60-Second Science

Boosting Self-Esteem Trumps Other Pleasures

College students rated getting a good grade or a compliment higher than other, seemingly more pleasurable activities. Karen Hopkin reports

Remember affirmations? [“Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me.”] Well, if Stuart Smalley’s shot in the arm makes you smile, you’re not alone. Because a new study shows that young people would rather pump up their self-esteem than see a friend, have a drink or cash a big fat paycheck. The results appear in the Journal of Personality. [Brad Bushman, Scott Moeller and Jennifer Crocker, "Sweets, Sex, or Self-Esteem? Comparing the Value of Self-Esteem Boosts with Other Pleasant Rewards"]

We all like feeling good about ourselves. But can a little praise really trump a slice of pizza, a great party or a wad of cash? College students were given a questionnaire. And they were asked to rate various activities based on how much they liked or wanted them. Things like: drinking, hanging with friends, having sex, and getting paid.

The results? Undergrads do like those things. But not as much as they say they like getting good grades or a compliment. Study author Brad Bushman says “American society seems to believe that self-esteem is the cure all for every social ill, from bad grades to teen pregnancies to violence. But there has been no evidence that boosting self-esteem actually helps with these problems. We may be too focused on increasing self-esteem.”

—Karen Hopkin

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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