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friend. In each case, the self subtly adjusts our perceptions, emotions, and behaviors in
the service of enhancing self-esteem.

Self-Enhancement and Coping with Disaster: The Survivors of
September 11, 2001
An estimated 2,800 individuals lost their lives in the World Trade Center (WTC) build-
ings on that traumatic and horrifying day in 2001. Thousands of other individuals in the
near vicinity or in the WTC survived but were exposed to both physical and psycho-
logical trauma. Bonnanno, Rennicke, and Dekel (2005) investigated how some survi-
vors coped with this massive trauma. These researchers were very interested in those
people who, while directly exposed to the attacks, showed few psychological effects of
their experience. The study focused on those “resilient” individuals who used a kind of
unrealistic self-enhancement strategy to deal with the trauma. These people in fact used
self-enhancing strategies all of their lives so they did not alter their approach to deal
with 9/11. The researchers wanted to know whether these self-enhancing “resilients”
were truly in control of their emotions or were just whistling in the dark, so to speak.
Self-enhancement in this context refers to the tendency to have overly positive or
unrealistic self-serving biases (Bonnanno et al., 2005). Many researchers think that
self-enhancement biases actually are very good things and lead to many positive out-
comes, including increased survival of serious, life-threatening illnesses (Taylor, Lerner,
Sherman, Sage, & McDowell, 2003). Self-enhancers who were directly exposed to the
attack on the WTC showed fewer post-traumatic and fewer depressive symptoms than
other individuals who were at the scene on September 11. Self-enhancers have a very
positive view of themselves and believe that they are in total control of themselves.
They tend to project very positive feelings. Are these feelings real, or are they just a
front for underlying problems?
Bonanno and his associates (2005) found that while other people were rather annoyed
at the “resilient” self-enhancers and their remarkably upbeat attitudes in the face of the
tragedy, these self-enhancers did not seem to be aware of this and in fact recovered from
the trauma quicker than most, with fewer psychological scars. So, if you donʼt mind
the fact that your friend might not appreciate your attitude, self-enhancement seems to
be a pretty good approach to lifeʼs vicissitudes.
Social Psychology
44


Self-Esteem and Stigma
We have seen that people often de¬ne themselves in terms of attributes that distinguish
themselves from others. Sometimes these attributes are positive (“I was always the best
athlete”), and sometimes they are negative (“I was always overweight”). Some individu-
als have characteristics that are stigmatized”marked by society”and therefore they
risk rejection whenever those aspects of themselves are recognized. One would expect
that culturally de¬ned stigmas would affect a personʼs self-esteem.
Frable, Platt, and Hoey (1998) wondered what effect stigmas that were either visible
or concealable had on self-esteem. These researchers had Harvard University under-
graduates rate their momentary self-esteem and feelings during everyday situations in
their lives. Some of these students had concealable stigmas; that is, these culturally
de¬ned faults were hidden from the observer. The individuals were gay, bulimic, or
came from poor families. Others had more visibly socially de¬ned stigmas; they were
African American, or stutterers, or 30 pounds overweight.
Frable and her coworkers thought that those people with concealable stigmas would
be most prone to low self-esteem, because they rarely would be in the company of
people who had similar stigmas. Other people who belong to the “marked” group can
provide social support and more positive perceptions of the membership of the stigma-
tized group than can nonmembers. For example, cancer patients who belong to support
groups and have other strong social support generally have more favorable prognoses
than do those patients who remain isolated (Frable et al., 1998). In fact, these research-
ers found that those who were gay, poor, bulimic, or had other concealable stigmas had
lower self-esteem and more negative feelings about themselves than both those with
visible stigmas or people without any social stigmas at all. This suggests that group
membership that can offer support and positive feelings raises our self-esteem and
buffers us against negative social evaluations.
Although the Frable study indicates that visible stigmas have a less negative
in¬‚uence on self-esteem than do the concealable ones, conspicuous stigmas, such as
being overweight, have de¬nite negative effects on self-esteem as well. Early in life
we get a sense of our physical self. Western culture pays particular attention to physi-
cal attractiveness, or lack of the same, and it should not be surprising that our sense
of our physical appearance affects our self-esteem. As an aspect of appearance, body
weight plays a role in self-esteem. One need only gaze at the diet books and maga-
zines at supermarket checkout counters to con¬rm the importance of body types in
our society.
Miller and Downey (1990) examined the relationship between self-esteem and
body weight. They found that individuals who were classi¬ed as “heavyweights”
(to distinguish these people from individuals who were obese because of glandular
problems) reported lower self-esteem. This ¬nding was particularly true for females,
but heavyweight males also tended to have lower self-esteem. Interestingly, those
individuals who were in fact in the heavyweight category but did not think that they
were did not have lower self-esteem. This suggests that what is important is whether
the individual is marked with disgrace”stigmatized”in his or her own eyes. It may
be that those who are heavyweight but do not feel that they have to match some ideal
body type do not carry the same psychological burden that other heavyweights do.
This suggests that feelings about ourselves come from our evaluations of ourselves in
terms of our internal standards, our self-guides. It is probable that heavyweights who
had higher self-esteem had a better match between their ideal and actual selves than
did other overweight individuals.
Chapter 2 The Social Self 45


Self-Esteem and Cultural In¬‚uences
Self-esteem, as you might think, is in¬‚uenced by factors other than oneʼs personal
experiences. After all, we live and identify with certain groups, small and large. We are
students or professors at certain colleges and universities, we root for various sports
teams, we have various religious, social, and national af¬liations. All of these things
in¬‚uence our self esteem.
Schmitt and Allik (2005) studied the relationship between culture and “global
self-esteem, de¬ned as oneʼs general sense of how worthy one is as a person.” These
researchers employed a commonly used measure of self-esteem known as the Rosenberg
Self-Esteem Scale (RESS). They had this instrument translated into 28 different lan-
guages and had 17,000 people in 53 different countries take the test. Researchers Schmitt
and Allik (2005) found that people in all nations have generally positive self-esteem. It
seems that positive self-esteem appears to be culturally universal.
A closer analysis of their data led these researchers to conclude that while
individuals in all of these 53 countries had meaningful concepts of what self-esteem
meant, there was also evidence indicating that in some countries (African and Asian
cultures) people are less likely to engage in self-evaluation, which, of course, is
the basis of self-esteem. Nevertheless, feeling positive about oneself seems to be
universal, and the assumption that self-esteem is usually higher or more positive in
individualistic cultures (e.g., the United States) as opposed to in collectivist cultures
(e.g., Indonesia) in which the group tends to be more important seems not to be true
(Schmitt & Allik, 2005).

What™s So Good about High Self-Esteem?
What can we conclude about our discussion of self-esteem? It seems that high self-esteem
is assumed to have positive effects, and low self-esteem, negative effects. Recently,
researchers such as Jennifer Crocker have raised doubts about these conclusions and
have suggested, based upon a closer review of the research, that the real bene¬ts of high
self-esteem are “small and limited” (Crocker & Park, 2004). Baumeister, Campbell,
Krueger, and Vohs, (2003) also argued that high self-esteem may lead to good feelings
and may make people more resourceful but does not cause high academic achievement,
good job performance, or leadership; nor does low self-esteem cause violence, smoking,
drinking, taking drugs, or becoming sexually active at an early age.
Crocker, Campbell, and Park (2003) have examined the effects of the pursuit of
self-esteem rather than just examining who has low or high self-esteem scores. Most
individuals tend to judge their own self-worth by what they need to do to be seen as
a person of worth and value. In other words, they judge their self-esteem by exter-
nal reactions. It often means competing with others. This explains to some extent the
observation that high-self-esteem individuals are quick to react violently when their
self-esteem is questioned.
While we tend to think that high self-esteem is a really good thing, we have not,
as Roy Baumeister (2001) notes, looked closely at the consequences, good and bad,
of self-esteem on behavior. Indeed, the evidence suggests that high-self-esteem indi-
viduals are more likely to be violent when their self-esteem is threatened (Baumeister,
2001). This pursuit apparently only produces rather temporary emotional bene¬ts but
imposes high costs. Crocker et al. (2003) argue that the pursuit of self-esteem “inter-
feres with relatedness with other people, learning, personal autonomy, self-regulation,
and mental and physical health.”
Social Psychology
46

Others have observed that while high self-esteem is related to all kinds of positive
behaviors, because self-esteem seems to be based upon what people believe is the best
way to live (their “worldview”), high self-esteem can also be a cause of horrible and
tragic events, not unlike September 11, 2001. After all, in one worldview, “heroic mar-
tyrdom” is a good thing (Pyszczynski, Greenberg, Solomon, Arndt, & Schimel, 2004,
p. 461). So high self-esteem in and of itself may not be good or bad. It depends upon
the way one behaves (Pyszczynski et al., 2004).

Implicit and Explicit Self-Esteem
The resolution to the question of what good is high self-esteem may be found in the
idea that there are really two kinds of high self-esteem. The ¬rst is the kind of self-
esteem that is below our conscious awareness. The implicit self-esteem refers to a
implicit self-esteem
An ef¬cient system of self- very ef¬cient system of self-evaluation that is below our conscious awareness (Jordan,
evaluation that is below our Spencer, & Zanna, 2005, p. 693). As you might imagine, implicit self-esteem comes
conscious awareness.
from parents who nuture their children but do not overprotect them (DeHart, Pelham,
& Tennen, 2006). This kind of self-esteem is unconscious and uncontrolled by the
individual (Dehart et al., 2006). Implicit self-esteem is automatic and less likely to be
affected by day-to-day events.
In comparison, the kind of high self-esteem weʼve been talking about, more fairly
explicit self-esteem called explicit self-esteem, arises primarily from interaction with people in our everyday
Self-esteem that arises life. We might expect that the two self-esteems would be related, but that appears not
primarily from interaction to be the case (DeHart et al., 2006). High implicit self-esteem is related to very posi-
with people in our
tive health and social attributes, while explicit self-esteem seems to be a more fragile
everyday life.
or defensive self-esteem, which accounts for the emotional reactions that threats to
these individuals evoke.


Self-Control: How People Regulate Their Behavior
Maintaining self-esteem is a very powerful motive. However, an equally powerful self-
motive is to maintain self-control, a very good predictor of success in life.

Self-Control and Self-Regulation
Social psychologist E. Troy Higgins (1989) proposed that people think of themselves
from two different standpoints: their own perspective and that of a signi¬cant other,
such as a parent or a close friend. He also suggested that people have three selves that
guide their behavior. The ¬rst is the actual self, the personʼs current self-concept. The
actual self A person™s
current self-concept. second is the ideal self, the mental representation of what the person would like to be
or what a signi¬cant other would like him or her to be. The third is the ought self, the
ideal self The mental
mental representation of what the person believes he or she should be.
representation of what a
person would like to be Higgins (1989) assumed that people are motivated to reach a state in which the
or what a signi¬cant other actual self matches the ideal and the ought selves. The latter two selves thus serve as
would like him or her to be. guides to behavior. In Higginsʼs Self-Discrepancy Theory, when there is a discrepancy
between the actual self and the self-guides, we are motivated to try to close the gap.
ought self The mental
representation of what a That is, when our actual self doesnʼt match our internal expectations and standards,
person believes he or she or when someone else evaluates us in ways that fail to match our standards, we try to
should be.
narrow the gap. We try to adjust our behavior to bring it into line with our self-guides.
Chapter 2 The Social Self 47

self-regulation A critical
The process we use to make such adjustments is known as self-regulation, which is
control mechanism used by
our attempt to match our behavior or our self-guides to the expectations of others and
individuals to match behavior
is a critical control mechanism.
to internal standards of the self
Not only will individuals differ on the need to self-regulate, so will people who live or to the expectations of others.
in different cultures. Heine and Lehman (1999) observed that whereas residents of the
United States and Canada showed a strong bias toward adapting to othersʼ expectations,
Japanese citizens are less likely to try to self-regulate. Heine and Lehman found that
their Japanese participants were much more self-critical than were North Americans
and had greater discrepancies between their actual self and the ideal or ought selves,
but these differences were less distressful for the Japanese and did not motivate them
to change.
The closer the match among our various self-concepts, the better we feel about
ourselves. Additionally, the more information we have about ourselves and the more
certain we are of it, the better we feel about ourselves. This is especially true if the self-
attributes we are most certain of are those that are most important to us (Pelham, 1991).
Our ability to self-regulate, to match our performance to our expectations and standards,
also affects our self-esteem. In sum, then, we tend to have high self-esteem if we have
a close match among our selves; strong and certain knowledge about ourselves, espe-
cially if it includes attributes that we value; and the ability to self-regulate.
We know that the inability to regulate our self leads to negative emotions. Higgins
(1998) investigated the emotional consequences of good matches versus discrepancies
among the selves. When there is a good match between our actual self and our ideal
self, we experience feelings of satisfaction and high self-esteem. When there is a good
match between our actual self and our ought self, we experience feelings of security.
(Recall that the actual self is what you or another currently think you are; the ideal self
is the mental representation of the attributes that either you or another would like you
to be or wishes you could be; and the ought self is the person that you or others believe
you should be.) Good matches may also allow people to focus their attention outside
themselves, on other people and activities.
But what happens when we canʼt close the discrepancy gap? Sometimes, of course,
we simply are not capable of behaving in accord with our expectations. We might not
have the ability, talent, or fortitude. In this case, we may have to adjust our expecta-
tions to match our behavior. And sometimes it seems to be in our best interests not to
focus on the self at all; to do so may be too painful, or it may get in the way of what
weʼre doing.
In general, however, these discrepancies, if sizable, lead to negative emotions and
low self-esteem. As with good matches, the exact nature of the negative emotional
response depends on which self-guide we believe we are not matching (Higgins &
Tykocinsky, 1992). Higgins, Shah, and Friedman (1997) reported that the larger the
differences between the actual and ideal selves, the more dejected and disappointed
the individuals felt, but only if they were aware of that difference. In a similar vein,
the larger the discrepancy between the actual self and the ought self, the more people
felt agitated and tense, just as the theory predicts. Again, this was true only for those
people who were aware of the discrepancy. These ¬ndings mean that when self-guides
are uppermost in peopleʼs minds, when people focus on these guides, then the emo-
tional consequences of not meeting the expectations of those guides have their stron-
gest effects. People who indicated, for instance, that they were punished or criticized
by their parents for not being the person they ought to be reported that they frequently
felt anxious or uneasy (Higgins, 1998).
Social Psychology
48

It turns out that discrepancies between what you are and what you would like to be
can serve as a very positive motivating force. For example, Ouellete and her colleagues
studied the effect of possible selves on exercise. They reasoned that a possible self is
a personʼs idea of what they might become. Now, that might be both good and bad. If
I ¬‚unk out of college, I might have to work in a factory. Thatʼs one possible self. But
the image that these researchers were dealing with was one in which individuals were
motivated by a possible self that projected an image of signi¬cant positive bodily and
mental changes that would occur from an exercise program. They asked the individu-
als to conjure up images of what successful completion of such a program would mean
for them. The results showed that these health images had a signi¬cant impact on the
behavior of these individuals. The possible self motivated them to actually attain that
image (Ouellette, Hessling, Gibbons, Reis-Bergan, & Garrard, 2005).
Of course, if we are not aware of the discrepancies between what we are and what
weʼd like to be or what we should be, the negative emotions that self-discrepancy theory
predicts will not come to pass (Philips & Silvia, 2005). Research has shown that when
people are not particularly focused on themselves, self-discrepancies go unnoticed.
One might imagine that a combat soldier would be untroubled by these psychological
differences. However, when self-awareness is high, discrepancies become very notice-

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