Crying Over Spilt Milk

We should feel good about ourselves. In general, we are encouraged to do this from an early age and most of us are familiar with the comment that “if we don’t, who will?” So parents and teachers shower encouragement on us like confetti as we develop. In the business world, the trend continues with managers being taught to praise willy-nilly. Boot camp in the army won’t fit into this picture and all kids aren’t quite as fortunate, but the “folk theory” as Kim and Chiu describe it, prevails (1).

The danger of this continuous re-enforcement of our great, but imaginary, abilities is that we will believe it and we will have a severely self-enhanced view of our capability and potential. In extreme cases, enough to stand for election. The corollary applies in the boot camps around the country where some of the participants in the game can be harboring significant self-effacement ideas.

As Kim and Chui point out, the literature is unclear if marked self-enhancement is all that it’s cracked up to be and they set out measure the effects with better controls than had previously been in place so that their subsequent analysis should be more meaningful (1).

They started experimenting with a group of 95 US undergrads and then, in a show of confidence, expanded it to a group of 2780 High-School students in grades 7 through 12 in Hong Kong, before tidying up with another group of 160 US undergrads. Clearly a robust study, where they misled participants as to their test scores in order to test how robust was their self-esteem or lack of it.

With the computers humming and dissipating many kilowatts, they showed that the depression levels were minimized in those individuals whose self-assessment was most accurate. An overblown view of ones abilities, and hence ones expectations of performance and grade position, only led to tears and a gnashing of teeth in the wilderness. Unjustified self-effacement had a similar effect.

The conclusion? Don’t kid yourself.

  1. Y-H Kim and C-Y Chui, Emotion, 11, 1096, (2011).

One Response so far.

  1. jazgal says:

    I recall, in my youth, my father calling me his princess, clearly a term of endearment. But I wondered for many years how I got my royal genealogy. At some point I had to concede that I wasn't related to the Queen, alas! Somehow I have managed to cope.

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