Beliefs Impact Self Esteem

This study was undertaken to test an established theory proposed by William James in 1890 that the self-esteem of a person depends on the value a person gives to several aspects and abilities of his life. This study was a compilation of information from four large sample populations from Sweden, Great Britain, Turkey and Portugal. Results showed that James’ hypothesis holds true and things such as how important you personally view an accopmlishment is associated with self-esteem and how different individuals rate accomplishments with varying values.

A large number of studies have tried to explore the factors that affect self-esteem. William James in 1890 proposed a hypothesis that self-esteem has determinants within a person’s evaluation of different aspects of life and perceptions. He uses his own example to explain this by saying, “I, who for the time, have staked my all on being a psychologist, am mortified if others know much more psychology than I. But I am contented to wallow in the grossest ignorance of Greek. My deficiencies there give me no sense of personal humiliation at all. Had I ‘pretensions’ to be a linguist, it would have been just the reverse.” This study attempted to explore if this hypothesis held true and if people’s self-esteem was indeed guided by their “successes” and “pretensions” about themselves. The results of previous studies on similar lines have been varied.

* A culturally diverse population was selected for this study. The study subjects were included from four countries and were from different walks of life. A total of 1,831 people were included.
* All participants were given questionnaires that rated their ideas about themselves or the way they rated themselves. The questionnaire asked 60 different questions regarding all areas of success such as sports, physical attractiveness and academics, wherein the participants had to rate their responses.
* Thereafter, the volunteers filled in questionnaires that assessed their self-esteem.

Results/Key findings
* The results showed that people who placed more importance on their individual competences, also tended to do well in their self-esteem scores; especially so with respect to sports accomplishments.
* Awareness of physical attractiveness contributed significantly to the self-esteem and self-worth of the individuals.
* Results also showed that participants’ perception of importance of a particular ability or competence was directly proportional to their self-esteem.
* Results also showed that when people rated themselves low for an ability like sports or physical strength, they discounted that ability and it eventually did not affect their self-esteem.

Next steps/Shortcomings
Authors admit that their study looked only at individuals who were young. This could mean that the results might differ in other age groups. Also, this study was conducted at one cross-section in time. A more long-term study could provide deeper understandings of self-esteem and its determinants. There could have been situational changes in the participants at that particular time of the study that may have skewed the results.

This study proves James’ hypothesis that the importance one attaches to an ability or characteristic, directly affects the person’s level of self-esteem. It also shows that when a person is aware of his shortcomings in a particular area, like sports or body strength, he does not let the discrepancy affect his self-esteem. Authors conclude that there have been variations in these findings in previous studies due to the approach to designing the study and its tools. This study has tried to address some of the shortcomings of the previous studies, and to come up with a more reliable result. Authors suggest future long-term studies to explore a person’s different abilities and attributes with respect to age and sex and their association with evaluation of self.

For More Information:
The Importance of Importance in the Physical Self: Support for the Theoretically Appealing but Empirically Elusive Model of James
Publication Journal: The Journal of Personality, Accepted Article
By Magnus Lindwall; F. Hülya Asci; University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden, and Baskent University, Ankara, Turkey

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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