Molly Gray / Lantern designer
Drinking alcohol, going out with friends and receiving a paycheck are essential for some college students, but new research says receiving a compliment trumps all.
Brad Bushman, Rinehart chair of mass communication at Ohio State, Scott Moeller, research associate at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., and Jennifer Crocker, OSU psychology professor, performed a study measuring how much college students valued self-esteem.
“The study was conducted following a hypothesis that was proposed by another researcher that narcissists are addicted to self-esteem,” Moeller said in an e-mail.
A Jan. 10 press release said researchers asked college students how much they indulge themselves in social activities, such as having sex or seeing a best friend. They were then asked to rate how much they wanted and liked each activity on a scale from one (not at all) to five (extremely).
The results showed students were more inclined to perform activities that boosted their self-esteem than any other activity provided.
“We were all shocked. Self-esteem was not only more important for narcissists, but for everyone,” Moeller said.
Bushman said he cannot pinpoint one cause for these results but linked them to several causes including parenting, media and social-networking sites.
“There’s no simple answer. We do know they (self-esteem scores in college students) are going up,” Bushman said. “(There is) YouTube and Facebook that allow people to promote themselves … we didn’t have that before.”
Lynne Lyles, a fourth-year in human development and family science, said media influence could be one reason for these results.
“There is such an emphasis to be successful and to get a job,” Lyles said. “The media really puts an emphasis on how good one can look. You have Facebook and Twitter and all these other outlets to promote yourself, so people are fishing for compliments.”
Lyles said even though she didn’t find the results to be exceptionally shocking, she was surprised to see students choosing to receive compliments over any other activity provided.
“I find it interesting but not shocking because we live in a narcissistic society,” Lyles said. “We strive off of acknowledgement when we do something good, but I didn’t know this was this meaningful to people our age.”
Keisha Tibbs, a fourth-year in psychology, said she finds the results interesting but not surprising.
“Everyone tries to get to their own self-actualization,” Tibbs said. “Confidence in yourself lasts longer (than other activities like having sex).”
Although college students’ self-esteem scores have been increasing steadily over the years, there is no direct correlation to academic behavior, Bushman said. There can be some negative effects from striving to boost self-esteem, he said.
“I don’t think self-esteem is bad by itself, but when people strive to attain it, they miss things that may be important,” Moeller said. “You might not want to admit to a mistake … so you might miss out on the learning.”
Bushman said self-esteem becomes problematic when society assumes increasing self-esteem can remedy bad behavior.
“Self-esteem should follow good behavior, not precede it,” Bushman said.