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January 05, 2005

Self-esteem

Scientific American considers self-esteem. I was particularly pleased by reports of a 1995 study by Edward F. Diener and Brian Wolsic of the University of Illinois and Frank Fujita of Indiana University South Bend (via Zacht Ei).

They obtained self-esteem scores from a broad sample of the population and then photographed everybody, presenting these pictures to a panel of judges, who evaluated the subjects for attractiveness. Ratings based on full-length photographs showed no significant correlation with self-esteem. Head-and-shoulders close-ups fared slightly better, but even this finding is dubious, because individuals with high self-esteem might take particular care to present themselves well, such as by wearing attractive clothing and jewelry. The 1995 study suggests as much: when the judges were shown pictures of just the participants' unadorned faces, the modest correlation between attractiveness and self-esteem fell to zero. In that same investigation, however, self-reported physical attractiveness was found to have a strong correlation with self-esteem. Clearly, those with high self-esteem are gorgeous in their own eyes but not necessarily so to others.

This discrepancy should be sobering. What seemed at first to be a strong link between physical good looks and high self-esteem turned out to be nothing more than a pattern of consistency in how favorably people rate themselves. A parallel phenomenon affects those with low self-esteem, who are prone to floccinaucinihilipilification, a highfalutin word (among the longest in the Oxford English Dictionary) but one that we can't resist using here, it being defined as "the action or habit of estimating as worthless." That is, people with low self-esteem are not merely down on themselves; they are negative about everything.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at January 5, 2005 06:08 AM

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