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Why Disproportionately High Self-Esteem Still Isn't A Good Thing

January 4, 2013, 11:17 AM

What's the Latest Development?

Psychologist Jean Twenge and colleagues examined the data collected from the American Freshman Survey over the almost-50 years since it was first given to students as a way for them to measure their abilities and skills against their peers. They found that self-appraisals of individualistic traits commonly seen as positives -- high intellectual confidence and work drive among them -- increased dramatically, while those of more community-minded traits stayed the same or decreased. In addition, high self-appraisals didn't bear out against actual achievement measures: For example, the number of students who said they studied six or more hours a week dropped over time, despite the rise in claims of a strong work drive.

What's the Big Idea?

In a separate study using 30 years' worth of data from the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, Twenge found that the number of surveyed students who exhibited narcissistic traits rose by almost a third. In her opinion, the line between high self-esteem and narcissism has gotten increasingly thin, which bodes poorly for long-term success. Years of additional research from others demonstrating the lack of connection between high self-esteem and measurable positive life outcomes continues to be ignored: "[T]hat belief...it's widely held, it's very deeply held, and it's also untrue."

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