Fragile High Self-Esteem, Self-Doubt, and Destructive Behavior
Seery, Mark Principal Investigator
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This project investigates the relationships between fragile high self-esteem, self-doubt, and self- and other-focused destructive behavior. Self-esteem has been a topic of substantial interest to researchers and the public alike because of high self-esteem's presumed importance for psychological well-being. Recent evidence, however, suggests that high self-esteem comprises subtypes, and that one subtype in particular, fragile high self-esteem, may be associated with undesirable qualities that have important societal implications, such as aggression in the face of perceived threat. This research includes 5 studies which use psychophysiological measures to offer new insight into the experience of people with fragile high-self esteem. The proposed research can advance existing knowledge in a number of major ways. For example, although multiple facets of fragile high self-esteem have been linked theoretically, a core element -- easily activated self-doubt -- has yet to be empirically demonstrated. In this work, it will be tested as a core element. In addition, a range of seemingly disparate behaviors that are destructive to the self and others will also be investigated. The distinct bodies of evidence associated with the destructive behaviors will be bridged by testing a common link to easily activated self-doubt among people with fragile high self-esteem This research seeks to illuminate why people with fragile high self-esteem engage in destructive behavior and as such it has several potential benefits for society. First, substantial resources are regularly invested in trying to raise people's self-esteem. Understanding fragile high self-esteem will help to ensure that such well-intended efforts do not inadvertently create it. Second, this research can suggest methods to prevent people from engaging in costly destructive behavior. The behaviors under investigation include aggression and ethnic discrimination, both of which contribute to important social problems. Given these benefits, results of the proposed research should generate broad interest in both the field of psychology and the general public.