Researchers found that college students valued boosts to their self-esteem more than any other pleasant activity they were asked about, including sex, favorite foods, drinking alcohol, seeing a best friend or receiving a paycheck.
“It is somewhat surprising how this desire to feel worthy and valuable trumps almost any other pleasant activity you can imagine,” said Brad Bushman, lead author of the research and professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.
Bushman conducted the research with Scott Moeller of Brookhaven National Laboratory and Jennifer Crocker, professor of psychology at Ohio State. The study appears online in the Journal of Personality and will be published in a future print edition.
In this study, participants liked all the pleasant activities more than they wanted them, which is healthy, Bushman said. But the difference between liking and wanting was smallest when it came to self-esteem.
“It wouldn’t be correct to say that the study participants were addicted to self-esteem,” Bushman said. “But they were closer to being addicted to self-esteem than they were to being addicted to any other activity we studied.”
Findings showed that people with a strong sense of entitlement were the ones who were most likely to “want” the good things in life – including boosts to their self-esteem – even more than they actually “like” them… “Entitled people want all the good things in life, even if they don’t particularly like them,” Bushman said. “Of course, there’s no problem with enjoying good things, but it is not healthy to want them more than you like them.”
“American society seems to believe that self-esteem is the cure all for every social ill, from bad grades to teen pregnancies to violence,” he said. “But there has been no evidence that boosting self-esteem actually helps with these problems. We may be too focused on increasing self-esteem.”
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