Overestimating the importance of self-esteem

High self-esteem is generally regarded as extremely important for children’s development and achievement. Socially troublesome behavior is often explained as an outcome of low self-esteem. The California Task Force conducted an extensive review of relevant research findings and, unexpectedly, failed to find any causal relationship for self-esteem. Although social behaviors are complex and have many causes, self-esteem had little value as a statistical
predictor of problem behaviors such as unwanted pregnancy, violence or crime. And it appeared unrelated to academic performance.

Research indicates that giving students incentives to study harder is more likely to raise their grades than programs designed to make them feel good about themselves. “To the extent that there is a relationship between self-esteem and behavior, research indicates that self-esteem is the outcome rather than the cause. High self-esteem follows successful and goal-directed efforts; low self-esteem follows avoidable failures.” And there is a negative side to high self-esteem — it appears to increase the likelihood of selfishness and narcissism.

“Commentary: Self-Esteem and Its Discontents” by Joachim Krueger, Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, November 1997, p.7

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