Individual Differences in Trait Self-Esteem


Sociometer theory predicts that individual differences in trait self-esteem should be predicted by how accepted people generally feel they are (Leary & Baumeister, 2000). In essence, trait self-esteem may be conceptualized as the resting position of the sociometer in the absence of explicit social feedback. In support of this idea, Leary et al. (1995, Study 5) found that two separate measures of trait self-esteem each correlated in excess of .50 with the degree to which respondents felt that other people valued and accepted them. Similarly, Cottrell and Leary (2001) found that perceived acceptance accounted for almost 40% of the variance in trait self-esteem

In an experimental study, Haupt and Leary (1997) showed that people with low self-esteem assume that other people who they have not yet met will be more likely to reject them than people with high self-esteem.
Summary and Critique

In general, support for sociometer theory is quite strong. Not only have studies designed to test the theory’s predictions generally supported it, but the theory has been able to explain and integrate much of the existing literature on self-esteem (Leary & Baumeister, 2000). Although there seems little doubt that self-esteem is exquisitely sensitive to events that connote relational devaluation and that people act as if they use self-esteem to gauge their social acceptability, the question may be raised of whether self-esteem is “only” a sociometer. Is self-esteem affected only by events with real or imagined implications for acceptance and rejection, or do other things influence self-esteem as well? When people appear to be motivated to protect or enhance their self-esteem are they always actually seeking to increase social acceptance or avoid rejection? Although the strong version of sociometer theory maintains that all self-esteem phenomena are based on acceptance and rejection (or, possibly, are the result of processes that have become functionally autonomous), we should be open to the possibility that self-esteem may serve other interpersonal functions (Kirkpatrick & Ellis, in press)..

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