2002 October 07 Monday
Self Esteem may be overrated

This NY Times article makes the argument that self esteem is not a curative for anti-social behavior:

In an extensive review of studies, for example, Dr. Nicholas Emler, a social psychologist at the London School of Economics, found no clear link between low self-esteem and delinquency, violence against others, teenage smoking, drug use or racism, though a poor self-image was one of several factors contributing to self-destructive behaviors like suicide, eating disorders and teenage pregnancy.

High self-esteem, on the other hand, was positively correlated with racist attitudes, drunken driving and other risky behaviors, Dr. Emler found in his 2001 review. Though academic success or failure had some effect on self-esteem, students with high self-esteem were likely to explain away their failures with excuses, while those with low self-esteem discounted their successes as flukes.

One has to define what one means by self esteem and different people use different definitions. For instance, the Nathaniel Branden definition is likely to differ in significant ways from the sorts of definitions used by some of the researchers whose results are cited in this article. However, the article does make a number of good points and self esteem's importance is overrated. Self esteem is a perception that one has about one's efficacy and that perception can simply be wrong. Also, a person can have a high opinion of one's ability to deal with reality and be lacking in internalised norms of civil and ethical behavior. The article cites narcissism as an even greater cause of violence and other anti-social behaviors.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 October 07 03:14 PM 

Howard Veit said at October 8, 2002 2:03 PM:

I have associated with two major criminals in my life. Both have been in prison (as opposed to jail). Both had the most disgustingly high self esteem of anyone I've ever met.

I think this entire "self esteem" bit should be more rightly be called "self delusion". If you're an illiterate drunk with no job you absolutely should feel very bad about yourself. You are right to have low self esteem. You see reality. The only way to feel better is to stop doing what you've been doing and turn your life around.

John Ray said at October 9, 2002 6:30 AM:

I have a few words on self-esteem too -- particularly as it applies to blacks. See: http://jonjayray.blogspot.com

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