Get those blue ribbons and gold stars ready. A team of researchers say young adults seem to value benefits to their self-esteems, such as receiving a good grade, or a compliment, more than other pleasant experiences, such as eating a favorite food, drinking alcohol, or sex.
An article detailing the experiment is in an online edition of the Journal of Personality, and will be in a future print edition. Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University, Scott Moeller of Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Jennifer Crocker, a professor of psychology at Ohio State, conducted two studies to arrive at their final conclusion.
In both studies, participants were asked to rate how much they like specific activities, from talking with a friend to getting praise. Then they were asked to rate how much they wanted these things to happen. Previous research has indicated that addiction can be detected when one wants something even more than one likes it. For most activities, most of the students had a healthy perspective: They like cake, but don’t want it more than they like it. However, many students indicated wanting self-esteem boosters as much or more than they like getting them. And students in general rated figurative pats on the back more highly than other pleasures.
In one of the studies, the participants took a test they were told measures intellectual ability. After the students saw their scores, researchers offered to recalculate the scores with a different formula that usually results in higher numbers. Students who valued self-esteem a great deal were far more likely to wait around for new, potentially higher, scores.
The researchers stop short of claiming any of the study participants are “addicted” to positive self-esteem, but they do warn that these inclinations can have negative effects. Someone who is overly protective of her self-esteem might be reluctant to acknowledge mistakes, for example.
Do these results surprise you? How much do you think your students — and student staff — value praise?