits of the hardware-software metaphor introduced earlier. We need to stress that the acquired "software" can change the underlying "hardware," which is not the first association that comes to mind when we currently think about computers. Thus, our understanding of the investment theory in this context does not suggest that life pragmatics by any means can be reduced to or are fully determined by the life mechanics.
Assimilation can be viewed as the utilization of existing structures or schemes for the organization of experience and action. Accommodation refers to the formation of new and re-formation of old structures or schemes to process discrepant experience. We begin life with some primitive assimilative structures (as part of our mechanics) that become ever more differentiated via accommodation to accumulating experience. In order to manage this increasing complexity, it is necessary to develop new integrating structures. This integration can be achieved by developing higher levels in the self-system hierarchy. Higher levels within the self-system possess higher assimilative potential, i.e., they can integrate many different and highly situation-specific experiences. This, as stated above, allows us to establish a stable self-concept that is independent of momentary feedback.
Highreactive infants tended to have higher fetal heart rates a few weeks before birth and higher sleeping heart rates at the age of two weeks compared with low-reactive infants. A high fetal heart rate was also related to lower emotional tone (dullness) at 6 months of age. Highly reactive, inhibited adolescents, however, cannot be differentiated from uninhibited adolescents based on their mean heart rate. But there is a tendency for inhibited as compared to uninhibited adolescents to react to challenges with stronger heart rate acceleration.
Variable heart rates have been shown to be associated with a motivational tendency toward approach. Similarly, a low and variable resting heart rate is generally related to approach behavior and positive affect...Infants who have a low and variable resting heart rate and demonstrate appropriate heart rate modulation tend to show more optimal developmental outcomes. For example, they display fewer depressed behaviors and also fewer aggressive behaviors at 3 years of age.
Over the last 15 years different laboratories have developed theories and accumulated empirical evidence concerning the idea that approach, activation, and engagement motivation on the one hand, and avoidance, withdrawal, and inhibition motivation on the other hand are related to different neural substrates, different basic emotions, and have distinct influences on action.
Cerebral asymmetry and basic dispositions. Interindividual differences in baseline prefrontal activation asymmetry are related to differences in dispositional affect, inhibition, and differential reactivity to negative stimulation. For instance, infants with higher relative right anterior cortical activation at baseline are more likely to cry in response to being separated from their mothers compared with infants who do not show that asymmetrical activation pattern. Children with asymmetric right-sided anterior activation show a tendency toward inhibited behavior. During adulthood, greater relative activation of the right anterior cortex at rest has been related to higher levels of general negative affect, higher self-reported behavioral inhibition, stronger negative affect in response to unpleasant film clips, and slower recovery following a negative affective stimulus.
Individuals who show high reactivity and irritability during infancy, timid, shy, and inhibited behavior during childhood and adulthood, as well as a tendency toward more dispositional negative affect, and a motivational orientation that favors avoidance and withdrawal also exhibit physiological differences in comparison to individuals who are less inhibited, more sociable, approach-oriented, and have a tendency toward positive affectivity. The first group tends to have a high and stable resting heart rate and shows relatively stronger baseline activation of the right prefrontal cortex. The second group tends to have a low and variable heart rate and a relatively stronger resting activation of the left prefrontal cortex. Such findings, however, should not mislead us with regard to the plasticity of such early dispositions. Although highly reactive infants have a higher likelihood to develop into shy children, this is not necessarily the case. A biological disposition at birth can be altered through new experiences or purposeful interventions.
Do we become less extraverted and less open, but also less neurotic, as we move through adulthood and old age? Taking into account cross-sectional and longitudinal evidence, it seems that neuroticism decreases across adulthood and may show some increase again very late in life. Some decrease is also found for openness to experience and extraversion. In contrast, agreeableness and conscientiousness slightly increase.
For example, the transition to partnership during early adulthood is accompanied by decreases in neuroticism and shyness and increases in conscientiousness. As this experience is pretty normative in any culture (although the expected age for the transition may vary), personality changes can also be attributed to normative, in the sense of culturally shared, life events.
The content of the self-concept refers to the beliefs we hold about ourselves and to the domains we employ when describing ourselves. Answers to questions like "Who am I?" are indicators of the content of the self-concept. The content of spontaneous self-descriptions shows change but also stability. There is, for instance, substantial stability in the content of self-definitions across different age groups when it comes to central domains of life (e.g., health, social relations; Filipp & Klauer, 1986; George & Okun 1985). But there is also change that can be attributed to the influence of a succession of developmental tasks, critical life events, and also changes in the life mechanics. During childhood the academic self-concept and school achievement assume a central role, in adolescence we are very much concerned about our physical appearance. With increasing age, however, people define themselves more and more in terms of health and physical functioning, life experiences, and hobbies.
Cognitive representations of the self emerge during the second year of life and can be characterized with regard to the degree of differentiation (measured in terms of correlations among different self-concept domains) as early as 4 to 5 years of age...In sum: It seems that mean levels of self-differentiation increase until adolescence, decrease up to midlife and increase again thereafter. In contrast, the trajectory of self-complexity follows an inverted U-shape function during adulthood.
Life composition refers to the mechanisms by which individuals shape their lives in interaction with life contexts and how they are shaped by such contexts. It addresses the self-regulatory processes included in the pragmatics of life. Life composition includes both the agentic (assimilative, primary control, problem-focused coping) and yielding qualities (accommodative, secondary control, emotion-focused coping) of developmental regulation. Accommodative and yielding qualities have consistently been found to increase with age. Most likely this is also a pragmatic response to the declines in the mechanics of life.
In order for people to maintain active involvement as composers of their lives, it is crucial to believe in one's ability to control and select environments, optimize outcomes, and to have compensatory strategies dealing with emotions in situations of failure and stress.
There is reason to assume that our capacity to influence outcomes in the external world follows an inverted U-shaped trajectory across the life span. Thus, the rise in objective control potential during childhood and adolescence may be reflected in increasing internal control beliefs, while the declining control potential in old age may be accompanied by declining internal and increasing external control beliefs.
For instance, children from age 8 to 14 show no systematic mean-level change in internal control beliefs, but external control beliefs (powerful others) decline. Further, stability and even increases in internal control beliefs with increasing age are observed. In adult samples no clear-cut changes in perceived internal control and a tendency for older adults to report more external control are found.
Results for internal control beliefs are less clear. We can conclude that beliefs in one's ability to control desirable outcomes are relatively stable during adulthood and might even show some increases with age. In other words, the belief in our agency "survives" actual losses in resources. Again, we can speculate as to whether this "survival" of internal control beliefs despite losses in "objective" control is of a psychogenic (pragmatic) and/or neurogenic (mechanic) nature. On the one hand, accommodative processes may help us reevaluate our standards for assessing internal control (pragmatics). On the other hand, the age-related reduction in the activation of the right-sided prefrontal brain activity may result in reduced inhibition and negative emotions, which in turn influence agency convictions.
When it comes to the developmental trajectory of emotion regulation in adulthood and old age, it has been demonstrated that the subjective salience of emotion increases with age. Further, the ability to maintain high levels of subjective well-being (i.e., a positive emotional balance) despite multiple losses in old age is a core finding demonstrating the resilience of the aging self.
Increased affective complexity (i.e., more factors underlying emotional experience, plus higher potential for the cooccurrence of positive and negative affect) and improved reported emotional control were also linked to increasing age.
We suggest that the mechanics and pragmatics of life need to be taken into account simultaneously in order to increase our understanding of emotional functioning across the life span.
Corresponding to the age-related declines in the mechanics of life, goal focus is expected to shift with increasing age from growth, that is, trying to reach higher levels of functioning, toward maintenance, that is, preserving levels of functioning in the face of challenge, and regulation of loss, that is, organizing functioning at lower levels. In line with this assumption, it has been demonstrated that growth goals were more frequent in adolescence, while maintenance goals increase in frequency during adulthood. Further, maintenance goals still increase in frequency during very old age. Nevertheless, in spite of old people becoming more invested in maintenance and loss management, old age cannot be viewed as a period of complete disengagement from growth goals. When asked about their future selves, even a majority among the very old consistently reported to pursue improvement goals across two measurement points.
In spite of the decreasing energy and vitality in old age (mechanics), very old adults do not disengage from investing in essential, obligatory life domains, but rather reduce their investment in less central, optional life domains (pragmatics). This evidence from longitudinal analyses fits perfectly with earlier cross-sectional findings that demonstrated that selective (ageappropriate) and not just any reduction of investment in very old age contributes to well-being.
Our goal in this chapter was to introduce the theoretical framework of the mechanics and pragmatics of life and apply it to the study of lifespan development of self and personality. Biological changes (mechanics), on the one hand, and contextual changes as well as individual choices (pragmatics), on the other hand, need to be taken into consideration when striving for a better understanding of the development of the self-system.
The interaction between the mechanics and pragmatics of life is a two-way street. Thus, changes in the pragmatics of life not only come about as a reaction to changes in the mechanics, even though in the beginning of life this may be more often the case than later.
Against this background we may ask whether declining life mechanics present a risk factor for which the life pragmatics need to compensate or whether rather the opposite is the case, namely that declining mechanics facilitate self-functioning or whether both is the case.
There is no doubt that the acquisition of self-regulatory skills or the accumulation of life experience plays a central role in human development and successful aging. Still, when studying the resilience of the aging self, we also need to take into consideration whether the underlying physiological and neurological systems have a debilitating and/or facilitating influence on self and personality functioning. In the future, we would hope to gain a better understanding of one central question: To what degree is resilience and successful aging a product of highly developed and refined life pragmatics and to what degree is it facilitated or hampered by age-related changes in the life mechanics?
If personality is bound to be stable: How can we respond flexibly to changing situations and demands throughout adulthood, and why - in view of the many internal and external changes this person is bound to experience - does this flexibility not negate the dominant impression of stability and continuity?
In the following, I shall argue that the internal and external experience of stability is the result of adaptive processes that compensate for any changes such that the subjective and objective impression of being one and the same person is maintained, though change and dynamic processes are in fact the determining factors. The necessity of remaining flexible throughout our lives and the need to remain stable at the same time can be fulfilled by a dynamic system which is usually called 'the self.
The self-concept comprises not only the current person, but also the individual's biography and future potentials. When I think about myself, I describe not only my present qualities, I also think back to relevant experiences and influencing persons, for instance teachers and friends.
With regards to every temporal facet of the self, there are conceivable alternatives. This is true not only of prospective selves, but also of retrospective selves: it all could have happened differently. To a large degree, our self-concept contains counterfactual selves.
From the beginning of our life throughout our whole biography, a permanent stream of information relevant to ourselves (and to our selves) shapes this complex structure of self-contents. Everyday experience and also empirical evidence shows that not only life circumstances vary, but also we as individuals experience definite changes in specific skills, attitudes, expectations and judgments over time, throughout the whole life-span. The demands placed upon us change.
To regulate action, the self-concept need not be as accurate as possible, but rather as realistic as necessary: When I act upon false premises, I will usually fail. When I believe, for instance, that I can do something that I actually cannot do, it usually results in embarrassment. Therefore, when I change, I am somehow forced to accept facts that may well contradict my actual - or desired - self-concepts.
Individuals, especially adults, apparently have a strong need to protect their identity from sharp deviations and dramatic revisions. We often see and believe what we want to see and believe, especially with regards to ourselves.
If there is any consensus among self-psychologists today, it is the conviction that selfrelevant information is not simply stored or assimilated by the person, but rather actively and systematically processed.
However, as mentioned above, the stability of the self-concept should not be maintained at the price of a completely unrealistic self-image. Thus, the self must adhere to two principles. The development of the adult self obeys, as it were, the pleasure principle and the reality principle. As nice as it may be to always remain the same - or become even better - it is even more important to accept the ever-changing realities of life. This is the dilemma that the mature self must solve. Accordingly, self-concept development is considered to be both data-driven and concept-driven.
Regardless of whether the individual's motive to maintain self-concept consistency or the need to improve or enhance one's personal self-esteem gains predominance or a reconciliation can be found, the second defense line reaches certain limits: In certain cases all kinds of reality negotiation and interpretive neutralization become deceit.
There are in particular two important ways to stabilize the self-concept actively. First, persons tend to search and select information and contexts systematically, and second, individuals produce or provoke self-related feedback actively and intentionally. For these strategies, however, the category "defense" seems no longer appropriate. Rather, in these cases the individual has already taken the "offense." Obviously, there is no need to defend against this kind of feedback - the subject himself "generates" and thus welcomes this information.
Linville, for example, argues that the degree of overlap in the structure of the self-concept has direct implications for a person's vulnerability or resilience to threatening experiences. At times, self-relevant information is not only inconsistent, but incommensurable with the structures of the self-concept, and cannot be assimilated into the existing schemata for this reason alone.
In order to explain why people do what they do, we have to know their self-designs and identity goals: We are and we become - in certain aspects, at least - the people we want to be. Indeed, many personality psychologists overlook the active part that people play in shaping the consistency and continuity of their person. At least, the possibility has to be considered that in many cases the stability of the personality in adulthood may be intended by the individual him- or herself.
One might say that being adult is characterized partly by a certain degree of freedom to determine who one is and who one will become. Intentional action is thus a point of interest for developmental research and theory construction. First, it is worth investigating the genesis of intentional action and the change in action-guiding orientations (goals, value orientations, beliefs) across the lifespan. Second, it is interesting to examine the role intentional action plays in shaping one's own development.
Although we still tend to refer to "the" self, it is important not to take a monolithic view of the concept: "The self is not an entity, an essence, or a singular component of the person, but rather it is a dynamic system.
When we change, we are compelled to acknowledge facts that contradict our current and indeed our desired self-concept. As pleasant as it would be for our self-concept to remain the same, or indeed to improve across the lifespan, it is of central importance that we acknowledge changes in our reality, at least to the extent that the two do not collide.
The dialectics of adjustment between active changes in the person's reality and reactive adaptation to these developments are particularly apparent with respect to the self. For example, the subjective importance of domains that can no longer be accessed and of goals that no longer seem attainable is downgraded. This loss is offset by upgrading those aspects of the self that still seem viable or have in fact become more accessible. It is precisely this technique of preference adjustment that the aging self uses to stabilize the feeling of personal identity, thus ensuring that the aspects of the self that remain unimpaired are those considered to be the most valuable.
Evidently, adults tend to behave relatively consistently in different situations, particularly in situations of the same type. Humans do not act erratically," but appropriately, coherently and - to a large extent - in line with expectations, though this does not imply that their actions are mechanically predictable or "always the same." If they behave contrary to expectations, in an unpredictable, arbitrary or indiscriminate manner, we have every reason to seek an explanation for this behavior (and to suspect a serious problem or a very unusual explanation). It is just as evident, however, that individuals have to behave in keeping with the situation - i.e., differently in different situations - if their actions are to meet with success.
Whereas some argue that high selfesteem is essential to human functioning and imbues life with meaning, others assert that it is of little value and may actually be a liability. Between these two extremes lie various positions of an intermediary nature.
Sometimes self-esteem is used to refer to a personality variable that represents the way people generally feel about themselves. Researchers call this form of selfesteem, global self-esteem or trait self-esteem, as it is relatively enduring across time and situations. Depictions of global self-esteem range widely. Some researchers take a cognitive approach, and assume that global self-esteem is a decision people make about their worth as a person, others emphasize emotional processes, and define global self-esteem as a feeling of affection for oneself that is not derived from rational, judgmental processes. However defined, global self-esteem has been shown to be stable throughout adulthood, with a probable genetic component related to temperament and neuroticism.
Self-esteem is also used to refer to self-evaluative reactions to valenced events. This is what people mean when they talk about experiences that "threaten self-esteem" or "boost self-esteem." For example, a person might say her self-esteem was skyhigh after getting a big promotion or a person might say his self-esteem plummeted after a divorce. Following James, we refer to these self-evaluative emotional reactions as feelings of self-worth.
Finally, self-esteem is used to refer to the way people evaluate their various abilities and attributes. For example, a person who doubts his ability in school may be said to have low academic self-esteem and a person who thinks she is good at sports may be said to have high athletic self-esteem. The terms self-confidence and self-efficacy have also been used to refer to these beliefs, and many people equate self-confidence with self-esteem. We prefer to call these beliefs selfevaluations or self-appraisals, as they refer to the way people evaluate or appraise their physical attributes, abilities, and personality characteristics.
The bottom-up model holds that evaluative feedback (e.g., success or failure, interpersonal acceptance or rejection), influences self-evaluations, and that self-evaluations determine feelings of self-worth and global self-esteem. We refer to this as a bottom-up model because it assumes that self-esteem is based on more elemental beliefs about one's particular qualities.
A variant of this approach assumes that not all self-evaluations influence selfesteem. Self-evaluations in domains of high personal importance exert a strong effect on self-esteem, but self-evaluations in domains of low personal importance do not. For example, it has been suggested that some people (typically men) base their self-esteem on their perceived competence, whereas other people (usually women) base their self-esteem on their social skills.
Affective models offer an alternative way to think about the origins and function of self-esteem. According to this more top-down approach, self-esteem develops early in life in response to temperamental and relational factors and, once formed, influences self-evaluations and feelings of self-worth.
When low self-esteem people encounter negative feedback, their self-evaluations become more negative and their feelings of self-worth fall. When high self-esteem people encounter negative feedback, they maintain their high self-evaluations and protect or quickly restore their feelings of self-worth. In our view, this is the primary advantage of having high self-esteem: It allows you to fail without feeling bad about yourself.
Cognitive models assume that self-evaluations explain these differences. From this perspective, low self-esteem people feel bad about themselves when they fail because they lack positive qualities....Other analyses showed, however, that people's cognitive reactions to evaluative feedback (e.g., to what extent is your performance due to your ability?) did depend on self-evaluations, not self-esteem. Thus, self-esteem and self-evaluations seem to govern different aspects of psychological life.
One way to define self-esteem is to see it in terms of worthiness, or as Rosenberg said, "Self-esteem, as noted, is a positive or negative attitude toward a particular object, namely, the self.. .High self-esteem.. .expresses the feeling that one is good enough." Understanding self-esteem in terms of worthiness has certain powerful advantages....defining self-esteem in terms of worthiness in the largest sense, which is to see it as a "favorable global evaluation of oneself," seems to be the most commonly used definition by far.
Unfortunately, understanding self-esteem in terms of worthiness alone also leads to serious problems. One of the most important of them is that if we define self-esteem as only an "internal" phenomenon, i.e., as an attitude, belief, or feeling, then oversimplification can occur. This problem often leads to such things as designing self-esteem enhancement programs that merely focus on making people feel good about themselves. While there is nothing inherently wrong in helping people feel good about themselves, it does matter whether or not such self-perceptions are warranted: they must be connected to reality through corresponding forms of behavior. To feel good about oneself without earning it risks all kinds of problems, such as tolerating undesirable academic performance in school, facilitating the development of narcissism, or even risking an increase in die likelihood of violence
Understanding self-esteem in terms of competence, which involves having goals, developing the skills to bring them into reality, and doing just that through one's own hard work, has its own advantages. One of them is that competence is tied to behavior, which is more readily observable than feelings, attitudes, or beliefs. Such things as problem-solving skills (or the lack of them) and achievements (or failures) can be seen and even measured.
At the very least, understanding selfesteem from this perspective reduces the merit of criticisms about work that focuses on simply making people feel good about themselves. It must be said in all fairness that there are major problems with this approach as well. Perhaps the most important among them is that there are many kinds of behavior at which one can become quite good, but which are also so undesirable that they contradict the entire notion of self-esteem as a positive psychological phenomenon.
In addition, there are many people who suffer from low selfesteem, but who also happen to be quite competent in various areas, such as business, academia, athletics, and so forth, and who do not feel worthy enough to enjoy their success. These so-called overachievers, or those who are merely driven to succeed, may stand as an example of the limits of defining self-esteem in terms of competence.
The third and final major approach to defining self-esteem seems to avoid these pitfalls because it is based on a relationship between competence and worthiness. Seen in this way, Self-esteem has two interrelated aspects: it entails a sense of personal efficacy and a sense of personal worth. It is the integrated sum of self-confidence and self-respect. It is the conviction that one is competent to live and worthy of living. The chief difference between this definition and the others is that it understands self-esteem as a more complex phenomenon consisting of three components instead of just one.
On one hand, then, self-esteem involves worthiness, but worthiness must be earned, meaning that it depends upon behaving competently. On the other hand, in order for competence to result in feelings, attitudes, or beliefs of worthiness, such behavior must involve actions that are worthy, not meaningless successes or destructive activity. As we shall see, any significant imbalance between these crucial components is important because it creates various self-esteem related problems.
We see that self-esteem is neither primarily internal (cognitive, attitudinal, or affective) nor merely external (behavior that is simply effective but not necessarily healthy or meritorious). In other words, self-esteem is seen as a "lived" phenomenon, which is to say that it involves thoughts, feelings, and behavior connected to each other as a unified form of experience and perception.
Self-concept researchers continue to debate about the relative usefulness of a unidimensional perspective that emphasizes a single, global domain of self-concept, typically referred to as self-esteem, and a multidimensional perspective based on multiple, relatively distinct components of self-concept with a weak hierarchical ordering. Analogous debates reverberate across different psychological disciplines, where researchers are increasingly recognizing the value of multidimensional perspectives.
Marsh and Craven argued that: "If the role of self-concept research is to better understand the complexity of self in different contexts, to predict a wide variety of behaviors, to provide outcome measures for diverse interventions, and to relate self-concept to other constructs, then the specific domains of self-concept are more useful than a general domain."
In the multidimensional, hierarchical model proposed by Shavelson et al., general self-concept at the apex of the model is divided into academic and nonacademic components of self-concept. The academic component is divided into self-concepts specific to general school subjects and nonacademic self-concept is divided into physical, social, and emotional components, which are further divided into more specific components.
In our research we have integrated specific and global self-esteem dimensions of self-concept into a single multidimensional, hierarchical model, but we argue that appropriately selected specific domains of self-concept are more useful than selfesteem in many research settings. Clearly it follows that our multidimensional perspective, which incorporates specific components of self-concept and self-esteem, is more useful than a unidimensional perspective that relies solely on self-esteem.
Self-esteem is ephemeral in that it is more affected by short-term response biases, situation-specific context effects, short-term mood fluctuations, and other short-term time-specific influences. Self-esteem apparently cannot adequately reflect the diversity of specific self-domains. Indeed, as emphasized by Marsh and Yeung, it is worrisome that a construct so central to the self seems to be so easily influenced by apparently trivial laboratory manipulations, bogus feedback, and short-term mood fluctuations.
We contend that researchers should consider multiple dimensions of self-concept particularly relevant to the concerns of their research, supplemented, perhaps, by self-esteem responses.
What are we ultimately trying to achieve by having optimal self-esteem? For me, the aim is to be on the path of accomplishing our most cherished goals—goals that are both good for the self and good for others. Being on the path of accomplishing those goals requires motivation, commitment, even a sense of passion; it requires a vision of how to accomplish those goals, the steps along the path; it requires a true learning orientation, in which people are realistic about their strengths and weaknesses and about the obstacles they face, and are committed to addressing the weaknesses that interfere with accomplishing their goals.
With this aim in mind, what would be optimal in terms of self-esteem? I think self-esteem is optimal when it is not a concern. When people are preoccupied with their worth and value, they behave in ways that undermine the accomplishment of their most cherished goals. Self-esteem as a motivating force tends to interfere with learning, relatedness, autonomy, self-regulation, and mental and physical health.
More important than self-confidence is being grounded in reality—both a realistic understanding of one's strengths and weaknesses, and a realistic understanding of the obstacles one faces. This realism does not come from having positive and certain self-views; it comes from having a learning orientation, in which one seeks out information about one s strengths and weaknesses, and works to improve on the weaknesses. High self-esteem can interfere with learning from experience, including both successes and failures, which may be the most important ingredient for accomplishing one's goals. People who are high in self-esteem tend to take credit for their success, but minimize their responsibility for failure; this tendency can interfere with learning from experience.
Just as high self-esteem people are unrealistically positive about themselves and their abilities and take too much credit for success, low self-esteem people can be excessively negative about themselves and their abilities, and take too much blame for failure.
For some people, self-esteem depends on being attractive or admired, for others it depends on academic or professional success, for others it depends on adherence to moral standards. What contingencies of self-esteem are optimal? External contingencies of self-worth, such as basing self-esteem on appearance, approval, and regard from others, or success at academics or other accomplishments, are associated with more negative outcomes than relatively internal sources of self-worth.
External sources of self-worth may have greater costs because outcomes in these domains are more at the mercy of people or events outside of one's control. The resulting belief that one's worth or value as a person depends on other people or events may increase stress, anxiety, and negative emotion. Furthermore, when self-esteem is staked on external sources, the result may be greater selfesteem instability, which is linked to both depression and narcissism.
Although internal contingencies of self-worth appear to be healthier than external contingencies, I hesitate to suggest that internal contingencies are optimal. Whether they pursue self-esteem through internal or external sources, people feel threatened by negative feedback or criticism in the domains in which their self-worth is contingent, and have difficulty appraising their strengths and weaknesses realistically.
From this perspective, noncontingent self-esteem may be optimal. However, developing noncontingent self-esteem may be an unrealistic goal... Furthermore, it is not clear how one could acquire noncontingent selfesteem or create it in others.
Paradoxically, optimal self-esteem may best be achieved when people do not pursue self-esteem—when they are unconcerned with whether they have value and worth as a person, or what they need to be or do to have value and worth, and proving that they are those things. Rather than focusing on raising their level of self-esteem, people might be better served if, regardless of their level of selfesteem, they focused on adopting goals on which improvement is possible and progress can be made: goals that do not put them at the mercy of other people or events in their lives.
In self-determination theory, we distinguish between two different types of self-esteem, each built on different grounds, and each motivating different types of behaviors. Specifically, we distinguish contingent self-esteem from true self-esteem; the latter being most easily characterized as "optimal".
Contingent self-esteem (CSE) is a sense of worth that is based on the introjection of externally defined standards. It is evident wherever a persons evaluations of self are based on meeting certain goals, comparing well with others, or gaining outside admiration or accolades...Should a setback occur, or external admiration not be forthcoming, the individuals self-esteem can plummet, or conversely, when success at these extrinsic outcomes occurs, self-inflation follows. Indeed, CSE describes a dynamic in which one's sense of self rises and falls in accord with the attainment of attributes that have come to be adopted as markers of worth
They [individuals with CSE] are more self-conscious, more prone to extrinsically focused lifestyles, and more likely to conform to external controls than people whose self-esteem is less contingent. In contrast, true self-esteem is a sense of self as worthy, not by virtue of external trappings or specific accomplishments, but because one experiences one's worth as inherent or "given." Indeed, true self-esteem is a sense of worth that is noncontingent. It does not inflate when one succeeds, nor crumble when setbacks occur. This is not to say that successes do not yield positive feelings and failures disappointments, but the worth of the self as a whole is not implicated in each event.
For those with CSE, self-esteem becomes what Kernis called a "prime directive," motivating the person to pursue goals that are expected to garner admiration or avoid disapproval. Because they experience an inherent sense of worth, the actions and goals of persons with true self-esteem are more likely to reflect abiding values and interests, rather than merely "what others might think." And while successes and failures may affect feelings and well-being, the self as a whole is not evaluated accordingly.
It is important to note here that some level of contingent self-esteem is modal for adults, and in fact, most of us experience CSE differentially across different life domains. But individual differences in CSE are robust and impactful, both within and across domains.
To the extent that individuals believe that they are only worthy if sufficiently attractive, successful, popular, smart, or any other externalized characteristic, they may be willing to twist themselves into a pretzel to gain an edge in these attributes. One becomes "ego-involved" concerning specific outcomes such as money, beauty, or performance, feeling as if these criteria are what confirm one's worth.
It is not just parents, coaches and teachers, however, who can foster CSE. Today's media saturated world attempts to prompt consumerism precisely through activating a sense of contingent self-esteem. Advertisements strategically foster a sense of insecurity and social comparison, and then promise a product to remedy the problem.
A person who feels unconditional relatedness, autonomy, and competence in ongoing life "has" self-esteem, of a stable and persistent quality. Such individuals are neither preoccupied with the question of esteem, nor worried about retaining it. In this sense, they are less motivated by the search for esteem, and less likely to focus on others' regard as a primary basis for deciding what is important in life.
From the SDT perspective, a key to "unhooking" from CSE, and to living a fuller, more satisfying life, is the cultivation of awareness. We define awareness as authentic appraisal of what is going on both within oneself and in one's social context. In awareness a person holistically represents what is occurring, what drives actions, and what is truly satisfying and fulfilling.
Awareness is foundational in the process of regulation, and helps a person sort out what is a genuine value or interest, and what is salient because of what others think or because of contingencies in the social environment. Awareness is what supports interest and volition, and identifies obstacles to it.
There are many routes to greater awareness and mindfulness. Obvious, of course, is personal training in mindfulness, such as through meditation. Another route is psychotherapy which, when meaningful, helps people to gain perspective and reflectively consider one's motives, actions, and circumstances.
Finally, according to SDT, gaining optimal self-esteem comes about not by seeking esteem, but by actually leading a life that satisfies basic psychological needs. By cultivating awareness of one's basic needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness, and by seeking out relationships, vocations and interests in which those needs can be truly satisfied, a sense of self that is vital and well is nurtured, the self-esteem motive itself weakens and atrophies, and extrinsic goals become less salient.
Is high self-esteem more indicative of healthy adjustment or of an overly restrained and distorted (e.g., glorified) self-view? Is there an "optimal" self-esteem, and if so, how best to characterize it?
Fragile high self-esteem refers to positive feelings of self-worth that (1) exhibit substantial short-term fluctuations in contextually based feelings of self-worth (i.e., unstable); (2) depend upon achieving specific outcomes (i.e., contingent); (3) are discrepant with implicit feelings of self-worth, (i.e., incongruent); and (4) reflect an unwillingness to admit to possessing negative feelings of self-worth (i.e., defensive). In contrast, secure high self-esteem reflects positive feelings of self-worth that: (1) exhibit minimal short-term variability from day-to-day experiences (i.e., stable); (2) arise from satisfying core psychological needs, not from attaining specific outcomes (i.e., true); (3) are concordant with positive implicit feelings of self-worth (i.e., congruent); and (4) are open to recognizing negative self-aspects (i.e., genuine).
In addition, fragile high self-esteem reflects feelings of positive self-regard that are highly susceptible to either real or imagined threats to one's self-worth. People with fragile high self-esteem presumably navigate through their life experiences with feelings of positive self-regard as their prime directive. Thus, their feelings of self-worth require continual validation that is fueled by chronic use of self-esteem maintenance strategies (e.g., self-enhancement and self-protection) to sustain and promote their positive self-regard and to buffer and defend against perceived self-esteem threats. Secure high self-esteem people also have positive feelings of self-worth; however they "like, value, and accept themselves, imperfections and all". As such, their feelings of positive self-regard are thought to arise naturally from successfully meeting life's challenges, rather than resulting from the successful use of self-esteem maintenance strategies
Kernis therefore proposed that "optimal self-esteem" reflects the sum total of all the secure components of self-esteem (i.e., "stable," "true," "congruent," and "genuine"). Optimal self-esteem may be intimately linked with the construct of psychological authenticity in substantially contributing to healthy functioning.
Psychological authenticity can be conceptualized as a dynamic set of processes whereby one's full inherent nature is discovered and explored, accepted, imbued with meaning, and actualized. Rogers emphasized that authenticity emerges as people actualize their inherent nature and potentialities by achieving congruence between their self-concept and their immediate experiences.
Taken as a whole, findings suggest that when aspects of optimal self-esteem are operative people tend to be in contact with themselves and to act in ways that express and satisfy their core psychological needs. In contrast, fragile or low self-esteem may function as a barrier to healthy and authentic functioning by perhaps fostering false-self behaviors or even alienation from one's self.
Highly operative authenticity is presumed to be reflected in high self-understanding, objectivity in self-evaluations, acting in ways that resonate with core self aspects (e.g., self-determined), and sincerity in close relationships. As such, dispositional authenticity may provide a broad reservoir of inner resources to aid in healthy functioning.
The awareness component of authenticity (i.e., self-understanding) may influence optimal self-esteem development by its contribution to self-knowledge construction. For instance, when self-knowledge is largely unclear, inaccurate, or incomplete corresponding feelings of self-worth may be more directly tied to external sources of information (e.g., how one performs relative to others). As such, individuals may habitually seek out opportunities for self-evaluation in order to "fill in the gap".
Overtime lower authenticity levels may result in more fragile self-esteem (e.g., contingent) by promoting the acquisition of self-knowledge that is largely informed by, and attuned to, external as opposed to internal referents. Biased processing of self-relevant information may also promote fragile selfesteem by influencing peoples subsequent behavioral choices. For instance, positive bias in processing may increase self-esteem fragility when people mistakenly enact tasks well beyond their range of competence.
By developing one's capacity and ability to be aware of and understanding of one's self, processing self-relevant information objectively, behaving in accord with one's core values and needs, and by functioning genuinely in one's close relationships, one may further develop secure (and ultimately optimal) self-esteem. Thus, by engaging in endeavors that maximize the components of authenticity (e.g., heightening ones awareness through mindfulness training; see Brown & Ryan, 2003) people may confer healthy benefits to their self-esteem development and psychological functioning.
Epstein found that two types of experiences affected self-esteem most directly: those that involved success or failure and those that involved acceptance or rejection. Of course, success and failure often depend on competence, or the lack of it, and it is clear that being accepted or rejected by meaningful others can readily affect one's sense of worthiness.
There are at least nine clinical techniques often used when attempting to change selfesteem. They are: providing acceptance, offering positive feedback, modeling, increasing problem-solving ability, cognitive restructuring, assertiveness training, natural self-esteem moments, two types of therapeutic formats (individual and group work, but especially the latter), and practice.
The results indicate that there are two different types of "crucial ingredients" necessary for changing self-esteem programmatically: using particular types of clinical techniques and organizing them systematically in a way that includes assessment, a series of structured activities, and personal guidance. A logical way to build an effective self-esteem enhancement program, then, is to base it on both sets of factors and to do so in a way that is consistent with one's definition of selfesteem.
The main problem seems to be that programs that simply help make people feel good about themselves regardless of actual performance produce no lasting positive results and may even have negative long-term consequences. The latter includes such possibilities as fostering unrealistic expectations, inadvertently helping people to develop narcissism, and facilitating certain forms of antisocial behavior.
Building a program based on competence and worthiness is not as vulnerable to such failings because one balances the other. In other words, competence in appropriate behaviors generates a sense of worthiness that is earned, and a sense of worthiness that is earned makes engaging in behavior that diminishes worthiness less attractive and less likely.
People who live a condition characterized by competence but low worthiness, for instance, tend to focus on their abilities rather than facing their weakness. Those with worthiness but little competence are caught in a similar bind because their view of themselves is not supported by reality. In either case, a lack of awareness associated with defensive self-esteem creates a vulnerability to certain kinds of threats, namely things that may lessen a fragile sense of worthiness or an inadequate sense of competence, respectively.
Addressing the Possibility of Enduring Improvements in Feelings of Self-Worth, H. Tevendale, D. Dubois
Developmental research provides evidence that self-esteem does change over the life course. Overall, findings of this research suggest that the average level of selfesteem is notably high during early childhood before becoming established at a somewhat lower level during middle and late childhood and then declines during the transition to adolescence... Stability [in self-esteem levels] was lowest in childhood, increasing from adolescence to adulthood, and then decreasing from adulthood to old age. This pattern of findings is similar to that found in a meta-analysis of personality trait stability.
The answer to whether self-esteem ever truly changes appears to be yes. In addition to evidence that the typical level of self-esteem changes in somewhat predictable ways over the course of development, it appears that there is only moderate stability of relative levels of self-esteem within any age group and that, at least during adolescence, individual trajectories of increasing or decreasing self-esteem are not uncommon. At the same time, it seems that self-esteem over the life course may be fairly stable such that even during periods of expected change (i.e., adolescence), stability is at least as common as patterns of growth or decline.
It also may be difficult to change aspects of self-esteem that are based on personal characteristics that are themselves difficult to alter. For example, aspects of self-esteem related to social interactions may be challenging to modify because the personality traits that contribute to social success (e.g., extraversion) have been indicated to be quite stable.
Similar considerations apply to aspects of self-esteem that are influenced by factors in the persons environment that are difficult to change or avoid. Illustratively thinness is a pervasive standard for what constitutes physical attractiveness in Western culture. Individuals with higher body weight, furthermore, are less likely to date and more likely to experience other types of social rejection. For an individual who is overweight, avoiding exposure to negative appearance related feedback or the message that thinness is the standard for attractiveness is likely to be difficult.
These considerations highlight the potential for both psychological and environmental challenges to any efforts that an individual might make to deliberately enhance his or her self-esteem. Nonetheless, as noted, there is considerable evidence that changes in self-esteem do occur throughout the life span.
Attempts by an individual to change his or her self-esteem are likely to be more successful if the individual has a sound understanding of the factors that are most likely to influence feelings of self-worth. As a first step, an individual seeking to change his or her self-esteem thus should become familiar with fundamental concepts about how self-esteem is developed and maintained.
The specific domains that contribute most to self-esteem vary across individuals. Research, however, consistently indicates that both experiences of mastery or success and a sense of being valued by significant others are fundamentally important sources of self-esteem. Individuals seeking to raise their self-esteem thus should examine how positive or negative their self-evaluations are across a range of domains including performance at work, school, and other activities of personal importance (e.g., athletics or hobbies), as well as in regard to the quality of their relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners.
It may be useful to distinguish aspects of low self-esteem that stem primarily from objective personal or environmental factors (e.g., a lack of skills needed to perform well at one's job or an adverse work environment) and those that are attributable to more subjective, psychological factors.
In accordance with these considerations, several of the interventions that have proved most successful at enhancing levels of self-esteem are oriented toward increasing participants' actual day-to-day experiences of mastery and social connectedness. These include interventions that focus primarily on skill development, as well as those that seek to modify aspects of the environment. For a personal self-esteem change program, efforts could be geared toward strengthening one's skills or performance within areas where objective skill or performance limitations are identified as contributing to negative self-evaluations.
Striving to alter personal beliefs and expectations that detract from feelings of self-worth and concerted efforts to engineer more frequent experiences of success and social connectedness in one's day-to-day life are both viable avenues for improving self-esteem. Given the inherent challenges, the involvement of significant others who can provide support for positive change is a recommended component of any plan to improve self-esteem.
One way to boost people's selfesteem is by being accepting and approving of them, thus elevating their sociometer and their sense of relatedness. Research suggests that this is effective and that it can engender long-term changes in self-esteem, because outward reaffirmation produces the conditions that promote self-growth and self-determination.
People have flaws, make failures, and are rejected. A sense of self-esteem that denies these facts will always twist with reality. As a consequence, the selfconcept continuously needs to be safeguarded; the individual can never truly relax and be at ease with the self. The above problem is inherent to fragile, defensive high self-esteem. This kind of self-esteem typically is based on reaffirmation by external sources.
A recent study by Bosson, Brown, Zeigler-Hill, and Swann confirms that participants with high explicit and low implicit self-esteem (a weak name-letter effect) are particularly likely to engage in defensive, ego-repairing processes. Secure self-esteem, on the other hand, is not contingent because it is derived from within. According to self-determination theory, this type of self-esteem is associated with high self-determination, that is (1) knowing one s' inner self; and (2) behaving autonomously, in accordance with one's true needs—as opposed to external forces (e.g., the need to please others or achieve success). Secure self-esteem is grounded in unconditional positive regard for oneself.
In self-determination theory, self-esteem can be gained by increasing self-contact and autonomy in choices, rather than depending on reaffirmation by others. This view stands in sharp contrast with sociometer theory. Based on people s fundamental need to belong, sociometer theory poses that self-esteem is an evolutionarily adaptive instrument that tells people how they are doing as a member of their group, and whether others are accepting them.
Being accepted by others is a major contingency for everyone. In line with this view, Leary and his colleagues have demonstrated that social rejection or disapproval produces sharp declines in participants' self-esteem; these effects occurred regardless of their initial self-esteem level and regardless of whether they themselves acknowledged that their self-esteem depended on others. Similarly, social approval and acceptance enhanced self-esteem.
Note that self-determination theory acknowledges the important role of others as well; self-esteem is not seen as emerging in a social vacuum. Acceptance and positive regard by others are important because they fulfil people's need for relatedness. As long as the acceptance is unconditional, people will not be bothered with the issue of how to please others in order to be liked, and they can maintain their self-contact and autonomy.
Paradoxically, it appears that, the more solid the ground—i.e., the more others are accepting and approving—the more people become unaware of what they are walking on, and the higher is their sense of autonomy. When the road gets bumpy, on the other hand—when people cannot rely on others' reaffirmation—they become aware of it. This is when self-esteem becomes contingent and "shaky," and when people may enter the cycle of looking to receive reaffirmation from others, thereby losing self-contact and autonomy.
Dramatic changes in self-esteem do occur in adulthood, but they are typically associated with major life transitions, such as marriage, parenthood, job loss or promotion, or entering junior high school, high school, or college. Presumably, these changes are connected to changes in support and acceptance by one's peer group or spouse, or changes in how one's performance is evaluated.
In sum, I suggest that positive regard by others, even if it is only temporary, is the "entrance" to true self-esteem changes: When people are accepted and reaffirmed by others, they feel that they are on solid ground. Because they are utterly unaware of how shaky the ground is, and how dependent their self-boost is upon others, they start to feel relaxed and autonomous. They become more open and less defensive, and their self-determination, self-growth, and other intrinsic drives are enhanced. As a consequence, their self-esteem is reinforced from within.
True self-esteem represents a form of intrinsic satisfaction with oneself that is relatively stable and, by its nature, is not particularly salient to the person. In other words, people high in true (i.e., noncontingent) self-esteem are less concerned with self-esteem and with evaluating the self as an object. True self-esteem constitutes a deep sense of feeling worthy, such that one's self is not continually being put to the test.
If, developmentally, people experience ongoing satisfaction of the basic needs, they tend to become secure within themselves and to experience a sense of true self-worth that is relatively stable and is not a source of focus or concern. True self-esteem is thus generated by an inherently active, growthoriented tendency that flourishes under conditions of basic need satisfaction.
Developmentally, then, the SDT analysis maintains that interpersonal processes (namely the amount of need satisfaction provided by significant others through, for example, noncontingent love) play an important role in determining the degree to which true versus contingent self-esteem will be central.
When faced with antagonistic, non-nurturing, need-thwarting social contexts, the best that people can typically do is develop contingent self-esteem, which will vary in level depending on their effectiveness at meeting the standards. Accordingly, intrapersonal processes are also central in the development of true versus contingent self-esteem.
Sociometer theory suggests that people's selves and their levels of self-esteem are entirely a function of their social environment. This theory, which does not differentiate true from contingent self-esteem, views the level of self-esteem to be a function of whether the social environment is accepting. The theory deals only with what we call contingent self-esteem. Further, the theory views self-esteem almost exclusively as an interpersonal process of trying to avoid rejection.
If people's basic psychological needs have been thwarted to the point that they do not feel good about themselves intrinsically, they will focus attention on establishing self-worth based upon controlling standards and relevant feedback. Thus, central proximal factors in people's level of (contingent) self-esteem will be how others relate to them and what messages others convey, whether explicitly or implicitly, about their performance, their likability, and their worth.
In a developmental sense, it is people's experiences of need thwarting, resulting from socialization practices such as conditional regard, that result in their introjecting contingencies of worth and thus having a strong orientation toward contingent self-esteem....For contingent selfesteem, the level can thus fluctuate substantially from low to high, and much of the fluctuation will depend on interpersonal occurrences. Further, the instability inherent in contingent self-esteem leaves people reactive to transient events in the environment, which tend to prompt acts of hostility and aggression when the people's self-evaluations of worth are threatened.
The first perspective maintains that healthy self-esteem should not be affected by interpersonal evaluations. Although differing in specifics, these theories, which I will collectively call the private self-evaluation perspective, share the assumption that mature, well-adjusted people should evaluate themselves according to their own internal standards—and, thus, feel good or bad about themselves to the degree that those standards are or are not met—but their personal self-evaluations should not be affected by the appraisals of other people. To the extent that a persons self-esteem is based on other people's evaluations, the individual is regarded as inauthentic, maladjusted, or overly concerned with approbation. This assumption can be found, among other places, in humanistic psychology.
In contrast to the private self-evaluation perspective, the passive appraisal perspective asserts that self-esteem is naturally affected by other people's evaluations, as well as other events that have self-relevant implications. The passive appraisal perspective conceptualizes self-esteem as a summary self-judgment based on an amalgam of interpersonal and intrapersonal information, along with direct experience with the environment....This approach can be traced to Cooley, Mead, and other symbolic interactionists, who asserted that people's perceptions of themselves depend heavily upon their beliefs about how they are perceived by other people (e.g., reflected appraisals). The passive appraisal perspective seems to have been the implicit view of most social and personality psychologists for the past three decades.
The active appraisal perspective builds upon the passive appraisal perspective by suggesting that self-esteem is affected by interpersonal factors because, in one way or another, self-esteem is inherently involved in processing certain kinds of social information. Active appraisal theories view self-esteem as part of a process by which people actively seek to assess their interpersonal, social, or cultural standing.
Sociometer theory, views self-esteem as part of a psychological system that monitors the person's relational value (or, more colloquially, interpersonal acceptance and rejection). Put simply, self-esteem is a subjective gauge of the person's relational value.
Self-esteem appears to be a human universal. Although the specific factors that affect self-esteem may differ by culture, no one has yet found a group of people who do not experience changes in how they feel about themselves as a result of their own actions and others' evaluations of them, who are indifferent to these self-relevant feelings, or who do not generally prefer to feel good rather than bad about themselves.
Having an accurate self-concept is undoubtedly beneficial, and reflected appraisals are an important source of information about oneself. Thus, a symbolic interactionist account can explain why people seek feedback from their interpersonal environments and why self-esteem is strongly affected by interpersonal factors.
Bednar, Wells, and Peterson suggested that the function of self-esteem is to provide people with feedback regarding their own adequacy in dealing with threats, and Harber suggested that self-esteem tells people whether they can trust their own emotions.
Research suggests that self-esteem is affected primarily by events that have implications for peoples acceptability in the eyes of other people (i.e., "relational value;" Leary & Baumeister, 2000). For example, the primary dimensions on which people evaluate themselves—physical appearance, competence, positive social qualities (i.e., likeability), and adherence to social norms—are central determinants of both the degree to which people are accepted or shunned and the degree to which they have high or low self-esteem.
Importantly, the active appraisal theories do not deny that self-esteem is affected by intrapersonal processes, including people's private self-evaluations. After all, interpretations of interpersonal events are invariably filtered through people's existing beliefs, including their beliefs about themselves. Thus, how people perceive themselves does affect how they think they are regarded by others and, thus, their self-esteem.
Although self-esteem is affected by both interpersonal and intrapersonal factors, virtually all influences on self-esteem fundamentally involve factors that have real, potential, or imagined implications for the person's acceptability to other people. Thus, the antecedents of self-esteem, whether proximally interpersonal or intrapersonal, are ultimately rooted in people's concerns with other people's perceptions and evaluations of them.
Does self-esteem grow out of intrapsychic or interpersonal processes? This seemingly straightforward question is actually trickier than it appears to be. The complexity stems from the fact that intrapsychic and interpersonal processes are mutually influential.
Among the first to ask where self-esteem comes from were the early symbolic interactionists. Cooley, for example, argued persuasively that we don't just "know" who we are; rather, we infer our self-views from our experiences with others, especially those who are important to us and whose opinions we trust. Research inspired by attachment theory supports the idea that we use the manner in which others treat us as a source of self-knowledge.
For both interpersonal and intraspyehic reasons, then, people may make active efforts to ensure that their environments provide them with a steady supply of self-verifying feedback....People may also attain self-verification by gravitating toward some relationship partners and avoiding others. Thus, for example, research has shown that people choose to interact with evaluators who see them as they see themselves.
And what if people somehow wind up interacting with partners whose appraisals challenge their self-views? Initially, people may attempt to bring such partners to see them congruently. Failing this, they may withdraw from the relationship, either psychologically or through divorce.
Numerous investigators have shown that people tend to interpret information in ways that reinforce their self-views. For example, Markus found that people endorse the validity of feedback only insofar as it fits with their self-views. Similarly, Story reported that just as people with high self-esteem recalled evaluations as being more favorable than was warranted, people with low self-esteem recalled them as being overly negative. Together, such attentional, encoding, retrieval, and interpretational processes may systematically skew peoples perceptions of social reality.
In reality, self-esteem is a fiction we construct to make sense of who we are, what others think of us, and how we should behave. This fiction is at the same time an interpretation of the experiences we have and a guide to the type of experiences we seek: less a fixed structure than a constantly updated filter, which colors our perceptions of social reality.
A similar approach must be taken when examining the question of interpersonal versus intrapersonal determinants of self-esteem. Although these processes are obviously conceptually distinct, in practice they may be deeply interwoven and mutually influential. We should thus work to identify the principles that govern their interplay rather than contemplate whether one dominates the other.
The raw material of the self-system is the self-referent information that accumulates in memory with experience and with the passage of time. Mental representations of the self draw on this accumulated store of information, providing an organized and efficient context for processing information and planning behavior.
Virtually all self-knowledge, whether manifestly evaluative or not, has evaluative connotations that, broadly speaking, can be classified as positive or negative. To the extent that individual bits of self-knowledge can be classified as positive or negative, the body of self-knowledge can be characterized in valence terms. If these bits of self-knowledge are rated in terms of importance, then self-knowledge can further be described in terms of the relative importance of positive and negative self-knowledge.
Self-knowledge also varies in lucidness. That is, some people seem to know themselves better than others. This variability in the lucidness of self-knowledge is reflected in two characteristics: clarity and certainty. Self-concept clarity concerns the articulation of self-knowledge and manifests as more extreme, temporally stable, and internally consistent knowledge of the self. A related characteristic of self-knowledge is self-certainty, reflected in the precision of self-descriptions.
An important feature of these characteristics is their focus on self-referent information of which the individual is aware. It seems likely that implicit selfknowledge— information about the self of which the individual is not conscious at a particular point in time—is relevant for self-esteem as well.
One might expect the strongest link between self-esteem and self-knowledge to be in terms of valence—the more positive people's self-knowledge, particularly when positive bits of self-knowledge are important, the higher their global feelings of self-worth.
Significantly more findings have been published that index the association between organizational structure of self-knowledge and self-esteem. The preponderance of this work focuses on self-complexity....To summarize, the overall complexity of self-knowledge is modestly negatively associated with self-esteem; however, when self-complexity is indexed separately for positive and negative self-knowledge, the association is fully attributable to the complexity of negative self-knowledge.
A somewhat different view of the self-complexity-self-esteem relation focuses on the sensitivity of self-esteem to evaluative feedback as a function of selfcomplexity. According to the affective extremity hypothesis, greater complexity of self-knowledge should be associated with less sensitivity of state self-esteem to evaluative feedback....To a modest degree, the more complex people's self-knowledge is, the less their state self-esteem increases following positive feedback or decreases following negative feedback.
The lucidness of self-knowledge—i.e., how well it is articulated in memory— should be associated with self-esteem as well. Specifically, high self-esteem should co-occur with greater clarity and certainty of self-knowledge. Published findings indicate that this is indeed the case. High selfesteem is associated with greater extremity, temporal stability, and internal consistency of self-knowledge as well as with self-reports of self-concept clarity.
The clearest finding is that characteristics reflecting the valence of self-knowledge are most strongly associated with the level of global self-esteem. The most relevant self-knowledge in this regard is negative self-knowledge: Individuals who report more negative selfknowledge that is complex and integrated with positive self-knowledge and about which they are certain also report relatively lower self-esteem. The two principal contributors to this pattern are proportion and complexity of negative selfknowledge, which are additively associated with self-esteem.
Early cognitive models suggested essentially a oneto- one correspondence between the content of self-beliefs and self-esteem. In this view, the more positive one's beliefs about the self, the higher ones self-esteem; conversely, people with low self-esteem should have a greater proportion of negative self-beliefs. In other words, the links between selfesteem and self-knowledge were direct.
Studies of self-schemata demonstrated the preferential accessibility of attributes that an individual identified as extreme and important. For example, depressed persons may be characterized by negative self-schemas, and demonstrate this by responding ME more quickly to the negative attributes that describe them than do nondepressed persons. Thus, negative self-beliefs are not only more prevalent in depressed than nondepressed persons, they are more accessible.
In any given situation, only the most relevant categories of self-knowledge are activated to form the working self-concept. Social psychologists have identified several features of self-structure that may affect the activation of specific categories of self-knowledge in specific contexts and, hence, their impact on self-esteem. These structural features include self-complexity, differential importance, compartmentalization, self-discrepancies, and possible selves.
Individuals with high self-complexity have many distinct self-aspect categories. That is, they have many multiple selves with nonoverlapping attributes. According to Linville's model, high self-complexity can moderate the impact of positive and negative self-beliefs on the self-concept, because a given belief that appears in only one of many multiple selves should affect only a small proportion of the total self-concept. In contrast, individuals with low self-complexity should show affective extremity because the activation of a single positive or negative attribute or self-category will implicate a much greater proportion of the total self. For individuals with low self-complexity, the path from self-knowledge to self-esteem is much more direct than it is for more complex individuals.
In compartmentalized self-structures, positive and negative self-beliefs are segregated into distinct self-aspect categories (e.g., me as a creative scholar; me during final exams). In contrast, the self-aspect categories of integrative self-structures contain a mixture of positive and negative beliefs (e.g., me as a student: hardworking, disorganized, intelligent, anxious). Compartmentalized structures may accommodate many negative self-beliefs with little impact on self-esteem if the categories that contain those beliefs are perceived to be of low importance. That is, when positive compartments are most important, compartmentalized individuals should have very high self-esteem. In general, individuals with integrative self-structures should have moderate self-esteem. Compartmentalized individuals with important negative categories should have very low self-esteem, whereas integrative individuals will be able to ameliorate important negative characteristics by linking them to more positive attributes.
Finally, because integration keeps both positive and negative self-beliefs in mind, it may be a relatively realistic representation of self, with specific advantages for adjustment (e.g., resilience), even though self-esteem may be moderate.
Self-concept clarity refers to the confidence with which an individual can endorse self-attributes. This definitional property of one's self-attributes may also moderate the association between specific attributes and self-esteem. High selfclarity is correlated with both high self-esteem and stability of self-esteem. Individuals with high selfclarity may make decisions with confidence because they can easily match themselves to situations that fit them well. This ability to choose environments and tasks for which they are well-suited may be both self-enhancing and stabilizing.
Considerable amounts of research have particularly contributed to the notion that a clear self-concept is strongly related to positive evaluations of the self. People who are high in self-esteem tend to describe themselves in a confident and well-articulated manner that is stable over time, whereas people with more negative self-evaluations typically use more uncertain self-descriptions that have a tendency to fluctuate. Also, when their self-evaluations are stable over time, people generally show high levels of self-concept clarity.
However, during the past two decades more and more evidence has come to light that well-adjusted and happy people do not have clear views on themselves at all. On the contrary, those with normal, functional levels of self-regard typically engage in a wide range of behaviors that distort the processing of self-relevant information. For example, people judge positive traits to be far more characteristic of themselves than negative traits.
So on the one hand, research suggests that knowing who you are contributes to selfesteem, but on the other hand it seems that self-esteem is promoted by illusions about the self, i.e., by not knowing who you are. How can these two findings be reconciled?
Clarity of the self-concept, however, does not in any way imply accuracy of the self-concept. A self-concept is clear to the extent that people have a clear idea of who they think they are. Theoretically, people who have a very confident and well-articulated theory about who they are and what defines them, could be totally inaccurate on the basis of other criteria, such as their behaviors or observations by others.
Knowing that self-concept clarity does not reflect accuracy of self-knowledge but, rather, a set of subjective self-beliefs, the paradox of self-esteem being linked to both distorted self-views and a clear self-concept becomes less paradoxical.
Support for this notion lies in the finding that self-concept clarity is moderately correlated to self-deception: The higher people are in self-concept clarity, the more likely they are to engage in self-deceptive behaviors in general. So, ironically, those who are inclined to be somewhat dishonest toward themselves, tend to have clearer self-concepts.
Yet, when correlating self-concept clarity to implicit feelings of self-worth measured by name-letter preference while controlling for explicit self-esteem, Brandt and Vonk found no relation between the two, whereas they did find a substantial correlation between self-concept clarity and explicit self-esteem.
In sum, substantial amounts of research have shown that having a welldefined and confident idea of who you are is related to healthy, positive feelings of self-worth. Paradoxically, having illusions about ourselves is also connected to high self-esteem. This paradox can be understood once we realize that having a clear sense of self does not mean that our self-knowledge is accurate, and that this relationship mainly exists on an explicit level of self-esteem. We therefore argue that positive illusions, as well as explicit self-esteem, and self-concept clarity, stem from the same basic self-theory, "I'm doing fine".
Self-esteem: the belief that one is a person of value in a world of meaning. Self-esteem is thus the primary psychological mechanism by which cultural worldviews mitigate the debilitating dread that might otherwise render humans unable to function with a modicum of equanimity in their daily affairs.
TMT posits that self-esteem acquires its anxiety buffering qualities in the context of the socialization process. At birth, human infants are utterly vulnerable and dependent, and especially prone to intense anxiety when their basic needs are unsatisfied. Bowlby argued that this raw undifferentiated terror is the psychological impetus for the formation of infants' attachment to their primary caretakers. Parental provision of protection and sustenance provides positive feelings of safety and satiety, and is at first provided unconditionally. During socialization, however, parental approval becomes contingent on engaging.
Then later in childhood, youngsters begin to realize that their parents are human and mortal and thus ultimately incapable of protecting them from life's dangerous vicissitudes, so they begin to (quite unconsciously) transfer their psychological allegiance to the cultural worldview and garner self-esteem by adhering to standards of value associated with their social roles as fledgling members of their culture.
In sum, self-esteem, from a TMT perspective, consists of the belief that one is a person of value in a world of meaning; and the primary function of self-esteem is to buffer anxiety in a creature utterly devoted to life, but painfully aware of the inevitability and always looming prospect of death. All human beings thus require self-esteem, although the manner in which they obtain and maintain it varies a great deal depending upon the standards of value espoused in specific social roles by specific cultures, which often differ quite dramatically.
Momentarily elevated or dispositionally high self-esteem (1) reduces anxiety and physiological arousal in response to threatening stimuli; (2) reduces vulnerability denying defensive distortions; and (3) reduces or eliminates cultural worldview defense in response to mortality salience.
More recent work has also demonstrated that reminders of death instigate efforts to procure self-esteem. For example, Taubman Ben-Ari, Florian, and Mikulincer showed that mortality salience increased risky driving behavior (both self-reports and on a driving simulator) among Israeli soldiers who valued their driving ability as a source of self-esteem.
Perhaps then as human beings become more and more aware of themselves as objects of their own subjective experience, there is a commensurate increase in concerns about self-worth. And to the extent this is true preoccupation with selfesteem should be rising independent of specific cultural milieus.
Thus, people in individualistic cultures may, of necessity, be more likely to focus attention on themselves rather than their group and be more concerned about their self-esteem as a result. If so, then preoccupation with self-esteem should be more pronounced in individualistic cultures.
People will tend to be exceptionally concerned with matters pertaining to self-worth when standards for attaining self-esteem are difficult or impossible to meet. One way therefore to judge the quality and viability of a culture is to ask to what extent there are sufficient social roles with attainable standards to ensure that as many people as possible are capable of securing this very necessary psychological asset—self-esteem.
People with low self-esteem seem to be less resilient than people with high self-esteem, as they have fewer domains from which to self-affirm when threatened. Low self-esteem may even carry negative consequences in relationships: people with low self-esteem may mistakenly perceive rejection where it does not exist and may overly scrutinize problems with their romantic partners.
A recent, comprehensive review of the selfesteem literature revealed scant evidence that self-esteem actually causes positive outcomes, with the possible exception of happiness (which, unlike other outcomes examined, can be assessed only through self-report; Baumeister et al., 2003). Although school systems and educators have widely promoted self-esteem, the evidence that boosting self-esteem actually bolsters academic performance is weak, with effects ranging from nonsignificant to negligible.
The findings that high self-esteem does not necessarily promote positive outcomes, and that low self-esteem does not necessarily promote negative outcomes, call into question the efforts to raise self-esteem.
Experimental evidence also indicates that when people feel socially accepted, they may experience high self-esteem even in the face of failure, suggesting that efforts to shield self-esteem from negative performance feedback may be misguided.
Furthermore, research revealing the "darker" side of high self-esteem suggests that having high self-esteem will not necessarily lead to healthy psychological functioning. For example, high yet unstable self-esteem is associated with heightened levels of aggression under conditions of threat. High self-esteem may foster experimentation in risky behaviors, and people with high self-esteem may resist threatening information relevant to their risk behaviors, ultimately resulting in unrealistically low perceptions of risk.
In societies such as the United States, self-esteem may derive primarily from feelings of social acceptance and personal competence. In contrast, maintenance of social harmony forms the basis of self-esteem in interdependent cultures, and self-esteem is best understood within the social context... The term "selfesteem" may not even be appropriate for interdependent cultures, as pride in accomplishments is not necessarily valued in non-Western cultures.
Optimal functioning may require a sense of self-efficacy without requiring a sense of high self-esteem. Similarly, satisfying a "need to belong" may require feeling accepted by others, rather than feeling high self-esteem per se.
From our perspective, self-esteem involves goal states some of which are common to most individuals; others of which are idiosyncratic. What these goals states have in common is that they are a significant part of the self-definition. They are the personally relevant end states toward which we strive. They may pertain to moral dictums (e.g., be honest), they may pertain to competencies (e.g., build strong furniture), or they may pertain to social recognitions (e.g., be a good son; don't be excluded from the group.)
If our analysis is correct, then failure to obtain self-relevant goals, particularly if substitution is not available, should lead to negative states of well-being. Such states should manifest themselves as negative affect, depression, rumination, and lowered self-esteem..
Results over the three studies showed that failure resulted in increased rumination, increased negative affect, and lowered self-esteem compared to success. However, the opportunity to affirm the self eliminated the negative consequences of failure. Participants who failed but self-affirmed showed no rumination, no decrease in self-esteem, and no increase in negative affect. In sum, selfrelated goals play a consequential role in affecting indicators of well-being. Moreover, the functioning of these goals highlights die land of systemic effects i.e., substitution, inherent in our process view of self-esteem.
Some individuals, i.e., "linkers," report that their happiness is contingent on satisfying specific goals; whereas others indicate that they could be happy even if their present goals were unmet. By implication, linkers cannot see the possibility of other (substitute) goals satisfying them. As a result, we would expect linkers to be more likely to ruminate about unattained goals and experience negative affect. This is the case. More specifically, for linkers compared to non-linkers the correlation between negative life events and depression was stronger.
The failure to satisfy selfrelevant goals, either directly or via substitution, leaves the individual susceptible to rumination, negative affect, depression, or lowered self-esteem.
One early evolutionary theorist hypothesized that the self-concept is a composite of internal representations of individual characteristics that affect reproductive fitness. Attributes expected to influence individuals' self-concepts are many, such as health, physical prowess, prestige, status, attractiveness, alliances, and resources, all of which have been integral to solving adaptive problems throughout human evolutionary history.
Each of the multiple self-esteem mechanisms is hypothesized to have been designed by natural selection to monitor information about the self that corresponds to solving a specific and recurrent adaptive problem faced by our evolutionary ancestors. The information so gained is hypothesized to activate psychological and behavioral processes designed to calibrate the information acquired through such monitoring and use it to solve specific adaptive problems.
That is, we propose that self-esteem is not a unitary construct, but rather a collection of internal representations, monitoring mechanisms, updating mechanisms, evaluative mechanisms, motivational mechanisms, and mechanisms designed to generate behavioral output. The second suggestion centers on one way to clarify which components of self-esteem are domain-specific and which operate across a range of domains—a potentially contentious issue in the field of evolutionary psychology.
Choosing the range of behaviors that will lead to an adaptive problem's successful solution has depended simultaneously on the predicted abilities of oneself and the anticipated behaviors of relevant others. Striving for a particular socially-mediated outcome without gauging both one's own abilities and the comparative abilities of relevant competitors could lead to futile attempts, wasted effort, banishment, or death. The problem of keeping track of one's own abilities has thus been an important selection pressure that has shaped human psychology. One hypothesized cognitive solution to this reliably occurring selection pressure is the ability to maintain internal representations of one's own talents and abilities. Keeping track of these values allows one to make prudent behavioral decisions in light of this information. Furthermore, it provides a referent by which to compare oneself to relevant others in social and socially-competitive situations.
Humans are proposed to have evolved psychological mechanisms designed to update the self-concept based on new information about the self. These updating mechanisms, of course, rely on information provided by the monitoring mechanisms. But they are distinct, in that informational output from the monitoring can result in: (1) no change in internal representations, (2) an increase in perception of one's abilities or attributes relative to others, or (3) a decrease in perception of one's abilities or attributes. Thus, the output of monitoring mechanisms provides input into updating mechanisms, which in turn result in changes in internal representations.
We hypothesize that it is ultimately such changes in self-perceived abilities to solve specific adaptive problems that cause the affective shifts that demarcate self-esteem experiences. Therefore, we propose that the fourth component of self-esteem is composed of cognitive adaptations designed to evaluate the internal representations. When this affective evaluation is applied to stable internal representations, we can refer to it as trait self-esteem.
We propose that the affective component of self-esteem has been designed to motivate individuals to choose behavioral options that are most appropriate, given the newly updated state of their internal representation. The loss of self-esteem that accompanies the rejection of a mating overture, for example, could motivate social derogation of the rejecter to preserve reputation, increase one's own efforts to improve one's mate value, or change the quality of the mates toward which one makes future overtures.
Since we have hypothesized that self-esteem has been designed to track and update adaptive problem-solving ability, we expect that self-esteem experiences will reflect the type and salience of the adaptive problems that the sexes have faced differently over evolutionary time. For instance, since resource acquisition potential is a more important part of men's than women's mate value, resources acquisition is a more salient adaptive problem for men than it is for women. We therefore expect that any changes on dimensions relating to resource acquisition and defense will affect men's self-esteem more than women's self-esteem. Physical attractiveness is a more important component of women's than men's mate value, so achieving and maintaining a certain level of physical attractiveness is a more salient adaptive problem for women than it is for men. We expect that changes on this dimension will affect women's more than men's self-esteem.
Because humans have evolved to be a highly social species, many of the most important adaptive problems we face involve negotiating our social world. Such adaptive problems include, for example, problems related to mating (selection, attraction, and retention of mates), problems related to competition for resources (negotiation of status hierarchies, formation and maintenance of alliances), problems related to acquiring assistance and support from others (selection and maintenance of friendships), and problems related to intergroup conflict. Our evolved psychological architecture therefore should include specialized systems designed by natural selection as solutions to these adaptive problems.
In many species, rank is determined primarily by physical size and strength and maintained by force. However, violent fights between individuals in such species tend to be rare, because both parties are able to quickly size up the relative strength of the potential opponent versus oneself; the weaker individual, facing almost certain defeat, will either steer clear of the encounter or explicitly concede the battle by displaying species-specific signals of submission. Thus, self-perceived rank or dominance is crucial in guiding adaptive behavioral choices between attacking and conceding in potentially conflictual encounters, and for displaying rank-appropriate behaviors to others.
Whereas dominance, as in other species, is a means of attaining and maintaining status by force or threat of force, prestige is a form of status that is freely conferred by others in recognition of valuable skills or knowledge from which they hope to benefit (e.g., via social learning).
We therefore believe that humans possess at least two self-evaluative mechanisms related to self-perceived dominance and self-perceived prestige, respectively. It is also possible that a third mechanism related to self-perceived status—that is, the social rank resulting from whichever process was used to attain it—may function separately (but receive input from) dominance- and prestigeassessment mechanisms. Much previous research on human dominance and self-esteem might be clarified by differentiating and separately measuring these functionally distinct processes.
We maintain that what psychologists refer to as "self-esteem" reflects the operation of numerous evolved psychological mechanisms designed by natural selection to monitor specific aspects of the self in relation to others. These self-evaluative mechanisms perform a wide variety of adaptive functions in the context of psychological systems designed to guide behavior adaptively with respect to mate selection, status competition, coalition formation, and other social domains.
Our view converges with that of Leary and colleagues in rejecting the notion that maintaining high self-esteem is a fundamental human motive or goal; rather, self-esteem functions in the service of psychological systems that are organized around other motives or goals. However, it is certainly possible for the positive affect associated with high self-perceived "selfesteem"— i.e., high mate value, prestige, dominance, or social inclusion—to function as a psychological reward and thus lead people to behave in ways designed to produce those feelings, in much the same way as drugs or alcohol.
In a large review of the selfesteem literature, there was minimal evidence found that self-esteem caused much beyond positive affect and activity initiation. Of course, a core level of self-enhancement (i.e., positive affect associated with the self, optimism, confidence) may be related to success, both now and in our adaptive environment. This self-enhancement, however, is not the same as an elaborated sense of self-esteem.
In sum, the evolutionary function of self-esteem was most likely to be informational. Nevertheless, we propose that self-esteem did not exist in our ancestral past in the elaborated form that it does in the contemporary US. The social environment in which we evolved was not highly supportive of self-esteem in the form of public displays of success or superiority. Instead, it took a brief (in evolutionary time) cultural chain of events to shape proto self-esteem into what we think of today as self-esteem.
In the earliest civilizations of Sumeria and later in the more advanced civilizations of Egypt, social roles were highly structured. There was a social hierarchy with slaves on the bottom, and warriors, priests and kings on the top. This structure was seen as invariant and cosmically ordained—specifically, social positions were associated with astrological bodies and patterns (e.g., Pharaoh associated with the sun). There was little room for individualism and self-esteem. Such as it was, self-esteem would be more evident in royal or priestly castes.
Western cultures placed more emphasis on the individual, notably in Ancient Greece and, more prominently, in enlightenment Europe (i.e., mid-17th to mid-18th centuries). It is precisely the emergence of this enlightened individualism that would be predicted to spawn self-esteem as a conceptually elaborate trait.
Although tales of hubris and of men standing up to the gods are prevalent in Greek mythology, from Odysseus and Icarus to Prometheus and Narcissus, it is difficult to make a clear case for Ancient Greek self-esteem. There is, however, clear etymological evidence that self-esteem was a concept that emerged during the European enlightenment.
The pushing of self-esteem on American culture did not occur until the 1960s and 1970s. During this time, self-esteem changed from a largely technical term that was hedonically ambiguous, to a common self-description that was seen as positive, desirable, and often necessary. This push was derived largely from the work of Maslow and others, but was taken in a direction not necessarily intended by these originators.
Just as romantic life is replete with situations, such as an affectionate hug or a comforting remark, that can affirm and bolster self-esteem, it is also filled with situations that highlight the risks of rejection and the potential practical and self-esteem costs of depending on another person's fallible good will....In the face of such dilemmas, people in satisfying dating and marital relationships seem to throw inferential caution to the wind—and think and behave in ways that put protecting the welfare of the relationship ahead of self-protection.
Casting doubt aside in these ways seems to require a kind of psychological insurance policy. For instance, people only allow themselves to risk giving their partner the cognitive and behavioral benefit of the doubt, and putting a positive spin on the available evidence, when they believe their partner's positive regard, acceptance, and love is secure.
To find this sense of felt security in a partner's acceptance, people likely need to believe that each partner brings comparable personal strengths (and liabilities) to the relationship. To feel secure people may need to feel that they are just as good a person as their partner (and that their partner also shares this perception). In lay psychophysical terms, the perceived worth of one's own qualities need to be roughly equivalent to the perceived worth of ones partner's qualities.
Unfortunately, people with low self-esteem have greater difficulty finding sufficient reason to trust in their own worthiness of love, and by extension, their partner's positive regard and acceptance. Low self-esteem people typically possess less positive, more uncertain, and more conflicted beliefs about themselves than high self-esteem people.
Moreover, in both dating and marital relationships, low self-esteem people naively and incorrectly assume that their partner sees them in the same negative light as they see themselves... Thus, low self-esteem people generally lack the level of confidence in their partner's positive regard, acceptance, and care they need to satisfy felt security goals.
In fact, people with lower selfesteem over-interpret their dating partner's (hypothetical) negative moods, and see them as symptomatic of their partner's ill feelings toward them. They also react to experimentally induced signs of a partners irritation by anticipating rejection.
On the other side of the coin, confident expectations that a partner sees positive qualities in oneself may inoculate people with high self-esteem against all but the most threatening situations....Consistent with this hypothesis, high self-esteem people do not read rejection in the minor signs of their partners annoyance, and, they actually compensate for experimentally induced doubts about their own intelligence or considerateness by exaggerating how much their partner accepts and loves them.
In specific situations, the tendency to read rejection and hurt in day-to-day events may make it difficult for low self-esteem people to respond constructively to difficulties. Instead, they might react to the self-esteem sting of rejections with anger and with the self-protective step of actively distancing from the source of the hurt—the partner or relationship. Devaluing the partner, lashing out behaviorally, or reducing feelings of closeness—all are likely to function to lessen the acute threat to self-esteem posed by the feeling of being rejected.
Low self-esteem people respond to induced anxieties about rejection by derogating their partner's traits. More anxiously attached (and thus lower selfesteem) women also display greater anger toward their partner in situations in which their partner may not have been as responsive as they hoped.
In romantic relationships, people with low self-esteem should be particularly likely to rely on their perceptions of their partner's regard and love as a gauge of their own self-worth. Specifically, our longitudinal study of dating couples revealed that people who felt less positively regarded internalized their (incorrect) perceptions of their dating partner's regard, and came to see themselves more negatively over the course of a year.
The key to appreciating the influence of close relationships on self-esteem, and vice versa, is to recognize that self-esteem dynamics are virtually always, at some deep level, tied in with relationship dynamics— even when the connection may not be conscious or apparent.
It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that our confident sense of who we are is predicated on the "shared reality" that emerges from interactions with others, particularly with these people who know us the most deeply, and with whom we negotiate our sense of identity in the give and take of dayto- day interaction. As a result, most of the factors that can be identified as playing a role in self-esteem are at their most intense in the context of close relationships... Research supports this observation, generally finding a significant moderate correlation between people's self-esteem and the quality, nature, and stability of their relationships, whether with family and friends, with parents or with romantic partners.
Children learn to evaluate themselves by internalizing evaluative communications from parents and, to a lesser extent, siblings. Young children can i often be heard talking to themselves, for example, imitating the kinds of things their parents might say, such as, "Bad girl!" or "You can do it!" They mimic the attributional patterns, standard-setting, and evaluative tone to which they are exposed. Gradually this self-referential speech becomes internalized, as these patterns of interaction become habits of thought. In ideal circumstances, the internalized voices are relatively benign and encouraging, but if the parent sets extremely high and demanding standards for performance, the child may become self-critical and perfectionistic.
The general rule seems to be that positive self-esteem arises from the sense that one is loved and valued by one's significant others, and that one can anticipate positive regard from others. People who are securely attached to a loved one, who believe that their partner cares about them, values them, and will support them in times of need, tend to report high self-esteem. The benefit of a supportive relationship goes beyond just good feelings: Over time, people with a romantic partner who views them very positively gradually start to act in a manner that approaches their own self-ideal.
A final dynamic whereby self-esteem shapes relationship quality is through behavioral confirmation. In this form of self-fulfilling prophecy an individual with low self-esteem, who anticipates that others will be critical and rejecting, somehow manages to produce exactly this kind of response from interaction partners.... Presumably, insecure individuals act in an uncertain, pessimistic, socially dependent manner and may either defensively withdraw or else give off impressions of dissatisfaction, anxiety and hostility that interaction partners find objectionable. In any case, low self-esteem individuals often end up re-creating the kinds of unsatisfying relationships that produced their insecurity in the first place.
Often overlooked is the degree to which adult self-esteem remains connected to social existence. We need to keep in mind that self-esteem dynamics, and related affects such as pride, self-admiration, shame, and self-loathing, are firmly based in our nature as social animals.
The experience of self-evaluation—even when a person is alone looking in a mirror—is shaped by accessible relational schemas that define evaluative dynamics and serve as a kind of "private audience" for self-reflection. Research has shown, for example, that just thinking about a significant other for a few minutes can activate the relational schema associated with that relationship, which can then shape self-evaluations. In some studies, research participants who visualized someone they knew who was very critical or judgmental were later highly critical of themselves after a failure.
Self-esteem is inextricably enmeshed with close relationship dynamics, then, whether these dynamics are being played out with a relationship partner "in the real world" or even just entirely "inside the head."...My hope is that as implicit cognitive processes become better understood, and methods for assessing internalized interpersonal dynamics become better developed, the links between self-esteem and close relationship factors will become even better recognized than they are now.
An interpersonal experience can only have an impact on self-esteem (SE) to the extent that the person believes that it means something about their worth, therefore, people with interpersonal self-worth contingency beliefs are at heightened risk for fluctuations in their mood and SE on the basis of others' feedback.
People whose self esteem is characteristically low or frequently plunges in relationship contexts, therefore learn to prepare themselves for such interpersonal threats, through readily activated cognitive/affective processes. In this sense, their interpersonal patterns appear similar to those individuals who are high in rejection sensitivity (RS), a construct rooted in attachment theory and interpersonal psychodynamic theories, defined by the tendency to anxiously expect rejection....We propose that beyond their similarities, SE and RS involve distinct insecurities and motivations that would predict distinct processing dynamics when evoked by the potential for rejection in a close relationship.
The process of attending to, interpreting, and responding to interpersonal cues is influenced by expectations developed over the course of one's cognitivesocial learning history, and triggered by relevant features of new relationship situations. When the evoked expectations are negative, concern with the potential for threat increases attention to threat-relevant cues, and in turn, increases the likelihood that threat will be perceived. As predicted by this model, a history of painful rejection experiences has been associated with both low SE and with high RS.
When faced with rejection cues, people with low SE are less likely than high SE individuals to actively engage in rejection-prevention strategies. Helplessness, defeatism, bitterness, and decreases in interpersonal investment are therefore expected to centrally characterize the reactions to rejection cues associated with low SE. It is as though low SE reduces the threshold for interpreting interpersonal cues as definitive rejections about which nothing can be done but to assign blame, and to give up on the relationship as a potential context for acceptance.
Even when an interpersonal cue is interpreted as a definitive indicator of rejection, the relationship dynamics that ensue and subsequent implications for social learning about the self and others depend in part on whether the rejection is blamed on the self or on the other. Blaming others can protect SE from rejections perpetrated by people who are not deeply significant to the self.
To the extent that a relationship is particularly close, intimate, or otherwise an important basis for self-definition, however, cognitive interpretations that undermine positive regard for the partner or the stability of the relationship are less likely to be effective for protecting the self. In fact, there is some evidence that the tendency to derogate a romantic partner is more typical of people with low, rather than high SE.
Likewise, when others' acceptance is believed to be contingent upon unstable personal qualities (e.g., high achievement, physical beauty, or selfless behavior), and when the potential loss of this acceptance would be of great concern, attending to indicators of the self's inadequacy can be predicted to prime anxious expectations for rejection.
We have proposed that these dispositions [self-esteem and rejection sensitivity] involve distinct sets of insecurities and motivations, and predict distinct processing dynamics when evoked by the threat of rejection in a close relationship. Specifically, RS predicts vigorous, often exaggerated efforts to prevent potential rejection threats from being realized, patterns that we expect would add an intense and erratic quality to depressed and angry reactions when rejection is ultimately perceived to have occurred. Low SE, by contrast, predicts the prioritization of self-protection over interpersonal bonds in interpreting and reacting to rejections that are assumed to be inevitable.
Advertising and marketing campaigns feed our cultural obsession with egoistic pursuits, and political and economic forces help make many self-indulgent behaviors and expectations a perceived necessity. The burgeoning business of self-help books in pop psychology has contributed to the cultural endorsement of excessive self-interest, selling advice on how to be, or to get, anything one wants.
We use the terms the quiet ego and quieting the ego to connote the individual who routinely transcends egotism as well as the need to turn down a few notches the booming volume of egotism, on both individual and cultural levels.
By way of preview, researchers tend to take one of two approaches to conceptualizing the quiet ego: (a) as a balance between the interests of the self and others or (b) as the development of self-awareness, interdependent identity, and compassionate experience.
To us, the term quiet ego conveys the notion that the core problems of egotism deal with the individual's screaming for attention to the self. Far from meaning a "squashed" or "lost" ego, we see in the quiet ego a self-identity that is not excessively self-focused but also not excessively other-focused—an identity that incorporates others without losing the self.
To us, the relatively quieter ego listens to others as part of a psychosocial harmony, whereas the noisier ego tunes others out as one would tune out background noise. The quieter ego is attuned to internal rhythms of people's (including the self's) psychological dynamics, whereas the noisier ego is attuned more to the clamoring boom of people's external appearances. The quieter ego, compared with the noisier ego, has more balance and integration of the self and others in one's concept of the self, a balanced recognition of one's strengths and weaknesses that paves the way for personal growth, and a greater compassion for the self and others. The quieter ego is less under the spell or the "curse" of the self's responsibilities and social images.
However, quiet is not categorically beneficial; there are risks and benefits associated with both quieter and noisier egos. Many of the chapters in this volume describe these trade-offs in great detail.
Ego definitions include,
1. Ego = the self, notably affective evaluations of the self, such as selfesteem, self-confidence, self-worth, and self-image (as connoted by a strong, wounded, boosted, or deflated ego). 2. Ego = the self, notably in relation to others, as in identifying with others, bonding with others, and identities that include versus exclude others. 3. Ego = that which constructs, organizes, or evaluates the concept of self; that which is aware of or witnesses experience; James's "I" (in contrast to "Me"); consciousness itself; one's frame of reference, or, in psychoanalytic theory, the "synthetic function."
First, in line with Definition 1, is a positive-negative balance in one's self-evaluations. This research tends to show that one problem with a noisy ego is a relative inability to perceive and think about the negative qualities in one's life, particularly in U.S. culture. Of course, too much thinking about those negatives (i.e., too much ego-quieting) results in a squashed ego, and research points to an optimal balance of positive and negative self-evaluation.
Second, in line with Definition 2, is a self-other balance in one's psychosocial concerns. Too much concern for the self leans toward egotism and narcissism, but too much concern for others leans toward unmitigated communion, a condition in which one's own ego or identity is lost... In the balance approach to a quieter ego, optimal human functioning involves an ego that is quiet enough to hear others and to balance one's concerns with those of the self.
Research that adopts Definition 3 tends to view ego-quieting as desirable, period. From this perspective, an ego can get quieter and quieter without becoming lost or squashed. This approach generally contends that "the ego quiets as it grows". The ego's frame of reference for viewing the self widens in psychosocial space, such that the view of self is not lost but instead becomes increasingly more integrative.
From the growth perspective, a growing ego becomes increasingly aware of the self (cognitively), less defensive (emotionally), increasingly interdependent in its construal of self and others (cognitively), and increasingly more compassionate toward others and the self (emotionally).
The interdependent self is not a lost self; in contrast, it is stronger, more resilient, and more self-assured than ever. In the growth approach to a quieter ego, optimal human functioning involves an ego that becomes ever quieter as it gradually identifies with an increasingly wider and deeper psychosocial world.
Despite the vast range of quiet-ego topics, we posit four prototypical qualities of a quieter ego: (a) detached awareness, (b) interdependence, (c) compassion, and (d) growth. Our aim in positing these four qualities is not to stake a claim of truth about the quieter ego but instead to stimulate an empirically informed dialogue about the basic components of the quieter ego.
First, detached awareness deals with a nondefensive sort of attention: mindfulness, that is, being aware of the positives and negatives of a situation or of the self or others and being focused on the present (or even the past or the future, as appropriate to the situation). Here detached awareness refers to a subjective interpretation of the present situation in which that interpretation is not predicated on how that situation makes one feel about oneself; that is, the person's awareness is detached from egoistic appraisals of the situation.
Among its many benefits is that detached awareness allows for a less defensive interpretation of the self and others in the present moment. Second, interdependence deals with a largely conceptual interpretation of the individual's mutual relations with others (from dyads to groups and beyond), that is, a balanced or developmentally more integrated interpretation of the self and others. Central to interdependence is the capacity to understand other people's perspectives in a way that allows one to identify with those other people. This interdependence is not mere conformity or agreeableness; it involves the ability to see past differences to more underlying, unifying aspects of other individuals' humanity.
Third, compassion deals with a largely emotional stance toward the self and/or others that involves acceptance, empathy, and a desire to foster the well-being of the person or group.
Fourth, growth deals with a humanistic or prosocial kind of development over time, where one either is concerned with or actually establishes heightened levels of quiet-ego qualities, such as awareness, interdependence, and compassion. Even the mere subjective concern for growth can quiet the ego... Part of the problem of egoistic self-interest is a limited scope of time by which one interprets the situation; egotism channels the mind toward the immediate moment. In contrast, a concern for growth forces the individual to question the long-term effects of current actions.
These four qualities of a quiet ego are closely related, and yet each has been studied relatively independently. Each one can be viewed as a state, a trait, a skill to cultivate intentionally, and a trigger for the emergence of the others. Furthermore, these four quiet-ego qualities, either individually or collectively, can be found at the root of most quiet-ego characteristics... The relative quietness or noisiness of the ego is a matter of how the individual interprets the self and others—with detached awareness in a balanced, integrated, compassionate, or growth-oriented manner.
Freud's intrapsychological model of the ego resonated with a theme long found throughout the arts and humanities—that the individual is torn between the pull of biology and society, or between agency and communion. To resolve these conflicts in the immediate moment, the ego uses a range of defenses, the more immature of which cause problems not only for others but also, eventually, for the self. Freud proposed a path to help resolve inner conflict that deals with a central element of quiet-ego research today: awareness of one's ego defenses.
Although the strictly psychoanalytic views of ego and self are largely different than those of contemporary research on ego-quieting, the basic ideas of awareness and balance as necessary for healthy functioning took hold in the field.
Regarding growth, the humanistic movement shifted the emphasis of therapy away from unearthing egotism to transcending it. In other words, personally working on the kinds of things that foster growth—such as openness, humility, self-awareness, acceptance of self and others, genuineness, and self-improvement—would pave a more promising path toward optimal human functioning than would regurgitating one's troubles.
In these constructivist approaches, the relatively quieter ego is more aware of the fact that the self is a set of constructs; the noisier ego is less aware of this fact, and this diminished awareness limits the capacity to grasp others' points of view...Erikson's psychosocial theory of personality development demonstrated how the ego develops in proportion to its capacity to identify with an increasingly broader spectrum of people and psychosocial concerns.
In most theories of cognitive and social-cognitive development, development is defined loosely as an increasing capacity to differentiate and integrate conceptual perspectives. This increasing integration of perspectives involves a corresponding, normative decline in egocentrism throughout childhood and adolescence (and may continue in adulthood. Vygotsky argued that nothing facilitates this kind of development like interactions with other people and actively incorporating their views into one's own, which are key elements of a quieter ego as presented in this book.
In this chapter, we address two questions: (a) Why do the demands of egotism—the "noisy ego," so to speak—continue to be heard? and (b) What does the study of egotism's costs teach about the benefits of quieting the ego?
To briefly presage our argument, we posit that narcissism is a trade-off between several benefits to the individual and several costs to the individual and to society. It is important to note that this type of trade-off is remarkably seductive and self-sustaining. Narcissism's benefits for the self often occur in the short term and are emotional and affective in nature. In contrast, the costs typically appear in the longer run and are experienced by both the narcissistic individual and others. Because of this pattern of benefits and costs, we argue that narcissism operates like a social trap.
What makes the noisy ego demand attention? In the case of narcissism, we can identify both the structure of the ego and its function, where structure refers to both the self-concept and personality and function refers to self-regulation strategies. In regard to structure, narcissism is primarily associated with positive and inflated self-views and relatively little interest in warm or intimate relationships with others. Narcissistic individuals' self-views are positive in domains connected with agency, such as dominance, status, intelligence, and physical attractiveness.
In addition, narcissistic individuals see themselves as special and unique and entitled to special treatment. In contrast, they do not report the same level of self-enhancement on communal traits, such as warmth and agreeableness.
In regard to function, people with narcissistic personalities must selfregulate to maintain their inflated self-views on agentic domains; that is, they engage in a range of behaviors that ensure they continue to feel positively about themselves. These self-regulation efforts are shaped by narcissistic individuals' relative lack of interest in communal relationships. This lack of concern for others allows for a greater degree of interpersonal exploitation and manipulation in the service of self-regulation. Narcissistic self-regulation is pervasive across all facets of life. It can be seen in private fantasies of power and fame, spontaneous monologues that tend to be about the self, interpersonal conversations that turn into opportunities to self-promote, attention seeking and showing off, materialism, game playing in relationships, and other social domains. In short, when there is an opportunity to look and feel good, narcissists are likely to jump at it.
Campbell's self-orientation model focused directly on romantic relationships, demonstrating that people with narcissistic tendencies seek out partners who are high in status and admire them as part of an effort to increase the narcissistic person's own social status and self-esteem.
First, low narcissism might be thought of as psychological dependence and weakness. Second, it might be thought of as a robust self-system but one lacking in grandiosity, self-centeredness, and a need to constantly maintain and defend status and esteem. We endorse a conceptualization of the quiet ego that is aligned with the second conceptualization; in other words, quieting the ego is not about weakness or passivity but about approaching life without grandiosity and puffery and with an interest in connecting with others and the world.
In his seminal review on social traps, Platt described three forms of traps (along with several others). The first two examples are variants of individual traps, or self-traps. More specifically, the first represents a time-delay trap, in which the individual selects a short-term benefit and then suffers a longer term cost. Often, this entails a clear problem with delay of gratification (e.g., "I will buy this car now instead of waiting until I actually make enough money to safely afford it"). The second represents a sliding-reinforcer trap, in which the benefit of a particular course of action decreases slowly as the costs increase. Often, this entails a form of habituation (e.g., "I do not get the same mellow feeling from the same amount of alcohol, so I gradually increase my intake from a single tequila sunrise to several shots of mescal [tequila]"). The third example is an individual goods and collective bads trap. The "tragedy of the commons" fits this mold. In this type of trap, a behavior that leads to an individual good also leads to a collective bad. Because the individual is a member of the collective, of course, the bad might befall him or her to some extent as well.
What we argue is a little—but not much—more complex. In short, we argue that the experience of egotism and its concomitants (e.g., status, esteem, pride) can act in a similar way. Thus narcissism, as an individual-difference variable that operates as part of an ego-enhancing and -sustaining system, should make the individual susceptible to certain social traps.
If narcissism operates like a trap, we should find three things: (a) the benefits of narcissism to the self are largely immediate, (b) the costs of narcissism to the self are typically experienced in the long term, and (c) the outcome of narcissism for others is generally negative. In simple terms, the existence of (a) and (b) suggests a time-delay or sliding-reinforcer trap, and (a) and (c) suggest an individual goods and collective bads trap.
Finally, narcissism predicts a wide range of advantages in the initiation of interpersonal relationships. In certain contexts, when compared with nonnarcissistic individuals, narcissistic individuals find it is easier to be liked as friends or acquaintances, dating partners, potential leaders of a group, and even as celebrities on reality television shows.
The self-promoting, exciting personality and charm that lead narcissistic individuals to be so successful at initiating relationships are not enough to sustain relationships (which usually demand a level of concern or caring for the other). Thus, over time, people with narcissistic tendencies become less liked, and their romantic relationships are more likely to fall apart.
For the self, the quiet ego brings accurate selfperception, less irrational risk taking, and a willingness to take responsibility for mistakes and correct them. Although this might not feel as good in the short run, in the long run this approach leads to higher levels of functioning. The quiet ego has some very significant interpersonal benefits as well, including more stable and resilient interpersonal relationships. Finally, the quiet ego is clearly a boon for others. A quiet ego means less aggression, less manipulation, less dishonesty and infidelity, less resource destruction, and less destructive competitiveness.
Not many people actually qualify as having a narcissistic personality disorder, although overly positive self-evaluations (i.e., self-enhancement bias) are pervasive in today's U.S. society. In the 1970s, nicknamed the "Me Decade," people began to turn toward concentrating on their own desires and pleasures. The self began to gain popularity quickly then, and snowballed into the egocentric culture of today.
Is self-enhancement good or bad? As it turns out, the answer here, as in any complex situation, is "It depends." Some studies have found that self-enhancement is beneficial to adjustment, whereas other studies have found that self- enhancement is detrimental to adjustment. The time has come to take a more balanced look at both the benefits and the costs of self-enhancement bias and to weigh them against each other in different situations. There may be a time and place for self-enhancement. Not all ego-enhancing strategies are purely self-serving, and in some situations a strong sense of self may be beneficial to others as well. Nevertheless, the key to optimal adjustment may require the ability to recognize when the situation calls for self-enhancement and when it is best to quiet the ego.
A basic assumption about mental health is that psychological adjustment requires the ability to accurately discern reality. This assumption dates back to our forefathers of Western civilization, the ancient Greeks, and can be best summed up by the Socratic admonition to "Know thyself." In contrast to this long-standing view that self-insight is necessary to function effectively, Taylor and Brown argued that overly positive, self-enhancing illusions about the self are the hallmark of mental health.
The pattern of findings in the literature suggests that whether selfenhancement bias is good or bad for adjustment depends in part on which aspect of adjustment was examined. Two aspects of adjustment, namely, intrapsychic adjustment (i.e., feeling good about the self) and social adjustment (i.e., forming and maintaining harmonious relationships with others), have received the most empirical attention on their relation with self-enhancement.
Given that there are multiple components of self-perception, the componential approach to self-enhancement bias hints that the question of whether self-perception bias is good or bad for adjustment may be too simple. This suggests that if we are to understand how self-enhancement bias relates to adjustment, then other components in self-perception (i.e., both merit and benevolence) must also be included in the research design to gain a better picture of its subtleties.
In terms of simple effects, the componential approach to self-enhancement and previous findings suggest three predictions. First, liking should be related positively to merit. People who have more desirable characteristics, such as skills or talents, are better liked by others. Second, liking should also be related positively to benevolence. People who like others elicit reciprocity. People who see others in a positive light and like them are in turn liked. Third, liking should be related negatively to self-enhancement bias. People who selfenhance behave in self-centered ways that make them less likable.
Results, however, may be more complicated than previously thought because the three components may interact. The link between social adjustment and self-enhancement bias may depend in part on merit: People may dislike only individuals who self-enhance but who do not command socially desirable qualities (i.e., those who have low merit). This is a compensatory model in which socially desirable qualities of the individual can compensate for the social costs of self-enhancement bias. This moderator account thus suggests that some individuals who self-enhance, such as highly skilled and talented people, may still be well liked because they have high merit. A focused program of research is now needed to examine these kinds of interaction effects and to delineate their generality. The componential approach predicts that, among individuals who self-enhance, those with low merit should be the worst off in terms of being liked and included, because they are lacking this compensatory effect.
What is important in understanding the value of self-enhancement bias is pinpointing the degree to which an individual who self-enhances has each of these desirable qualities and their configuration. There may be different profiles among individuals who self-enhance: For example, some have more socially desirable qualities, such as benevolence or merit, than others. Having other socially desirable qualities may compensate for the negative costs of selfenhancement bias.
Possessing self-enhancement alone was detrimental for social adjustment; people generally disliked individuals who self-enhanced. However, possessing other socially desirable qualities, such as merit and benevolence, can compensate for the negative cost of self-enhancement. Also, the lack of socially desirable qualities made the people who self-enhanced especially disliked. Findings suggest that self-enhancement is harmful when the individual does not have positive qualities.
Having a balanced ego requires the ability to use selfenhancement only in advantageous situations. Self-enhancement bias may be beneficial in situations in which characteristics of individuals who selfenhance match the demand of the situation.
Self-enhancement is beneficial in competitive situations, such as when teams are competing for a single title or award, or when people are working together as a team against an outside force. In a competitive situation, individuals who self-enhance are actually preferred. A grandiose sense of selfimportance may impress others, signaling to rivals a keen sense of confidence and fueling everyone's competitive urge. However, findings show that individuals who self-enhance do poorly and are disliked more in noncompetitive interpersonal situations that are not related to work, in which empathy and cooperation are prized. The self-centered nature of individuals who self-enhance makes it difficult for them to get along with people in everyday interpersonal interactions, because their self-centeredness alienates others and results in interactions that are awkward and uncomfortable. The excessive self-promotions of individuals who self-enhance, especially if their claims of superiority are not backed by skills, creates negative impressions.
"What makes for an optimal and balanced ego?" How and where does selfenhancement fit into social adjustment? We believe an optimal ego involves balancing self-enhancement and other qualities that influence its adjustment value, as well as coordinating self-enhancement with the context to meet the demands of the situation. Other qualities of the individual and the nature of the situation have been shown to have an effect, either beneficial or deleterious, on the adjustment of an individual who self-enhances.
Self-enhancement bias can be an asset in competitive situations, but it is detrimental in interpersonal situations, engendering social costs. People may turn a blind eye to self-centeredness in competitive situations, which serve as a perfect breeding ground for individuals who self-enhance.
Self-enhancement can be beneficial at the opportune moment. As we have shown, self-enhancement in a competitive work environment garners the approval of others, because it projects confidence and productivity. This is the case, however, provided that there are other socially desirable qualities within the individual. With no other skills or abilities, an individual who selfenhances is simply a narcissistic person.
However, self-enhancing in social and interpersonal situations tends to do an individual more harm than good, giving others the impression of less emotional connection and likability, especially as time passes. Constantly selfenhancing in social situations may cause one to lose friends. Thus, the key to an optimal ego appears to be to be able to wield the power of self-enhancement at the right place and time.
Self-enhancement is not good or bad on its own, but for maximal benefits and minimal costs, it should be a tool in a person's repertoire that is used only under certain circumstances, not a defining feature of that person's personality.
Egosystem motivation—the desire to construct, maintain, protect, and enhance positive images of the self—underlies a great deal of human behavior. In this chapter, I propose that egosystem goals are motivating but costly for learning and growth, relationships, and wellbeing. I propose an alternative: ecosystem motivation, in which others' needs have priority, in a non-zero-sum framework. This framework ironically suggests that when people give priority to supporting and having compassion for others, they are more likely to satisfy their own fundamental needs and experience increased well-being.
Drawing on the biological notion of an ecosystem, my colleagues and I denned ecosystem motivation as a "motivational framework for the self in which people see themselves as part of a larger whole, a system of individuals whose actions have consequences for others, with repercussions for the entire system". In this framework, the well-being of the self and others is not a zero-sum proposition. Consequently, in ecosystem motivation people are willing to prioritize the well-being of others, not out of virtue or self-sacrifice but instead because ultimately it is the best way—and perhaps the only sustainable way—to ensure that their own and others' fundamental needs (as opposed to their egosystem wants) are met.
Although people may differ in their chronic tendencies to be motivated by egosystem or ecosystem goals, social life requires both motivational systems and the capacity to switch flexibly between them.... Threats to desired images can have serious social and financial consequences. Consequently, egosystem goals that are focused on attending to how one appears to others as well as to the self may be essential to human social life. However, giving support to others, behaving authentically, and disclosing one's fears and weaknesses build closeness and trust in relationships. Responsiveness to others' needs strengthens social bonds and increases the likelihood that one will receive support from others. Therefore, ecosystem goals focused on supporting others in a non-zero-sum framework may also be essential to human social life.
Although egosystem and ecosystem goals both contribute to human social life, they have quite different psychological and social consequences. When people have egosystem goals, they are highly motivated and energized; and they obtain social and material resources for the self; but they may unintentionally undermine their learning, relationships, and well-being. When people have ecosystem goals that prioritize the needs or well-being of something larger than themselves, or of other people, they may forgo or give away social or material resources but paradoxically enhance their learning, relationships, and well-being.
When people encounter difficulty or setbacks, however, egosystem motivation is incompatible with learning; mistakes, criticisms, setbacks, and failures become self-threats to be defended against, instead of learning opportunities. For example, under self-esteem threat, people reject or dismiss negative feedback, derogate the source of negative feedback, or search for explanations that diminish their own responsibility. Each of these responses decreases the likelihood that people will identify and understand their own contribution to the problem and therefore undermines learning.
In egosystem motivation, relationships become subtly, or blatantly, antagonistic. For example, in achievement domains one person's success diminishes oth ers' accomplishments. In social relationships, the goal of winning over another person focuses the self on gratifying one's own desires, perhaps at the expense of others. Furthermore, in the egosystem framework, others become judges or evaluators of the self, creating tension in relationships; consequently, egosystem goals should foster feelings of competition and conflict, undermine closeness, and increase feelings of loneliness. In contrast, in ecosystem motivation, people do not view relationships as being zero sum in nature; ecosystem goals support both the self and others. Consequently, ecosystem goals build social bonds and create collaborative, supportive relationships.... If egosystem goals undermine social support, and ecosystem goals increase it, then these goals should also have consequences for psychological well-being and depression.
Ecosystem goals foster feelings of closeness and social support, whereas egosystem goals foster feelings of loneliness and decreased social support....Ecosystem goals were strongly associated with believing that it is important that people look out for each other, whereas egosystem goals were strongly associated with believing that people should look out for themselves, even at the expense of others, and with more frequent interpersonal conflicts. These associations were consistently observed both for individual differences in chronic goals and for changes in goals from week to week.
Egosystem and ecosystem goals also predicted changes in students' achievement goals over the semester.... Average egosystem goals across the 10 weekly reports predicted increases over the semester in the goal to avoid failure (performance avoidance goals), the goal to outperform others (performance approach goals), and the goal to demonstrate one's intelligence (ability-validation goals). Average egosystem goals also predicted decreases over the semester in the desire to learn from failure. Average ecosystem goals predicted increases in the goal to acquire knowledge and in the goal to learn from failure over the semester.
Egosystem goals undermine well-being, whereas ecosystem goals improve well-being. Each week, participants reported on their feelings of vitality, engagement in the present moment, self-esteem, anxiety, and stress; these measures were combined into a composite well-being measure. Wellbeing was higher on weeks when participants were high, relative to their own baselines, in ecosystem goals....Furthermore, the more ecosystem goals participants had on average across the 10 weekly reports, the higher their well-being; the more egosystem goals they had, the lower their average well-being.
Students with higher average egosystem goals became more depressed and more anxious over the first semester of college, whereas students with higher average ecosystem goals became less depressed and anxious over the first semester. Within- and between-person analyses, and analyses of changes over time, all indicate that egosystem goals undermined psychological well-being, whereas ecosystem goals improved psychological well-being.
In a physiological sense, egosystem motivation activates the fight-or-flight response, raising cortisol levels and undermining immune system responses. Ecosystem motivation is hypothesized to activate endocrine systems that support caregiving, which is called the species-preservation system or the tend-and-befriend system.
Thus, egosystem and ecosystem goals may affect learning, relationships, and well-being through their physiological connections to the neuroendocrine systems associated with the fight-or-flight and tend-and-befriend responses to stress. In a psychological sense, the more people attempt to construct desired selfimages, the more their attention will be focused on how others see them, leading to high public self-consciousness and social anxiety. Egosystem motivation might be associated with decreased intrinsic motivation or increased extrinsic motivation, which are negatively related to well-being. Egosystem motivation might be linked to greater self-judgment and self-criticism, as people continually evaluate whether their behavior is consistent with the self-images they wish to construct, or to external contingencies of self-worth. Because one cannot completely control how others see the self, people with egosystem motivation may feel they are at the mercy of other people.
Ecosystem motivation may create a non-zero-sum, less competitive view of others, fostering feelings of closeness and building social support. Ecosystem goals may give people a reason to learn even when learning is difficult or ego threatening; what better reason to learn than because it will help one support the people and things about which one cares?
The fact that these effects were consistently observed in within-person analyses means that these goals can change from week to week, and when they do, outcomes also change. This suggests that people might be able to increase their growth goals, relationship closeness, and well-being, and decrease loneliness, by increasing their ecosystem goals.
Interventions that helped people explore the costs and benefits of their egosystem goals and helped them clarify, if they chose to, ecosystem goals, could have salubrious effects on relationships, learning, and well-being. People sometimes erroneously assume that egosystem goals are bad and that ecosystem goals are good. Both egosystem and ecosystem motivation, and the ability to switch flexibly between them, are important to human social life. Both have important benefits and important costs.
When egosystem goals contribute to one's survival or well-being, giving them up is reckless. However, when the only thing at stake is one's ego, then ecosystem goals may be more constructive. The benefits of ecosystem goals are not a result of being a "good person," or even aspiring to make the world a better place or to make a difference for other people some day in the future. Practicing ecosystem goals, using them as a compass to guide behavior during the routine and mundane activities of one's daily life, improves relationships, learning, and ultimately creates sustainable well-being for oneself and others.
Mindfulness is an exemplar of the experiential mode of conscious processing and concerns a receptive state of mind wherein attention, informed by a sensitive awareness of what is occurring in the present, simply observes what is taking place; this is in contrast to the conceptually driven mode of processing, in which occurrences are habitually filtered through cognitive appraisals, evaluations, memories, beliefs, and other forms of cognitive manipulation.
This Me self involves an identification with particular attributes, roles, group memberships, and belief systems that effectively narrow down competing possibilities for thought and action that are both derived from and consistent with the social inputs and appraisals to which one has been exposed over time. This personal identity is a mental model, formed from ongoing life experiences and cognitive elaborations on those experiences and inseparable from the larger social and cultural contexts in which it is formed and continually operates, even in individualistic societies.
The existence of personal identifications and internalized constructions contributes to the lay view of self; specifically, people generally regard themselves as substantial—distinct from other selves and objects; as individual— unique and indivisible; and as essential—relatively constant or the same over time. Perhaps most critical for the present analysis is that humans treat their mental self-representations as if they were real.
Most immediately, defensive response to social threat is manifest as a mental, emotional, and/or behavioral reaction to events and experiences on the basis of how they affect, or could affect, the identity. This reflects one form of primary appraisal: Events and experiences are judged as bad, good, or neutral in reference to Me.
These self-relevant and inevitably biased judgments can negatively influence psychological well-being, the quality of social relationships, and ways one negotiates the social world. More problematic still, this evaluative reactivity to events and experiences may occur nonconsciously because, over time, our reactions can become habitual and automated.
Because personal identity is a central preoccupation for the individual, and because events and experiences regularly impinge on it that require maintenance and protection, a final consequence of self-identification is that a great deal of life energy may be spent in the service of Me, with a variety of associated costs. Finally, when so deeply invested in it—when one presumes that one is this Me—the individual may have little access to other aspects of the self that reflect more authentic functioning (e.g., unbiased processing of self-relevant information).
Yet theorists informed by both Buddhist and organismic psychologies argue that a primary way that identity is fueled is by a lack of awareness of our thought patterns, emotional reactions, desires, and behavioral tendencies. This view suggests that if one could get a clear, moment-to-moment look at one's ways of thinking, feeling, and acting, then the automatic flow of self-representations could'be interrupted, their constructed nature seen more clearly, and responses could be made with more choice instead of in reaction to identity-based productions.
Bringing such open, receptive attention to bear on experience may permit a clearer recognition that self-representations are simply mental concepts; that is, in observing that thoughts come and go; memories arise and replace each other; desires emerge, develop, change, and vanish, and so on, the identity may become less substantial and engrossing, allowing for disidentification with it—that is, when the functioning of the Me can be observed, then one is clearly not that Me.
As an open or receptive attention, mindfulness may facilitate exposure, or nondefensive processing of threatening experience, leading to desensitization and a reduction in emotional reactivity; a greater tolerance of unpleasant states; and, consequently, more adaptive responding in social and other situations in which self-representations are under threat. Thus, more mindful individuals should show lower levels of anger, anxiety, and other emotional responses in social threat situations that represent a disengagement from the "urgencies of risk assessment" and should manifest cognitive and behavioral responses that reflect greater tolerance, less judgment (including censorship, condemnation, and exclusion), and, more generally, less concern for the status of personal identity in social threat contexts.
Romantic relationships are a primary arena in which the engagement of images of self and other can have detrimental effects. The investment of self in the partner and the relationship, coupled with an attachment to seeing the relationship unfold in particular ways, represents psychological tinder for couple conflict. However, mindfulness may have value in couple conflict situations through processes that reflect an abeyance of the ego. For example, the receptive attentiveness that defines mindfulness may promote a greater ability or willingness to take interest in a partner's thoughts, emotions, and welfare and thereby to be less invested in one's own reactions. Boorstein argued that mindfulness promotes an ability to witness thoughts and emotions so as not to react impulsively and destructively to them. Through a willingness to contact experience directly rather than defend against it, mindfulness may promote attunement, connection, and closeness in relationships.
Another interpersonal situation that presents significant identity challenges is social exclusion. As social creatures, humans have an inherent need to belong and are highly motivated to avoid social demotions and exclusions. The perception that one has been rejected, even by strangers, can quickly provoke psychological distress. Identity, as already noted, is strongly influenced by the opinions and reactions of others, and negative evaluative reactions to rejection occur because the individual's sense of self-worth is invested in, or contingent on, validation by others. However, with the capacity to recognize the identity as a construction, events such as rejection that impinge on it may be less likely to be destabilizing because a deeper sense of self is operational that is grounded in awareness.
Paralleling romantic relationship conflict, investment in a relational identity—in this case, an ingroup identity—can lead to conflict and antagonism when that identity ("us" and "ours") is threatened by an outgroup or something representative thereof ("them" and "theirs"). As contemporary world events and the historical record suggest, people will often act as strongly to ward off threats to their social identities as they do to defend their own persons against attack.
In this chapter, we have highlighted findings from several studies showing that mindfulness facilitates a capacity to respond less defensively to social threat, manifest in reduced emotional reactivity to interpersonal conflict and peer rejection and a lack of worldview defense in the face of social identity threat. These findings are consistent with the thesis that mindfulness helps to reduce identity investment, or to quiet the ego.
It may appear that mindfulness, with its emphasis on receptivity to even threatening events and experience, has adaptive costs. Although this remains an open empirical question, Buddhist scholars and, more recently, clinical psychologists using mindfulness-based therapies, argue that mindfulness does not eliminate identity but instead contextualizes it, so that its functions can be channeled more flexibly, constructively, and with more choice toward, for example, an engagement of reflectively considered values, goals, and activities that support personal and social well-being.
Individual Differences in Quiet Ego Functioning: Authenticity, Mindfulness, and Secure Self-Esteem, M. Kernis
Individuals with quiet egos do not gear their efforts toward constantly defending or bolstering their sense of worth. Instead, they take their sense of worth to be a given, neither needing to be constantly earned nor capable of being easily taken away. They are accepting of their weaknesses, and it takes a great deal for them to feel threatened. We believe that people with a quiet ego possess a "strong sense of self", that is, stable and secure feelings of self-worth (i.e., secure high self-esteem), clear and confidently held self-knowledge, and self-regulatory styles that reflect agency and self-determination.
We conceptualize authenticity as "the unimpeded operation of one's core or true self in one's daily enterprise". Kernis and Goldman suggested that authenticity comprises four distinct but interrelated components: (a) awareness, (b) unbiased processing, (c) behavior, and (d) relational orientation.... Authenticity relates positively to life satisfaction, positive affect, self-actualization, vitality, self-concept clarity, mindfulness, and adaptive coping strategies.
Anger and aggressive behavior often reflect an attempt to restore one's damaged feelings of self-worth after threat. Kernis, Granneman, and Barclay found that whereas individuals with fragile high self-esteem reported especially high tendencies to experience anger and hostility, individuals with stable high self-esteem reported especially low tendencies. These considerations suggest that one quality associated with a quiet ego is a relatively low tendency to respond to an insult or rejection with aggression.
Optimal self-esteem, which reflects the sum of secure self-esteem markers, arises naturally from the following: (a) successfully dealing with life challenges; (b) the operation of one's core, true, authentic self as a source of input to behavioral choices; and (c) relationships in which one is valued for whom one is, and not for what one achieves.
Emotions, thoughts, behaviors, or information that are discrepant with one's consciously held self-image can be especially threatening to an ego that is not secure, producing decreases in self-esteem and/or increases in negative affect. People may use a wide range of defense mechanisms in an attempt to fend off these threats.
We believe that people high in dispositional authenticity are motivated to understand themselves, to experience affect as it is felt, and not to distort evaluative self-relevant information. Likewise, people with secure high self-esteem are comfortable with negative self-relevant information and have the strength and personal resources to acknowledge information that is potentially threatening without being overly defensive.
Specifically, among individuals with high self-esteem, the more their self-esteem was stable, not contingent, and concordant with high implicit self-esteem, the less they were verbally defensive. In fact, verbal defensiveness was lowest among individuals with secure high self-esteem and was considerably higher among individuals whose high self-esteem was unstable, contingent, or incongruent with low implicit self-esteem.
Taken together... studies indicate that the more authentic one is, and the more secure one's high self-esteem, the greater one's awareness and acceptance of one's thoughts, feelings, and actions in the face of threat, and the lower one's tendencies to rationalize and justify threatening events. Such understanding and acceptance of one's frailties without distortion and justification are important makers of a quiet ego.
Whereas individualism implies a view of the self as separate from others, collectivism implies a view of the self as interconnected with others. In this interdependent model of the self, the distinction between self and other is less sharply defined; priority is placed on collective goals over individual goals; and a well-adjusted, mature individual is one who is skilled at maintaining harmonious social relationships and aspires to fulfill social roles and obligations.
The Eastern and Western selves differ in the degree to which negative experiences and information are acknowledged and elaborated. First, in research that has examined open-ended descriptions of the self, Japanese were balanced in their self-descriptions, including both favorable and critical appraisals, suggesting that the East Asian self is more tolerant of negative self-relevant information.
The inclusiveness or tolerance of the negative in the Eastern self becomes further apparent in research that has examined the role of recalled positive and negative affective experiences in judgments related to the individual's construction of psychological well-being. Across several studies involving judgments about the quality of a vacation, a friendship, and life overall, European Americans and Asian Americans differed in the degree to which negative affect was weighted in forming such evaluative judgments.
When asked to recall the intensity of their positive emotions during the trip, European Americans were biased in favor of remembering the vacation as more intensely positive than their on-line reports suggested was truly the case. Asian Americans instead exhibited a bias such that they recalled the vacation as more intensely negative than their on-line reports corroborated. In a sense, the European Americans remembered feeling better than they actually did, whereas Asian Americans remembered feeling worse than they actually did.
Findings suggests that, for Japanese, feeling respected may be a greater source of positive affect than a sense of pride. The opposite pattern was apparent for European Americans, with interpersonally disengaged emotions more closely related to feelings of general positive affect. For European Americans, feeling proud may be a greater source of positive affect than feeling respected. This overall pattern of results suggests that engagement with others is a major factor in the affective experience of Japanese and is consistent with the self-construal of the self as interdependent with others.
A greater resistance to ego threat may thus represent one benefit of the Eastern (subdued) ego. Consistent with the proposal that Westerners react more extremely than Easterners to self-threatening information, Brockner and Chen demonstrated that U.S. participants with high self-esteem enhanced an ingroup and disparaged an outgroup more than did Chinese participants in response to negative individual feedback.
The Eastern, subdued ego risks being overpowered by others and hence losing its autonomy. In European American families, parents commonly praise a child after the child has displayed self-initiated desirable behaviors. In contrast, praise after self-initiated positive behavior is much less frequent in Chinese immigrant families in the United States. Often, Chinese American children are instead praised for following parental expectations.
How the Ego Quiets as it Grows: Ego Development, Growth Stories, and Eudaimonic Personality Development, J. Bauer
I first attempt to demonstrate that levels of ego volume are in many ways differences in not only kind but also levels in a developmental trajectory, from noisier to progressively quieter. From the standpoint of psychosocial development, and Loevinger's model of ego development (ED) in particular, many qualities of the noisy ego are hallmarks of relative immaturity, whereas many qualities of the quieter ego characterize psychosocial maturity.
I propose that a developmentally quieter ego involves a balance of social-cognitive qualities of a quiet ego (which follow developmental stages) and social-emotional qualities (which do not), in addition to other kinds of balance, in constructing a self-identity. This balance constitutes a particularly eudaimonic form of personality development. In this chapter, I take the perspective that an ego's quietness or noisiness is not a matter of how much self-esteem or self-confidence one has. Here, ego volume involves the degrees of breadth and depth by which one interprets the self and the psychosocial world. As such, a louder ego interprets the self in more individualistic, immediate, concrete, and external terms—as with an ego shouting for attention to the point that it cannot hear the voices of others or of one's own internal dynamics. A quieter ego interprets the self in more interdependent, long-term, abstract, and internal terms.
Not only are people not born with quiet egos, but also, by most developmental accounts, people are born without any ego at all. The ego is commonly viewed as coemerging with the concept of the self gradually over the first 18 months or so of life. When the ego does emerge, it is noisy, literally incapable of taking others' perspectives.
In later childhood, children identify with particular peer groups and not with others. The psychosocial self is constructed largely as a product of evaluative comparisons of the self to others. Early in adolescence, the person identifies more with those particular, evaluative comparisons that he or she thinks other people (notably peers) find valuable. By later adolescence, on average, the person has begun to internalize those values into a more or less systematic set of beliefs. During this time, the ego becomes preoccupied less with appearances and more with psychosocial dynamics.
For the present purposes, however, what develops in ED is the increasing capacity to think about the self and others from more differentiated and more integrated perspectives. In Loevinger's theory, the ego is best thought of as a frame of reference or a lens for interpreting and understanding the psychosocial world. ED is concerned not as much with what one thinks about as with how one organizes experience.
Thus, as the ego develops, it interprets the self and others differently and in a manner representing a progressively quieter ego. The developmentally immature ego is noisier; it is full of itself (read: full of its self). It is more prone toward valuing the self's autonomy over the autonomy of others. As the ego matures and becomes quieter, it becomes more likely to seek a balance or mutual dynamic between the self and others. In addition, the developmentally noisier ego is more preoccupied with and evaluates the self and others on the basis of mere appearances and group affiliation. In contrast, the developmentally quieter ego focuses more on and evaluates the self and others on the basis of the subtler qualities of human experience, such as people's motivations, intentions, and subjective interpretations of those appearances.
Among the Big Five personality traits, Openness to Experience stands out as a quiet-ego candidate, given its tendency to value universalism, to seek alternative perspectives, and its relative lack of need to preserve current conditions and viewpoints. Openness to Experience is a quality of several quiet-ego constructs, such as perspective taking, mindfulness, self-compassion, compassion, autonomy, authenticity, and humility.
Higher levels of ED also correlate with a range of prosocial (i.e., less selfish) abilities and concerns. Adults with high levels of ED have been found to have high levels of responsibility, tolerance, and psychological-mindedness, as well as ego resilience and interpersonal integrity.
Similarly, Cramer found that higher levels of ED corresponded to the use of three ego defenses—denial, projection, and identification—in a young adult sample. Cramer explained that denial develops earliest, dominating in the preschool years but declining in use in the grade school years as other, more effective defenses emerge. Projection (attributing undesirable self-attributes to others) emerges in early childhood and remains throughout adolescence at least. Identification (identifying with values of self and others) emerges roughly in late adolescence, as the individual becomes capable of creating a psychosocial identity.
Cramer found that participants at lower ED levels (Impulsive and Self-Protective) were more likely to use the relatively immature defenses of denial and projection. Participants at the Conscientious level or higher were more likely to use identification. In other words, participants with a developmentally quieter ego were less defensive.
People at higher levels of ED seem to have many qualities of a developmentally quieter ego, such as Openness to Experience, tolerance for others' values and beliefs, psychological awareness, ego resilience, psychosocial integrity, purpose in life, personal growth, autonomy, and lower levels of defensiveness. Furthermore, longitudinal research suggests that these quiet-ego characteristics tend to develop together.
Contrary to common sense, ED and other measures of meaning making are generally not related to measures of well-being . In other words, people with a developmentally quieter ego (as presented earlier) are about as likely to be happy as to be unhappy.
Maslow claimed that people interpret life events in terms of either growth or safety. A safety orientation involves a preoccupation with protection, conservation, security, and defending—characteristics of a developmentally noisier ego. A growth orientation involves a preoccupation with developing, learning, exploring, and deepening—characteristics of a developmentally quieter ego. Growth narratives correlate with a host of quiet-ego characteristics, providing a window into how people with these characteristics interpret and create meaning in their lives—that is, a sense of identity—notably along social-cognitive and social-emotional dimensions.
People who have cultivated eudaimonic personality development interpret their sense of identity and happiness as grounded not only in satisfaction or pleasure but also in long-term psychosocial growth concerns for social responsibility and virtue, and the pleasure of bonds with other people and humanity. Such people seem to have struck a balance with the social-cognitive and social-emotional facets of a quieter ego. The notion of balance is seen throughout the present volume as a quality of the quieter ego, notably in a balance of agency and communion in one's interpretations of psychosocial life and a balance of positive and negative self-appraisals. To the balancing of agency and communion and positivity and negativity I would add the balancing of more cognitive and more emotional interpretations of self and others.
In the classical, Aristotelian, view of human development, people are assumed to possess an active tendency toward psychological growth and integration. Endowed with an innate striving to exercise and elaborate their interests, individuals tend naturally to seek challenges, to discover new perspectives, and to actively internalize and transform cultural practices. By stretching their capacities and expressing their talents and propensities, people actualize their human potentials. Within this perspective, active growth is complemented by a tendency toward synthesis, organization, or relative unity of both knowledge and personality. Moreover, the integration of that which is experienced provides the basis for a coherent sense of self—a sense of wholeness, vitality, and integrity. To the degree that individuals have attained a sense of self, they can act in accord with, or be "true" to, that self.
To varying degrees, some recent theories have continued to embrace such assumptions, recognizing the intrinsic propensities of people to engage in active, curiosity- based exploration and to integrate new experiences to the self. Despite its longevity and seeming popularity, the assumption of innate tendencies toward growth and integration is not without its critics.
Contemporary social-cognitive approaches portray personality not in terms of a self-unifying system, but rather as a collection of selves or selfschemas that are activated by cues. Personality is viewed as a repository for schemata related to various goals and identities, each of which can be elicited by features of the social contexts.
It seems indeed that the field of psychology is quite widely divided on the issues of inherent tendencies toward psychological growth, a unified self, and autonomous, responsible behavior. Whereas some theorists see our nature as including a self-organizing, growth promoting tendency, others see us as wholly lacking such an endowment, and thus as mere conditioned or reactive reflections of our surroundings. Importantly, each position seems to have some prima facie evidence in its favor.
SDT begins by embracing the assumption that all individuals have natural, innate, and constructive tendencies to develop an ever more elaborated and unified sense of self. That is, we assume people have a primary propensity to forge interconnections among aspects of their own psyches as well as with other individuals and groups in their social worlds. Drawing on terms used by Angyal, we characterize this tendency toward integration as involving both autonomy (tending toward inner organization and holistic self-regulation) and homonomy (tending toward integration of oneself with others). Healthy development involves the complementary functioning of these two aspects of the integrative tendency.
Social environments can, according to this perspective, either facilitate and enable the growth and integration propensities with which the human psyche is endowed, or they can disrupt, forestall, and fragment these processes resulting in behaviors and inner experiences that represent the darker side of humanity. As such, psychological growth and integration in personality should neither be taken as a given, as something that will happen automatically, nor should it be assumed not to exist. Instead, it must be viewed as a dynamic potential that requires proximal and distal conditions of nurturance.
The needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy...provide the basis for categorizing aspects of the environment as supportive versus antagonistic to integrated and vital human functioning. Social environments that allow satisfaction of the three basic needs are predicted to support such healthy functioning, whereas factors associated with need thwarting or conflict are predicted to be antagonistic. Thus, the concept of basic needs provides a critical linking pin within the organismic dialectic and is the basis for making predictions about the conditions that promote optimal versus nonoptimal outcomes in terms of both personality development and the quality of behavior and experience within a specific situation.
The concept of needs is important because it supplies a criterion for specifying what is essential to life. At the same time, the concept says something about organismic nature because it is reasonable to argue that organisms are "built for" the satisfaction of needs—that is, that they have evolved functional structures and sensitivities that can lead to sustenance and integrity.
The concept of needs has received far less attention and acceptance regarding essential psychological nutriments than essential physiological ones. SDT maintains, however, that there are necessary conditions for the growth and wellbeing of people's personalities and cognitive structures, just as there are for their physical development and functioning. These nutriments are referred to within SDT as bade psychological needs. By this SDT definition, basic needs are universal— that is, they represent innate requirements rather than acquired motives. As such, they are expected to be evident in all cultures and in all developmental periods.
In humans, the concept of psychological needs further suggests that, whether or not people are explicitly conscious of needs as goal objects, the healthy human psyche ongoingly strives for these nutriments and, when possible, gravitates toward situations that provide them.
Competence refers to feeling effective in one's ongoing interactions with the social environment and experiencing opportunities to exercise and express one's capacities. The need for competence leads people to seek challenges that are optimal for their capacities and to persistently attempt to maintain and enhance those skills and capacities through activity. Competence is not, then, an attained skill or capability, but rather is a felt sense of confidence and effectance in action.
Relatedness refers to feeling connected to others, to caring for and being cared for by those others, to having a sense of belongingness both with other individuals and with one's community. Relatedness reflects the homonomous aspect of the integrative tendency of life, the tendency to connect with and be integral to and accepted by others.
Finally, autonomy refers to being the perceived origin or source of one's own behavior. Autonomy concerns acting from interest and integrated values. When autonomous, individuals experience their behavior as an expression of the self, such that, even when actions are influenced by outside sources, the actors concur with those influences, feeling both initiative and value with regard to them.
Although people may formulate motives or strivings to satisfy basic needs, it is also clear that there are many motives that do not fit the criterion of being essential for well-being and may, indeed, be inimical to it. In other words, some motives may distract people from activities mat could provide basic need fulfillment and thus detract from their well-being. Even when people are highly efficacious at satisfying motives, the motives may still be detrimental to well-being if they interfere with people's autonomy or relatedness.
To the extent that an aspect of the social context allows need fulfillment, it yields engagement, mastery, and synthesis; whereas, to the extent that it thwarts need fulfillment, it diminishes the individual's motivation, growth, integrity, and well-being.
SDT comprises four mini-theories. Cognitive evaluation theory, the first, was formulated to describe the effects of social contexts on people's intrinsic motivation. It describes contextual elements as autonomy supportive (informational), controlling, and amotivating, and it links these types of contextual elements to the different motivations. Organismic integration theory concerns internalization and integration of values and regulations, and was formulated to explain the development and dynamics of extrinsic motivation; the degree to which individuals' experience autonomy while engaging in extrinsically motivated behaviors; and the processes through which people take on the values and mores of their groups and cultures.
Causality orientations theory was formulated to describe individual differences in people's tendencies to orient toward the social environment in ways that support their own autonomy, control their behavior, or are amotivating. This mini-theory allows for prediction of experience and behavior from enduring orientations of the person. Finally, basic needs theory was formulated to explain the relation of motivation and goals to health and well-being, in part by describing associations of value configurations and regulatory styles to psychological health, across time, gender, situations, and culture.
Intrinsically motivated behaviors are those whose motivation is based in the inherent satisfactions of the behaviors per set rather than in contingencies or reinforcements that are operationally separable form those activities. Intrinsic motivation represents a prototype of self-determined activity, in that, when intrinsically motivated, people engage in activities freely, being sustained by the experience of interest and enjoyment.
Cognitive evaluation theory... suggests that the needs for competence and autonomy are integrally involved in intrinsic motivation and that contextual events, such as the offer of a reward, the provision of positive feedback, or the imposition of a deadline, are likely to affect intrinsic motivation to the extent that they are experienced as supporting versus thwarting satisfaction of these needs.
Change in perceived locus of causality relates to the need for autonomy: when an event prompts a change in perceptions toward a more external locus, intrinsic motivation will be undermined; whereas, when an event prompts a change toward a more internal perceived locus, intrinsic motivation will be enhanced.
The second process, change in perceived competence, relates to the need for competence: when an event increases perceived competence, intrinsic motivation will tend to be enhanced; whereas, when an event diminishes perceived competence, intrinsic motivation will be undermined.
GET further specified that contextual events or climates contain both a controlling aspect and an informational aspect and that it is the relative salience of these two aspects of social contexts that determines the effects of the context on perceptions of causality and competence, and thus on intrinsic motivation. The controlling aspects of social environments are those that represent pressure toward specified outcomes, and thus conduce to a shift toward a more external perceived locus of causality. Features of the social environment that have controlling salience undermine intrinsic motivation.
In discussions of GET, the concept of functional significance is used to convey the idea that individuals will actively construe social-contextual inputs in terms of their informational and controlling meanings, and that it is the relative salience of informational versus controlling components that will, in large part, determine subsequent intrinsic motivation.... Accordingly rewards are predicted to undermine intrinsic motivation in many circumstances, whereas positive performance feedback is expected to enhance it.
In addition to the studies of expected rewards, others have shown that threats of punishment, deadlines, imposed goals, surveillance, competition, and evaluation all decreased intrinsic motivation, presumably because they were experienced as controls.
Ryan, Mims, and Koestner showed that although tangible rewards tend to be experienced as controlling, if they are administered in a non-evaluative context that supports autonomy, they tend not to be undermining. Furthermore, subsequent studies showed that limit setting will have a significantly different effect depending on whether the interpersonal context is informational or controlling and that competition can also be experienced as either informational or controlling, depending on the interpersonal climate.
Evidence from studies with infants indicates that exploratory behavior (i.e., intrinsically motivated curiosity) tends to be in evidence to the degree that the children are securely attached to a primary caregiver... In other words, when the infants experienced a general sense of satisfaction of the relatedness need, they were more likely to display intrinsically motivated exploration.
There do appear to be many solitary types of activities for which people maintain high intrinsic motivation in spite of not relating to others while doing them. Accordingly, we have suggested that relatedness typically plays a more distal role in the promotion of intrinsic motivation than do competence and autonomy, although there are some interpersonal activities for which satisfaction of the need for relatedness is crucial for maintaining intrinsic motivation.
Organismic integration theory (OIT) is based on the assumption that people are naturally inclined to integrate their ongoing experiences, assuming they have the necessary nutriments to do so. Accordingly, we postulated that if external prompts are used by significant others or salient reference groups to encourage people to do an uninteresting activity—an activity for which they are not intrinsically motivated—the individuals will tend to internalize the activity's initially external regulation. That is, people will tend to take in the regulation and integrate it with their sense of self. To the extent that this occurs, the individuals would be autonomous when enacting this extrinsically motivated behavior.
The more fully a regulation (or the value underlying it) is internalized, the more it becomes part of the integrated self and the more it is the basis for self-determined behavior. From this perspective, then, it is possible for individuals to internalize regulations without having them become part of the self. Regulations that have been taken in by an individual but not integrated with the self would not be the basis for autonomous self-regulation but would instead function more as controllers of behavior. Thus, extrinsically motivated behaviors for which the regulations have been internalized to differing degrees would differ in their relative autonomy.
At the left end is amotivation, the state of lacking the intention to act. When people are amotivated, either they do not act at all or they act passively—that is, they go through the motions with no sense of intending to do what they are doing. Amotivation results from feeling either that they are unable to achieve desired outcomes because of a lack of contingency or a lack of perceived competence or that they do not value the activity or the outcomes it would yield.
External regulation is the least autonomous form of extrinsic motivation and includes the classic instance of being motivated to obtain rewards or avoid punishments. More generally, external regulation is in evidence when one's reason for doing a behavior is to satisfy an external demand or a socially constructed contingency.
Introjected regulation involves an external regulation having been internalized but not, in a much deeper sense, truly accepted as one's own. It is a type of extrinsic motivation that, having been partially internalized, is within the person but is not considered part of the integrated self. Introjection is a form of internalized regulation that is theorized to be quite controlling. Introjection-based behaviors are performed to avoid guilt and shame or to attain ego enhancements and feelings of worth.
Regulation through identification is a more self-determined form of extrinsic motivation, for it involves a conscious valuing of a behavioral goal or regulation, an acceptance of the behavior as personally important. Identification represents an important aspect of the process of transforming external regulation into true self-regulation. When a person identifies with an action or the value it expresses, they, at least at a conscious level, are personally endorsing it, and thus identifications are accompanied by a high degree of perceived autonomy.
Integrated regulation provides the basis for the most autonomous form of extrinsically motivated behavior. It results when identifications have been evaluated and brought into congruence with the personally endorsed values, goals, and needs that are already part of the self....although behaviors governed by integrated regulations are performed volitionally, they are still considered extrinsic because they are done to attain personally important outcomes rather than for their inherent interest and enjoyment. In other words, they are still instrumental to a separable outcome whose value is well integrated with the self.
Relatedness alone is not enough to ensure a full internalization of extrinsic motivation. As well, people will need to feel competent with respect to behaviors valued by a significant other if they are to engage in and accept responsibility for those behaviors. Thus, OIT suggests that support for competence will contribute to the facilitation of internalization and the subsequent self-regulation of extrinsically motivated activities.
Stated differently, to integrate the regulation of a behavior, people must grasp its meaning for themselves personally, and they must synthesize that meaning with other aspects of their psychic makeup. This type of engagement with the activity and with the process of internalization is most likely to occur when people experience a sense of choice, volition, and freedom from external demands.
Throughout the development of SDT, we have assumed that a person's motivation, behavior, and experience in a particular situation is a function both of the immediate social context and of the person's inner resources that have developed over time as a function of prior interactions with social contexts. Causality orientations theory was developed as a descriptive account of these inner resources—that is, of relatively stable individual differences in one's motivational orientations toward the social world.
The autonomy orientation involves regulating behavior on the basis of interests and self-endorsed values; it serves to index a person's general tendencies toward intrinsic motivation and well integrated extrinsic motivation. The controlled orientation involves orienting toward controls and directives concerning how one should behave; it relates to external and introjected regulation. The impersonal orientation involves focusing on indicators of ineffectance and not behaving intentionally; it relates to amotivation and lack of intentional action.
In the initial research by Deci and Ryan the autonomy orientation was found to relate positively to selfactualization, self-esteem, ego development, and other indicators of well-being...The impersonal orientation was related to self-derogation, low selfesteem, and depression.
To qualify as a need, a motivating force must have a direct relation to wellbeing. Needs, when satisfied, promote well-being, but when thwarted, lead to negative consequences. Further, because needs are hypothesized to be universal, this relation between satisfaction and well-being must apply across ages, genders, and cultures.
Whereas most theories do not differentiate goal contents, suggesting simply a positive relation between the attainment of valued goals and well-being, basic needs theory suggests that there will be a positive relation between goal attainment and wellbeing only for those goals that satisfy basic psychological needs. In fact, pursuit of some valent goals may be negatively related to well-being if the goals distract people from satisfaction of the basic needs.
Kasser and Ryan suggested that there are two types of aspirations, namely, intrinsic aspirations, which provide relatively direct satisfaction of the basic needs, and extrinsic aspirations, which are more related to obtaining external signs of worth and are less likely to provide direct need satisfaction. Examples of intrinsic aspirations are affiliation, personal growth, and community contribution, and examples of extrinsic aspirations (at least within the American culture) are wealth, fame, and image. Kasser and Ryan argued that, because of the hypothesized links of intrinsic aspirations to basic need satisfaction, pursuit and attainment of those aspirations, relative to extrinsic aspirations, should be more strongly associated with well-being.
Kasser and Ryan found that the relative strength of intrinsic aspirations was significantly positively related to well-being indicators, such as self-actualization and vitality, and were significantly negatively related to anxiety, depression, and physical symptoms....These studies converged on the finding that placing high importance on extrinsic outcomes, relative to intrinsic ones, was related to poorer well-being. Furthermore, the research showed that the effects on wellbeing of the relative strengths of aspirations was not accounted for by people's feelings of efficacy with respect to attaining the goals.
Together, these results suggest that pursuit and attainment of valued goals does not ensure well-being. The content of the goal itself makes a difference, and we theorize that this is because some goals (which we label intrinsic) provide more need satisfaction, whereas others (which we label extrinsic) provide less need satisfaction. In fact, the pursuit and attainment of extrinsic aspirations may actually detract from need satisfaction by keeping people focused on goals that are not directly need related.
There can, however, be considerable variability in the values and goals held within different cultures such that the means through which people satisfy basic needs will differ among cultures. In other words^the relations between specific behaviors and satisfaction of underlying needs may be different in different cultures because the behaviors come to have different meanings in accord with culturally endorsed values and practices.
When autonomous, people experience themselves as valuable for being who they are rather than only for doing particular activities or appearing certain ways to others or to themselves. Thus, secure self-worth based on "being" accompanies the development of self-structures that are authentic (i.e., congruent with the core self) and autonomous.
We suggest that the motivation underlying self-structures is relevant to how individuals encounter ongoing conscious experiences, especially novel ones. Specifically, to the extent that individuals are oriented toward organismic growth and integration, they will meet the continually changing stream of conscious experience with openness. By "openness" we mean a readiness to perceive ongoing experience accurately, without distorting or attempting to avoid the experience, and a willingness to assimilate novel experiences into self-structures.
To the extent that an individual is connected to his or her core self, self-worth is rooted simply in "being" and the individual is less likely to be threatened by novel inputs or experiences. Rather, experiences of all types can be considered and encountered as opportunities. Through integration of what "is" in the moment, individuals grow toward greater unity in understanding and functioning....Individuals who are functioning autonomously, therefore, are responsive to reality rather than directed by ego-invested, preconceived notions.
To the extent that individuals function autonomously and are open to experience, they should show less evidence of trying to escape awareness of the present moment with mood-altering substances, with distracting activities such as television viewing, video games, or movies, or with compulsive behaviors regarding food, sex, and work.
In other words, autonomous self-regulation does not necessarily protect individuals from experiencing sadness, anger, or fear, for example; after all, emotions can only be integrated through the process of experiencing them. However, the integrating self's openness to experience what "is" in the present moment without defending against it should facilitate integration over time.
There is evidence that people are most critical of those traits in others that are most undesired in themselves, especially when they try to avoid their own unwanted traits. To the extent that individuals are honest about themselves and take responsibility for their own qualities and behaviors (i.e., function autonomously), they should show a lesser degree of defensive projection of their, undesired traits onto others.
We have proposed that autonomous functioning allows for openness to ongoing experience, or a willingness to experience what is occurring in the current moment without distorting or defending against it.
When environmental conditions do not facilitate integration, people behave according to external pressures and introjected demands. When individuals lack a sense of self-determination they may fail to choose goals that are relevant to their intrinsic needs and that promote organismic growth. Controlling environments therefore contribute to the development of very different kinds of self-structures.
The lack of fulfillment of intrinsic needs and consequent disconnection from organismic being precludes a sense of self-worth based in being. Instead, as a substitute for self-worth, individuals develop an ego-invested or false self that is based on doing particular activities in particular ways, being perceived by others in particular ways, or, perhaps most importantly, perceiving themselves in certain ways.
A person operating in a controlled manner from a false self needs to muster all of his or her resources in the service of propping up and defending the false self from challenges because this constructed self provides some level of self-worth. Hence, under controlled functioning individuals want to experience what is occurring in the current moment only if it validates ego-invested self-structures.
Behaviorally, then, self-worth acquired through ego-invested self-structures results in rigid functioning. Sometimes this will manifest in general defensiveness under threat, in a range of behaviors that may include perceptual, cognitive, emotional, and interpersonal aspects. For example, controlled functioning would be associated with cognitive defenses including the use of self-serving attributional biases, selective information processing and memory, greater use of heuristics and stereotypes, construing events egocentrically, and inflating the importance of self in activities... Behaviorally, this addiction to experiences that concur with ego-involved self-aspects might manifest in susceptibility to flattery, poor ability to perceive and interpret situations accurately, and seeking feedback that confirms egoistic self-aspects.
Although people develop rigid self-structures initially in an attempt to compensate for the lack of basic need satisfaction, subsequently they must maintain these compensatory structures in order to preserve the self and sense of worth. It is as if people become psychologically addicted to ego-affirmation at the expense of their overall wellbeing, much as people can become physically addicted to substances that interfere with their general health.
In contrast, in environments that lack not only autonomy support but also block effectance and relatedness, people become impersonally oriented and amotivated. This is the least integrated mode of functioning, with individuals lacking not only self-determination but also a sense of intentionality... Hence, under impersonal functioning individuals might show helplessness or defensiveness or vacillation between the two, with lots of negative affect. Although impersonal functioning can arise from the trait-like, chronic lack of a cohesive self, any human can function impersonally when an experience is too discrepant to be integrated (e.g., after tremendous loss).
The idea that an integrating self underlies self-determination suggests that to the extent we function autonomously, we will meet novel experiences openly and allow their integration into our sense of selves. Thus, the authentic self, with self-worth based in "being," which underlies autonomous functioning is responsive to reality.
The studies on naturally occurring social interaction and accounting for wrongdoing converge on the same understanding: Autonomy is associated with interpersonal openness and honesty whereas control orientation predicts interpersonal defensiveness.
One curious aspect of maturing is the realization that we will never attain the psychologically static place implicitly contained in childhood expectations of adulthood. That is, we never arrive at some stationary state through securing a particular job or promotion, having certain types of relationships, or acquiring material possessions. Rather, life is an ongoing process in which experiences inside us and around us constantly change. We have suggested that the way in which one meets these ever-changing experiences is a function of whether the self-aspects one is operating from in that moment are integrated, ego-invested, or lacking cohesion.
Values were defined by Rokeach as beliefs "that a specific mode of conduct or end-state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct or end-state of existence." These guiding principles of life organize people's attitudes, emotions, and behaviors, and typically endure across time and situations. That is, someone with a particular value is expected to consistently express behavior relevant to that value in a variety of situations over time. According to Feather, values lead to specific behaviors and experiences by influencing the valences that individuals assign to the desirability of specific objects and situations.
While individual values provide some information about people's experience and behavior, most values theorists emphasize that it is best to assess the entire organization of values a person holds, that is, the person's value system. To understand an individual's choice of career, for example, we would want to know about the entire system of the person's values, as all the values together and their relative importance to each other influence this decision.
My intention in this chapter is to suggest that SDT is consistent with a great deal of what past students of values have proposed theoretically and found empirically, and that the attainment of greater integration between SDT and values research could be mutually beneficial.
One way to understand the attempts of the self to grow by engaging in activities it finds intrinsically motivating is to say that the self seeks out activities that it values....Thus, Hermans and Ryan agree that valuing emerges developmentally from the true self as a means of helping the young organism know what it likes and does not like, what will help it grow and what will not. Valuing can thus be understood as an evaluative function of the self which aids in its growth, in part by selecting which activities will be beneficial and which will not. From the perspective of SDT, the behaviors most likely to benefit the self are those that are intrinsically motivated—that is, those that are interesting, fun, and valued for their own sake.
Fundamental to SDT is the idea that all people possess psychological needs that help guide the organismic integration process and are "nutriments or conditions that are essential to an entity's growth". Specifically, for the self to grow and integrate experience in an optimal manner, psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence must be satisfied. People need to feel that they freely choose their behaviors, that they have close connections with others, and that they are effective in the activities they undertake. Thus, a self-determination theory of values must relate people's value systems to psychological needs.
In essence, I am suggesting that both valuing and values are cognitive/affective tools by which the self can fulfill its aims of growth and need satisfaction and that these tools work by orienting the person towards some behaviors and away from others.
Extrinsic motivation involves engagement in behaviors in order to obtain rewards or praise, or to avoid criticism or punishment. Such behaviors are seen by SDT as alienated from the self and its needs and as being problematic in many regards. Thus, a self-determination theory of values must recognize that some values are conducive to growthful, intrinsically motivated actions and others tend to prompt extrinsically motivated behaviors focused on rewards and people's praise. In other words, values sometimes emerge from and reflect the self, and sometimes they emerge from and reflect coercive processes.
Similarly, Rokeach proposed three motivational functions of values: to self-actualize, to adjust to societal demands and group pressures, and to defend the ego. Obviously the first function is closest to what SDT would see as valuing based in autonomous motivation, while the latter two relate to valuing based in controlled motivations. This is because extrinsic motivation results from the pressures of either outside forces (i.e., society or the group) or from introjected beliefs that are not an integrated part of the self (i.e., ego-defensive motivations).
Examples of intrinsic values include those for self-acceptance, affiliation, and community feeling. Selfacceptance values are those that concern growth, autonomy, and self-regard; affiliation values involve having good relationships with friends and family; and community feeling values focus on improving the world through activism or generativity. In contrast to these values that stem largely from the self's tendency to grow and directly satisfy its needs, extrinsic values "do not provide satisfaction in and of themselves; instead, their allure usually lies in the presumed admiration that attends them or in the power and sense of worth that can be derived from attaining them".
Three examples of extrinsic values are: financial success, the concern to accumulate wealth and possessions; image, the desire to look attractive in terms of one's body and clodiing; and social recognition, the aim of being famous and well-known. As can be seen, all of these values express a concern with the attainment of external rewards and praise.
The origins of SDT lie in the discovery that controlling environmental conditions undermine intrinsically motivated activity. Deci found that rewarding people for engaging in enjoyable, fun activities decreased their likelihood of future engagement in these activities. Naming this phenomenon the "undermining effect," he explained that rewards change the perceived locus of causality for the behavior from internal to external, and thus undermine feelings of autonomy.
Abramson and Inglehart showed that people living in relatively poor nations or economically difficult times were highly likely to value materialistic pursuits for their governments. Along with these political scientists, we suggest that living in disadvantaged socio-economic situations may ultimately result in less satisfaction of the self's needs for growth and integration, as poverty and dangerous neighborhoods can lead people to feel less secure, less trusting of others, and less able to express themselves. Further, individuals may look to wealth as a means to feel good about themselves, escape their insecure situation, and provide themselves with the food, shelter, and clothing that are necessary to survive in this world.
Kasser and Sharma found that females were especially likely to desire wealthy, highstatus mates when they lived in nations that did not support reproductive freedom or provide equal opportunity for female education. Thus, it appears that when women do not have the opportunity to control their own destiny (i.e., do not have satisfaction of the autonomy need) they will become more extrinsic and materialistic in their values and thus in the valences they place on various potential mates.
It seems most likely that when individuals see that the inherent desires for growth, expression, autonomy, and relatedness are unlikely to be satisfied in the present situation, they turn towards extrinsic values as a compensatory strategy to attain at least some satisfaction and some feelings of worth and security. Extrinsic values may seem to hold the promise of providing security, love, and feelings of selfworth, but as we will see momentarily, extrinsic values do not keep this promise.
Kasser and Ryan found in two samples of college students that intrinsically oriented individuals reported more self-actualization, more subjective vitality, less anxiety, and less depression than individuals who placed a high value on financial success.
In sum, a wide variety of indicators of quality of life have been consistently associated with people's values, such that intrinsic values were associated with greater well-being and less distress, while the reverse was true of extrinsic values.
Self-determination research also suggests, however, that pursuing goals for autonomous, well-internalized reasons (i.e., because it feels like a true choice) is more beneficial for well-being than pursuing goals for controlled, poorly-internalized reasons (i.e., because of external or introjected pressures and compulsions). Thus, the benefit of pursuing intrinsic values may be mitigated when such values are nonself-determined, while the negative effects of a strong focus on extrinsic values may be lessened if such values are autonomously regulated....Thus, it a0ppears that both the "what" and the "why" of values and goals play important roles in understanding people's well-being.
Self-conscious emotions play a central role in motivating and regulating almost all of people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Most people spend a great deal of time avoiding social approbation, a strong elicitor of shame and embarrassment. We worry about losing social status in the eyes of others and, as Goffman noted, our every social act is influenced by even the slight chance of public shame or loss of "face." In fact, according to the "Cooley-Scheff conjecture," we are "virtually always in a state of either pride or shame".
Embarrassment, guilt, pride, and shame drive people to work hard in achievement and task domains, and to behave in moral, socially appropriate ways in their social interactions and intimate relationships. To take just a few specific examples, guilt is a central part of reparative and prosocial behaviors such as empathy, altruism, and caregiving. Shame mediates the negative emotional and physical health consequences of social stigma...Shame is also associated with depression and chronic anger, and is a core component of the narcissistic, antisocial, and borderline personality disorders.
Self-conscious emotions, in contrast, show weaker evidence of universality: their antecedents, subjective experience, and consequences may differ across cultures, and researchers have only recently identified crossculturally recognized nonverbal expressions. Moreover, self-conscious emotions are subsumed by basic emotions in linguistic hierarchical classifications (e.g., sadness subsumes shame, joy subsumes pride).
In our view, self-conscious emotions should be treated as a special class of emotions. As "cognition-dependent" emotions, self-conscious emotions require a distinct theoretical model specifying their antecedent cognitions. In fact, the absence of such a model may have impeded self-conscious emotion research and contributed to their relative neglect.
Self-conscious emotions require self-awareness and self-representations. First and foremost, self-conscious emotions differ from basic emotions because they require selfawareness and self-representations. Although basic emotions like fear and sadness can and often do involve self-evaluative processes, only self-conscious emotions must involve these processes.
Self-conscious emotions emerge later in childhood than basic emotions. A second distinctive feature of self-conscious emotions is that they develop later than basic emotions. Most basic emotions emerge within the first 9 months of life; in fact, the primacy of these emotions in ontogeny is one reason for their classification as "basic". In contrast, even generalized feelings of self-consciousness (sometimes considered an early form of embarrassment) do not develop until around 18-24 months. More complex self-conscious emotions, such as shame, guilt, and pride, emerge even later, possibly by the end of the child's third year of life.
Self-conscious emotions facilitate the attainment of complex social goals. Emotions are assumed to have evolved through natural selection to facilitate survival and reproductive goals (which we will refer to as "survival goals"). It is easy to understand how a basic emotion might promote survival goals—for example, fear may cause an individual to run away from a predator, thereby enhancing his or her chances for survival in the face of threat. In contrast, we believe that self-conscious emotions evolved primarily to promote the attainment of specifically social goals, such as the maintenance or enhancement of status, or the prevention of group rejection.
Collectively, the self-conscious emotions are assumed to promote behaviors that increase the stability of social hierarchies and affirm status roles. More specifically, shame and embarrassment may promote appeasement and avoidance behaviors after a social transgression, guilt may promote apology and confession after a social trespass, and pride may promote boastfulness and other approach-oriented behaviors after a socially valued success.
Self-conscious emotions do not have discrete, universally recognized facial expressions. Each of the six basic emotions has a discrete, universally recognized facial expression. In contrast, researchers have failed to identify distinct facial expressions for any self-conscious emotion. They have, however, found distinct expressions that include bodily posture or head movement combined with facial expression for embarrassment, pride, and shame.
The expression of self-conscious emotions may, at times, be maladaptive, making it more important that these expressions be regulated. Facial expressions are more difficult to regulate than body movements and posture because many of the facial muscle contractions involved are involuntary. Although in contemporary society we may wish we could control the expression of all of our emotions, in our evolutionary history it was clearly more adaptive that our (basic) emotions be automatically expressed. The expression of self-conscious emotions, in contrast, may be detrimental to fitness. For example, in many cultures it is not acceptable to openly display pride, and such displays may lower likeability.
Self-conscious emotions are cognitively complex. A fifth distinctive feature of selfconscious emotions is that they are more cognitively complex than basic emotions. In order to experience fear, individuals need very few cognitive capacities; they must simply appraise an event as threatening their survival goals. To experience shame, however, an individual must have the capacity to form stable self-representations and to consciously self-reflect (i.e., direct attentional focus toward those representations).
The question remains: Why are basic emotions expressed in the face, whereas self-conscious emotions clearly require nonfacial elements? This is a noteworthy distinction, and examining it further may help clarify how and why the self-conscious emotions evolved. By conceptualizing the two classes as fuzzy rather than as discrete categories, we can avoid debates about whether a particular emotion is basic or self-conscious, and begin to explore the phylogenetic reasons these categories exist. Perhaps the degree to which an emotion is a good exemplar of each category reveals something important about when and why it came to be a part of the human behavioral repertoire.
According to our theoretical model, self-representations must be activated (either explicitly or implicitly) in order for self-conscious emotions to occur; only through selffocused attention can the individual make comparisons between self-representations and the external emotion-eliciting event. In fact, recent research suggests that self-focused attention is a necessary precursor for the occurrence of several distinct emotions in response to self-discrepancies.
According to our model, any event that relates to an important self-representation is likely to be appraised as relevant to an identity goal and, assuming that additional appraisals (described below) occur, will generate a self-conscious emotion. In contrast, an event that is relevant only to an individual's proximal adaptive fitness (and thus to the more simplistic, biological self that is shared with even single-cell organisms) will be appraised as survival-goal relevant. Importantly, events appraised as relevant to identity goals can also generate basic emotions.
From our perspective, self-conscious emotions are experienced when a person's identity is threatened or elevated—which can occur in public or private, and in interpersonal or task contexts, as long as the eliciting event is relevant to the aspirations and ideals (as well as the fears) of the self. In fact, social evaluations will not elicit self-conscious emotions if the evaluated individual does not make the corresponding self-evaluative appraisals. For example, the public praise of others will not produce pride in individuals who discount the evaluations (e.g., if they have low self-esteem), and negative evaluations will not produce shame if they pertain to non-self-relevant domains.
How do individuals decide whether an event is congruent or incongruent with identity goals? Current self-representations, activated by the emotion-eliciting event (e.g., failure on an exam), are compared with stable, long-term self-representations, including actual ("I am a successful student") and ideal self-representations ("I want to be a successful student"). Individuals may notice a discrepancy between current, actual, and ideal self-representations, and appraise the event as identity-goal incongruent. As shown in Figure 1.1, this appraisal would eventually elicit a negative selfconscious emotion such as shame or guilt.
Self-conscious emotions occur when individuals attribute the eliciting event to internal causes. Supporting this claim, studies have shown that internal attributions for failure tend to produce guilt and shame, and internal attributions for success tend to produce pride. Similarly, the appraisal dimensions of "agency" and "self-accountability" have been found to predict self-conscious emotions. In contrast, attributing events to external causes typically leads to basic emotions, even when the event is identity-goal relevant.
Besides locus, three other causal attributions are important for the elicitation of selfconscious emotions, and especially for differentiating among self-conscious emotions. These attributions concern the stability, controllability, and globality of causes. Central to the attribution process, these causal factors have been empirically linked to various emotional states...As described below, we believe that globality, stability, and controllability attributions influence which particular self-conscious emotion is elicited after events are internalized.
Several emotion theorists have argued that shame involves negative feelings about the stable, global self, whereas guilt involves negative feelings about a specific behavior or action taken by the self. Following this theoretical conception, our model specifies that internal, stable, uncontrollable, and global attributions ("I'm a dumb person") lead to shame, whereas internal, unstable, controllable, and specific attributions ("I didn't try hard enough") lead to guilt.
Like shame and guilt, embarrassment requires an appraisal of identity-goal relevance and identity-goal incongruence, and attributions to internal causes. However, unlike shame and guilt, embarrassment does not seem to require any further attributions, and, as conceptualized in our model, can occur only when attentional focus is directed toward the public self, activating corresponding public self-representations....Importantly, activation of the public self does not require a public context. Rather, the public self is always present because it reflects the way we see ourselves through the (real or imagined) eyes of others. Thus, with regard to whether embarrassment is likely to occur, the crucial question is whether the public self has been activated, not whether the action occurred in a public context.
According to our model, there are two facets of pride that parallel shame and guilt. Global pride in the self ("I'm proud of who I am"), referred to as "hubris" by M. Lewis and as "alpha pride" by Tangney et al., may result from attributions to internal, stable, uncontrollable, and global causes. Conversely, a feeling of pride that we refer to as "authentic" based on specific achievements ("I'm proud of what I did") may result from attributions to internal, unstable, controllable, and specific causes.... Moreover, the findings from several studies support our claim that authentic pride is more likely to result from internal, unstable, and controllable attributions for a positive event, whereas hubristic pride is more likely to result from internal, stable, and uncontrollable attributions for the same event.
Numerous studies have shown that, following an ego threat, low self-esteem individuals tend to experience negative affect and withdraw from the task. From a discrete emotions perspective, this withdrawal can be interpreted as a behavioral outcome of shame. Thus, the negative affect reported may more specifically reflect feelings of shame, and the outcome behaviors may be part of a coordinated functional response associated with the emotion. If failure represents a stable, global shortcoming of the self, the adaptive solution is to withdraw and avoid repeated attempts at success or social contact, which could further reveal the self's inadequacies.
In contrast, individuals high in narcissism do not respond to ego threats with withdrawal; instead, they typically become angry and aggressive. This pattern may characterize Jeff Skilling's response to having his intelligence questioned by a Harvard admissions officer or to being indicted for fraud. One explanation for this alternate response to failure is that narcissists invoke a defensive process, using anger and aggression to avoid feeling shame. Our model points to the specific cognitive pathways that may make this process possible. Narcissists may make external attributions for ego threats, blaming others for their failures. This regulatory strategy would promote a basic emotion, like anger, and would allow for the circumvention of conscious shame. This account suggests testable hypotheses—for example, individuals with genuine, nonnarcissistic, high self-esteem should respond to ego threats by taking responsibility and making internal, unstable, specific attributions; they thus should feel guilt rather than shame or anger.
A Social Function for Self-Conscious Emotions: The Social Self Preservation Theory, T. Gruenewald, S. Dickerson, M. Kemeny
Our social self preservation theory asserts that self-conscious emotions, in particular, shame-related emotions, are experienced when the fundamental goal of maintaining a positive social self is threatened. We argue that situations or circumstances that threaten the social self prompt a coordinated psychobiological response, characterized by the elicitation of shame emotions and physiological processes, which provide signaling and resource mobilization functions to address such threats. As we also argue, since the protection of the social self is essential to life success, shame may be one of the most basic of human emotions.
Although for any given individual shame emotions consist primarily of private, individual experiences, we contend that the elicitation of these emotions occurs in service of an important social function: of signaling a threat to the social self. Threat to the social self occurs when there is an actual or likely loss of social esteem, status, or acceptance. Such a devaluation of the social self can often occur in situations in which one's competencies, abilities, or characteristics upon which a positive social image is based are called into question, or situations of potential or explicit exclusion, scorn, or rejection. We assert that shame is the focal emotion experienced under conditions of threat to the social self.
We contend that humans are concerned with the positive or negative character of the social self because it is central for maintaining social relationships essential to survival and reproduction. The positivity of the social self affects the willingness of others to invest in and provide resources to a given individual, which has implications for survival across the lifespan. The positive character of the social self may be especially important for reproductive success: those with higher status have greater access to mating partners and are better able to pass on their genes. A more positive social self may also enable the development of more harmonious and supportive social relationships. A large body of research supports connections between mental and physical well-being and the quantity and quality of individuals' social ties. Thus, protecting and enhancing the social self enables an individual to survive and to thrive.
Our contention that shame serves as an important signaling emotion for threats to the social self is in agreement with a number of theoretical perspectives on the functions or elicitors of shame. Scheff has argued that shame is the "premier social emotion" and that the experience of shame-related emotions occurs in response to situations or circumstances that pose a threat to a social bond. This proposed function of shame is similar to our assertion that shame acts as a signal of threat to the social self. Our perspective is also in direct accord with the function of shame proposed by Gilbert. According to his social attention holding power (SAHP) hypothesis, shame is the primary emotional response to perceptions of low social attention, low social attractiveness, or declining social status (characteristics of a devalued social self).
The centrality of the social self in shame experience also has a long theoretical tradition. Darwin noted that emotions that excite a blush (shame, shyness, and modesty) were the result of "thinking [about] what others think of us". Cooley seconded this sentiment: "There is no sense of "I," as in pride or shame, without its correlative sense of you, or he, or they. . . . The thing that moves us to pride or shame is not the mere mechanical reflection of ourselves, but an imputed sentiment, the imagined effect of this reflection upon another's mind"... Early psychological theorists, such as William James, also identified shame as the result of perceptions of an impaired image in the eyes of others. H. B. Lewis cited an actual or invoked disapproving other as an important elicitor of shame, and Izard asserted that shame promotes social cohesion by sensitizing individuals to the opinions of others.
Although guilt is a social emotion, the elicitation of guilt is thought to arise in response to an undesirable behavior or action committed by an individual rather than to arise in response to an undesirable self, as in the case of shame. As previously reviewed, shame appears to be the likely emotional response to situations that threaten social relationships or one's social image (e.g., social role violations, failing to meet the expectation of others, hurting others emotionally), while guilt is the more probable emotional response to behavioral violations of social standards (e.g., lying, cheating, neglecting a responsibility).
Embarrassment has often been characterized as a mild form of shame. Some theorists have put embarrassment on the weak and transient end of a shame spectrum with humiliation at the intense and long-lasting other end (with shame falling in between the two extremes). The elicitors of shame and embarrassment are also thought to vary, with embarrassment resulting from trivial social transgressions (e.g., tripping, belching) and shame resulting from more serious transgressions or failures. In comparison with embarrassment, shame is also thought to be the more probable emotion when such events involve the core self, while embarrassment is more likely to occur under public exposure of a flaw that the actor does not feel truly represents a core characteristic of the self.
While shame may not have a universal distinct facial expression, it is characterized by a unique bodily display including gaze aversion, head tilted to the side or downward, and a slumped posture. Recent research also documents a distinctive facial and bodily signal for pride, including the head tilted slightly up with a small smile, a visibly expanded posture, and arms raised above the head or hands on hips. The bodily characteristics of shame and pride are similar to many behaviors that denote submission and dominance, respectively, in other animals.
Social and personal characteristics, including the possession of a stigmatizing condition (e.g., physical deformity, stigmatized illness) or an undesirable social status position, may operate to increase the frequency of social-self threat experiences for some individuals. In addition, some individuals may possess personality traits that render them more sensitive to perceive threat to the social self in communications with others or in response to life events, and/or to experience more extreme psychological and physiological reactions to social-self threats.
Occupation of a low social status position can be seen as one form of chronic threat to the social self because humans and other animals in subordinate status positions must continuously acknowledge the devalued status of their social self in comparison to others. A number of theorists have suggested that the chronic occupation of a low social status position may lead to depressed and anxious mood states. Shame, submission, and disengagement have been identified as important mediating pathways in such relationships.... Social status as rated by one's peers has been found to relate to mental well-being in many studies of adolescents, with rejected children faring much worse on measures of mental health than their more popular or average-status peers. Whether feelings of shame and associated submission/disengagement tendencies play a role in these associations in adolescents is unknown.
There may also be potential physical health consequences of physiological activation associated with chronic or repeated threat to the social self. High cortisol levels are thought to render organisms more susceptible to disease development or progression through the suppressive effects of cortisol on some aspects of the immune system... It is interesting to note that socially subordinate animals experience some of these health conditions with greater frequency than their dominant peers, and that these conditions are also more common in humans of low socioeconomic status.
Women high in rejection sensitivity, a tendency to expect, readily perceive, and overreact to social rejection, were more likely to experience depression following a partner-initiated breakup than women low in rejection sensitivity in one longitudinal investigation. Adolescent girls with heightened concerns about social evaluation have also been shown to be vulnerable to depression experience and the development of depression....Shame is thought to be a key component of depression and social anxiety, and the tendency to easily experience shame is associated with depression occurrence.
Results of studies reviewed indicate that the addition of individual difference factors that render individuals more sensitive to such threats, the perception of interpersonal rejection, or the experience of shame and negative self-relevant cognitions to the ongoing social threat associated with these stigmatized identities can lead to hastened disease progression. These findings highlight the critical role that social-self threats, their emotional and cognitive consequences, and individual sensitivity to such threats can have for physical health outcomes.
The theoretical and empirical research we have reviewed provides evidence that shame is a social emotion that is elicited in situations in which the social self is threatened. Shame experience is also associated with activation of the HPA and proinflammatory immune systems under conditions of social threat; these physiological systems along with shame may organize submission and disengagement behavioral responses that are adaptive in such situations.
Although we believe that the affective and physiological processes of this social-self preservation system represent adaptive responses under conditions of acute threat to the social self, such processes may be maladaptive under conditions of chronic or repeated threat. Frequent or prolonged experience of shame and activation of the HPA and proinflammatory immune systems may render individuals vulnerable to the experience of negative mental and physical health outcomes. This may be especially true for individuals with a heightened sensitivity to perceive such threats in their social environments.
The Development of Self-Conscious Emotions: Cognitive Processes and Social Influences, K. Lagattuta, R. Thompson
Because self-conscious emotions arise from how we evaluate our skills and behaviors in relation to normative standards or to how we imagine other people will appraise us, selfconscious emotions are also inherently about relationships—about connections between self and other. Indeed, self-conscious emotions play a formative role in the development of self-regulation, compliance, and conscience; in the maintenance of relationships; and in current and long-term achievement motivation, self-esteem, and mental health. This chapter examines cognitive and social processes underlying the development of self-conscious emotions. We focus on how early concepts about self, mind, and others result in feelings of pride, shame, guilt, and embarrassment in infancy and early childhood.
Converging evidence from developmental studies identifies three core conceptual foundations for a person's ability to experience self-conscious emotions. First, because self-conscious emotions are inherently selfdirected, a rudimentary sense of self-awareness must develop before these emotions can occur. Second, the person must be able to recognize an external standard against which his or her behavior or characteristics can be evaluated. That standard may be a rule, expectation, or goal that has been satisfied or not, or it may be another's evaluation or judgment. Third, the person must adopt that standard and be able to evaluate the degree to which he or she meets, exceeds, or fails to match the standard. For example, one does not feel pride unless the accomplished goal is personally meaningful or another's applause is important for self-evaluation. Although these foundations for the emergence of selfconscious emotions are developmentally complex, there is evidence that young children reach these cognitive achievements and begin to experience pride, guilt, shame, and embarrassment at the end of the second year or the beginning of the third year of life.
Through their social referencing, efforts to establish joint attention, and gesturing and pointing, infants reveal increasing cognizance that other people have mental lives: perceptions, intentions, evaluations, and emotions about things in the world. These early insights precede later, more developed, understandings about mind in the preschool years, and likely provide a critical foundation for recognizing social standards. That is, referential behaviors not only enable infants to gather information about people and objects in the world, but they also allow them to learn social expectations for behavior and performance....Social referencing helps infants to establish the affective valuation of certain actions and to form connections between their own behavior and the emotional reactions of others. These experiences provide a foundation for the development of feelings of guilt, pride, and shame.
The conclusion that pride, shame, guilt, and embarrassment have developmental origins around the second birthday is further supported by evidence that the third foundation of self-conscious emotions—accepting others' standards for oneself—also begins to emerge at this time. Toward the end of the second year, toddlers become personally sensitive to normative standards and expectations for achievement and behavior.
2-year-olds are notorious for rejecting parental assistance and wanting to do things "by themselves". This desire for self-competence is so great that, according to Kagan, toddlers of these ages show clear signs of anxiety or distress when an adult models a task that is too difficult for them to achieve by themselves, with this anxiety likely reflecting an internal evaluation that he or she has failed to meet a standard for performance.
Self-conscious emotions stem from how a person thinks about or evaluates him- or herself in relation to standards of what kind of person he or she wants to or should be (e.g., nice, smart, athletic) or in relation to how he or she imagines other people are thinking about or evaluating him or her. Thus developmental changes in children's understanding about the mind, including individual differences in this knowledge, should bear directly on how children come to experience, identify, and understand self-conscious emotions.
Cutting and Dunn....examined whether having an earlier, more precocious understanding of mind might lead to greater sensitivity to criticism. That is, the more one knows about what others might be thinking and believing, the more cognizant one might also be that one could be the subject of negative evaluation. This is exactly what they found. Three- and 4-year-olds who demonstrated advanced knowledge about the mind (as assessed through false belief tasks) were more likely as kindergarteners to lower their evaluation of a "student" puppet's performance after it received negative remarks by the "teacher" puppet compared to kindergarteners with low theory of mind knowledge in preschool....Importantly, then, development in children's understanding of the mind may influence the emergence of a "looking glass self", or knowledge about the self that incorporates opinions of other people. This could result in increased vulnerability to feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment when standards are not met.
Variability in the frequency of self-conscious emotions can arise from individual differences in temperament. For example, Kochanska and her colleagues report that children who exhibit greater guilt in response to wrongdoing are more temperamentally fearful and reactive than those who show less guilt. Thus, temperamental qualities may make young children more versus less susceptible to the feelings of shame and guilt from parental criticism or disapproval, another's upset, or their own internal awareness of having acted wrongly.
That is, in comprehending behavioral standards, young children are aided by adults who convey behavioral expectations in everyday experiences. For example, once infants become capable of self-produced locomotion (around 9-12 months of age), caregivers significantly increase their communication of behavioral expectations as they caution, prevent, restrict, and sanction their exploratory forays—often resulting in battles of will.
Perhaps the most powerful way in which parents convey standards and evaluations is by how they choose to discipline their child when he or she misbehaves. An extensive research literature has shown that parental disciplinary practices that are coercive and power assertive elicit children's immediate compliance but also the child's frustration, and that long-term internalization of values—including guilt when children misbehave—is often lacking. By contrast, discipline practices that emphasize reasoning and provide justification for compliance are more likely to foster internalized values in young children and spontaneous guilt after wrongdoing....By inducing feelings of pride, shame, guilt, and other emotions, and providing a verbal response that makes these causal associations explicit, the parent promotes considerable moral and emotional socialization in these contexts.
As children internalize parents' evaluative standards for themselves, they increasingly experience pride, guilt, or shame on their own, even in situations where they are unsupervised or parental judgments are not immediately apparent. These internalized evaluations influence children's self-perceptions and help to explain why, over time, children come to perceive their characteristics and competencies in ways that are similar to how parents and teachers evaluate them. In families where parents are harshly critical or denigrating, this process can contribute to excessive guilt and shame because children come to internalize parental judgments and evaluations that are unreasonably negative.
Parents convey their expectations and evaluations of children's competencies in indirect ways as well. For example, Pomerantz found that with increasing age, children more often view their parents' efforts to monitor, guide, and provide uninvited help with homework as an indication that their parents have a low evaluation of their competence. This is particularly true for children of low ability, suggesting that these children may be most prone to experience shame in these situations.
In more extreme circumstances, the negative quality of the parent-child relationship poses a hazard to healthy emotional development. This is especially true when home life is threatening, troubled, or disorganized and children are directly affected by parental affective psychopathology, domestic violence, or other problems. A large literature documents the risks to children's emotional health when they are living with a depressed parent, for example, and studies have underscored the heightened vulnerability to guilty feelings and a sense of responsibility that derives from the caregiver's helplessness, irritability, and blaming others for her or his sad affect.
When parents talk and interact with their children during day-to-day events, they also convey cultural beliefs and expectations for behavior and achievement. These cultural values embedded in everyday conversations and routines can influence the development of children's understanding and experience of self-conscious emotions.
Cultural differences in whether the self is construed in an individualistic versus an interdependent fashion also influence the frequency and intensity of pride, shame, and guilt, including their precipitating causes and consequences. For example, experiences of pride, shame, and guilt may result more frequently from the behaviors of others in collectivist cultures that have less distinct boundaries between self and other....More generally, Americans more often express pride for personal accomplishments, whereas Chinese feel pride for achievements that can benefit others. Thus, the development of self-conscious emotions, including children's views on the value of these emotions, must be considered within the larger cultural belief system, particularly the conceptualization of self.
As children enter grade school and interact with peers in more competitive academic, social, and athletic activities, they more frequently compare their own skills, personality attributes, and characteristics to those of their peers as they become increasingly preoccupied with being accepted, valued, and approved by others outside of the family. During this time, children's internalization of rules and standards for achievement becomes more solidified, enabling them to better anticipate how other people, including peers and parents, will react to their behavioral choices, as well as how they will evaluate their own performance and moral attributes.
During middle childhood, children's self-evaluations and social comparisons become more accurate—resulting in more realistic self-appraisals that acknowledge both strengths and faults. Their self-evaluations also become more differentiated, as young people distinguish their strengths and weaknesses in different areas of competence, such as athletic, social, academic, and so forth. Self-esteem also becomes based on how competent children perceive themselves to be in the areas that are personally important to them...These assessments of self-worth, as well as personal attributions for success or failure, influence children's experience of self-conscious emotions, their motivation to engage in or avoid certain activities, and their persistence in the face of failure or difficulty.
There are several pieces of evidence pointing to a significant connection between theory of mind and self-conscious emotion development: young children with greater understanding of mental states demonstrate more sensitivity to criticism, and autistic children impaired in theory of mind knowledge demonstrate low knowledge about causes of self-conscious emotions.
Relationship quality, particularly security of attachment, is strongly connected to how children process information and evaluations about the self. Still, it is unknown whether securely and insecurely attached young children are differentially prone to experiencing guilt, pride, shame, or embarrassment. This is a topic meriting further investigation. A close parent-child relationship can support the growth of pride and self-confidence, for example, but it can also make young children more sensitive to parental criticism or disapproval.
Self-conscious emotions arise from children's self-perceptions and their awareness and adoption of external standards; however, these cognitive achievements are founded in, and informed by, children's everyday experiences, social relationships, and cultural belief systems. As these social connections continue to change and transform as the child develops (e.g., greater parental pressure for achievement and compliance, increased social comparison and extrafamilial evaluation), children's cognitions about themselves and about the situations that elicit feelings of pride, shame, guilt, and embarrassment continue to evolve.
While many attributes of human morphology and psychology closely parallel those of our closest relatives, the nonhuman primates, in addition to such obvious traits as an upright stance and larger brains, we also differ from our primate kin with regard to several fundamental aspects of behavior. First, to an unprecedented degree, our species relies on socially transmitted information (i.e., culture) to adapt to local physical and social environments. Second, only humans routinely cooperate with unrelated individuals—among other creatures, cooperative behavior, to the extent that it occurs at all, is usually restricted to close relatives. Focusing on shame, in this chapter I argue that these two attributes are key to understanding the existence and functioning of self-conscious emotions.
I suggest that our species' reliance on culture and cooperation favored the evolution of a new motivational system, one oriented not toward relationships between superiors and inferiors, but rather toward relationships among prospective cooperative partners. It is this orientation, I suggest, that lies at the heart of most human shame experiences, as shame functions to enhance conformity to cultural standards for behavior that form the basis for much cooperation; this perspective sheds light on the relationship between shame, the self, and decision making.
With remarkable fidelity, human shame and its opposite, pride, preserve the respective features of primate appeasement and threat displays, suggesting that shame and pride evolved from earlier emotions present in the common ancestors of humans and primates. Against this ethological backdrop, it is possible to infer the evolutionary development of human shame by exploring the circumstances in which shame is experienced.
First, shame is prototypically elicited by situations in which (1) the actor has failed to live up to some cultural standard for behavior, (2) others are aware of this failure, and (3) the actor is aware of others' knowledge in this regard.
Lacking cultural criteria whereby success is measured, for nonhuman primates social position is principally a function of dominance, the ability to forcibly displace a rival from a resource. Natural selection has presumably favored the evolution of the capacity to experience emotions that motivate animals to strive for dominance because access to resources (e.g., food, mates, refuge) is a primary determinant of survival and reproductive success. Viewed in this light, the aversive shame-like emotion experienced by subordinate individuals is part of a motivational system that leads actors to fight for higher rank.
However, while the biological significance of human dominance hierarchies is nontrivial, in most societies these relations are overshadowed by prestige hierarchies. Whereas in dominance hierarchies a superordinate social position is obtained through force or the threat thereof, in prestige hierarchies select individuals are elevated to superordinate positions by observers—in short, a dominant position is taken from others, but a prestigious position is given by others.
Prestige hierarchies are an outgrowth of the human reliance on socially transmitted information. We elevate individuals who perform exceptionally well in a culturally valued domain in part because, by deferring to them, we gain opportunities to observe, and learn from, their successful behavior. Much human social competition thus takes the form of attempts to excel at culturally defined activities—hierarchical social position is awarded by observers rather than wrested by force from adversaries...Below, I argue that we can understand many shame experiences in light of their implications not for competition, but rather for cooperation.
Although shame can be elicited by subordinance or defeat, the prototypical eliciting situation is not a competitive one, but rather a situation in which the actor has failed to conform to some cultural standard—rather than addressing issues of hierarchical ranking, shame often revolves around failing to meet some threshold for social acceptability.
Attention is a finite cognitive resource: the more that is devoted to one task, the less that is available for other tasks. Why, then, do humans expend so much of this important resource in both (1) monitoring the extent to which others conform to cultural standards, and (2) monitoring the extent to which our own behavior is being monitored? Competitive concerns play a role here, yet it is likely that attending to the actions and social position of one's rivals constitutes only a small fraction of all social monitoring, since (1) monitoring occurs even in many domains and activities that are not competitive, and (2) actors are cognizant of the presence of observers even when, due to their age, gender, or social position, the observers could not possibly be the actor's rivals. The key to understanding our obsession with watching one another's behavior lies in the fact that ours is a cooperative species.
Cooperative interactions are those in which two or more individuals incur some cost, whether by investing time, energy, or resources, or by forgoing other opportunities, in order to behave in a fashion that will benefit all involved. When efforts, energy, and knowledge are pooled, the results are often not merely additive, but multiplicative.
Because cooperative ventures entail the potential for both rewards and exploitation, natural selection can be expected to have crafted the mind so as to maximize the likelihood of obtaining the former and minimize the likelihood of suffering the latter. Monitoring others' behavior during cooperative ventures furthers these goals, as it often pays to be aware of how much each individual contributes to the activity (such monitoring is advantageous even when the observer is not a participant, as it is useful to gather information about prospective partners in anticipation of future endeavors).
The power of the psychological mechanisms regulating reputation management is illustrated by the facts that (1) looking obliquely into another person's eyes prior to participation in an economic experiment enhances cooperation, (2) the presence of a robotic face increases such cooperation, and (3) stylized eyespots suffice to induce individuals to behave more generously in economic games.
Cooperation itself can only take place after a more elementary problem, that of coordination, has been surmounted. Cooperative activities are contingent on the actor's ability to engage in actions that complement those of other participants: each actor must know both what to do and when to do it. The more individuals involved, and the more indirect their interactions, the more challenging coordination becomes.
Cultural information makes cooperation possible in part by defining the nature and timing of cooperative behavior. A determinant of an individual's attractiveness as a prospective cooperative partner is therefore the extent to which he or she possesses and is motivated to conform to relevant cultural understandings. However, because there are many forms of cooperative activity, with new permutations always possible, it is often difficult to assess others' adequacy in this regard. One solution is to gauge the target individual's conformity to diverse cultural understandings in order to assess familiarity with, and motivation to adhere to, the cultural standards of the given group...Observing that someone consistently behaves appropriately in a variety of activities thus provides an initial indication that the individual likely both (1) possesses the cultural knowledge relevant to a given cooperative enterprise, and (2) is motivated to adhere to cultural standards in a manner that facilitates coordination.
Paralleling work by others, this perspective generates the prediction that the appropriate and timely presentation of the shame display should reduce the costs that morally outraged witnesses seek to inflict on those who violate important cultural standards. Moreover, this approach provides a solution to the puzzle raised earlier, namely, why, if prestige hierarchies have largely replaced dominance hierarchies in human societies, and if shame's appeasement display is costly in prestige competitions, both the display and the attendant behavioral tendencies have nevertheless been retained—in a world in which norm violations evoke moralistic punishment, the appeasement facets of shame are an effective means of communicating acquiescence to moralistically hostile others.
Because degree of conformity to moralized standards for behavior is likely predictive of both the probability that an actor will not defect in a cooperative relationship and the probability that the actor will behave in a predictable manner facilitating coordination, in ancestral populations, adherence to such rules will have often influenced an individual's survival and reproductive success; natural selection can thus be expected to have given particular weight to conformity to highly moralized cultural standards. While there is debate about the exact relationship between shame and embarrassment, it is plausible that selection created a division of labor, with shame motivating conformity to the most moralized cultural standards, and embarrassment motivating conformity to many cultural rules that hold less moral import.
First, all else being equal, the more serious the rule violation at issue, the more it damages the actor's reputation as a cooperator, and hence the greater the aversive experience of shame that should accompany others' learning of it. Second, the greater the number of people who know of a given transgression, the larger the number of opportunities for cooperation that may be lost, and hence the more intense the experience of shame that should follow. Next, the identities of observers should affect the intensity of shame. The costliness of the reputational damage entailed by a given transgression is in part a function of the extent to which those who learn of it are attractive as prospective cooperative partners.
The extent of similarity between the actor and those who know of the transgression can thus be expected to influence shame intensity. Individuals who excel in domains relevant to the actor's objectives are valuable prospective partners; hence knowledge of the transgression by such individuals is costly to the actor, and therefore likely to exacerbate shame intensity. Overlapping with, but separate from, the attractiveness of observers as potential cooperation partners is the extent to which those who know of the transgression can influence others' assessments of the actor.
Phenomenologically, guilt focuses on the actions that elicited it, while shame focuses on the actor: one feels guilt over what one has done, but feels shame over who one is. The latter is an outgrowth of the fitness consequences that attend reputation management. To see why, consider the role of self-assessment in decision making. In many domains, determining which course of action is optimal is contingent on one's future prospects. Individuals whose prospects are dim have little to lose, and much to gain, by extensive risk taking; conversely, those whose prospects are bright benefit from a more conservative strategy. Optimization thus requires an index of future prospects. Future prospects are a function of the consequences of past and current successes and failures; hence we can expect the mind to maintain a running tally in which, weighted for their potential impacts on fitness, past and current events are summed. Self-esteem functions in this manner, and can be conceptualized as a constantly updated subjective index of the actor's future fitness prospects.