When Your Self-View is Skewed, So Goes Your Mood

MirrorSome people walk around this planet thinking so highly of themselves that their feet barely touch the ground. Others think so low of themselves that they hardly ever lift their chins. And according to a new study, both sorts of people are in for a world of hurt.

A short research report in the journal Psychological Science investigated the effects of having a distorted self-view, whether too high or too low. The study focused on the self-views of children, ages ranging from nine to 12 years, all of whom were asked to rate how much they liked each of their classmates. Then they were asked to predict the ratings they would receive from each of their classmates. For the purpose of the study, self-view distortion was defined as the difference between the actual and perceived status.

A couple of weeks later, the children were asked to participate in an Internet popularity contest called “Survivor Game,” in which the least liked person is voted out of the group by a panel of peer judges.  Just before the game, the mood of each participant was measured with questions like, “How do you feel right now, at the present time?”  They were asked to rank eight adjectives (including: angry, nervous, sad, irritated, embarrassed) on a scale of 0 (not at all) to 4 (very much).

Participants then filled out a personal profile describing themselves, and were, without their knowledge, randomly assigned to one of two contest groups: (1) receive threatening feedback during the game (i.e. “you are the least likable person”), or (2) receive non-threatening / neutral feedback (i.e. “your opponent is the least liked”).  Afterward, mood of each participant was measured again.

The results: subjects whose self-views were initially inflated were emotionally crushed when they received threatening feedback during the game.  Same thing happened to those with deflated self-views. No such effect was found for non-threatening feedback.  The graph below shows just how significant the effect was; note that for the most inflated and most deflated self-views (+3 and -3 respectively), the mood swing is the most extreme.




This is interesting because it directly contradicts the notion that inflated self-views serve the function of protecting against the emotional impact of social threats (a.k.a. positive illusion theory, which suggests that the illusion of control is an adaptive function).  The findings of this study make a strong case that the exact opposite is true: inflated self-views increased, rather than decreased, emotional distress after threatening feedback.

Granted, this was a study of children who have had less life experience that tends to temper self-view.  But when you look around any office or social club, bar, etc., it’s easy to pick out exactly the same self-view inflation and deflation represented by these nine to 12 year olds.  Not to veer too cynical, but I’m thinking these results aren’t far off the mark for the adult world as well as the elementary and middle school worlds, and no less important.


Filed under About Research, Uncategorized

6 responses to “When Your Self-View is Skewed, So Goes Your Mood

  1. Your view on the study jobs with some of the findings in the book NurtureShock

  2. Carl

    I agree with your findings that reads “This is interesting because it directly contradicts the notion that inflated self-views serve the function of protecting against the emotional impact of social threats “this statement also correlate with my finding, we have to understand “self”. There is no stronger position for any of us to have; we need a true understanding of who we are. Read The Power of Self Separation Acceptance or Rejection, you will enjoy reading it.

  3. Tyson

    What about the children who did not have distorted views of themselves? Would they not be emotionally crushed as well if they were told that their classmates did not like them? From what I gather, one learns that giving children negative feedback from their classmates hurts them emotionally. Also, this study took place in a competative setting. What about other situations? Does this theory hold true when the children are interacting in a normal fashion?

  4. Tyson — results for those with less distorted self-views are shown in the graphic, where zero represents the lowest level of distortion. The question in this study is not so much will someone be emotionally hurt when given threatening feedback, but rather to what extent. In other words, it’s safe to say that just about everyone gets hurt when told they aren’t liked, but the degree to which those with distorted self-views were affected was significantly more than others with less distorted (or non-distorted) self-views.

  5. Carl

    There are people that we know by defalt not by choice (they just happen to be in our environment) given a choice we would not self-separate with them, we would reject them.You can not be “emotionally hurt” by some one that you would not associate with.Once you have an accurate understanding of “self” you can embrace the power of self seperation, without this knowledge you will just go with the flo not understandind how or why things happened to you. Tyson said “giving children negative feedback from their classmates hurts them emotionally”. If you understand “self” you know when you are presentd with inacurate negative feedback.

  6. I do recollect looking through something regarding this last month stating that this wasn’t the case, just can not seem to locate the website link.

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