Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Downside of Inflated Self-Esteem

I know that this is an old story, but bad ideas die hard and you can never have too much research refuting them.

This time researchers have shown one of the downsides of giving everyone a trophy. That is, of puffing up children’s self-esteem, telling them they are great, regardless of whether they are.

The Wall Street Journal reports on what happens when you make it that children always win:

Letting children always win games and competitions may give them a false sense of self-confidence that could interfere with learning, suggests a study in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

Children who were consistently successful at finding a hidden object in a game deliberately rigged in their favor were less likely to acknowledge the help that an adult had provided than children who found the object some of the time, the study found.

Children who only experienced success may have assumed they had special skills and didn’t require help from others, the researchers suggest.

“We all know situations in which adults try to boost children’s self-esteem by giving every kid on the team a trophy, for example,” lead researcher Dr. Carrie Palmquist, assistant professor in the department of psychology at Amherst College, said in an email. “If children only experience success, they may misinterpret the reason and adopt ineffective approaches to problem-solving and learning.”

The moral of the story, according to Dr. Palmquist—great name that—is that giving children a false sense of their abilities will induce them to reject help from adults. It will create a false sense of their own abilities and will cause them to ignore the wise counsel of adults in positions of authority. It will make them less apt to learn anything because they do not believe that they need anyone else’s help.

Worse yet, when parents and teachers tell children that they are better than they are they are lying to them. Children do not do well on a diet of lies.

Insidiously, this self-esteem undermines the respect for authority and especially damages filial piety.

But, you knew that.


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

What I've never understood about the self esteem movement is why people don't see that these positive efforts are fleeting. This temporary solace isn't meaningful, and doesn't teach them anything.

Human beings want to connect, contribute and make a difference in some realm they believe in. If you tell them they're great at everything, it sends confusing signals. It seems this kind of non-feedback is for the emotional immaturity of the adults than it is for the long-term emotional health of the children they're supposed to serve.

Me, me, me is dull, dull, dull.

As I've said before, the social category with the highest level of self esteem is the prison population.

Sam L. said...

If you are told you are perfect, improvement is impossible.

Trigger Warning said...

Abraham Maslow's self-esteem dogma is certainly one of the largest, if not the largest, and most damaging pseudoscientific frauds ever perpetrated on the American people.

In a reaction to the clinical psychology of his time that was focused on psychopathology, Maslow wanted to redirect psychological thinking in a new direction: "positive" psychology. As a result, he studied small samples of highly successful young people. Why study loons, miscreants, and the maladjusted if you want a "positive" psychology?? His subjects attended the nation's top schools and were among the highest achievers in those schools. This resulted in Maslow's famous Hierarchy of Needs diagram that has been inflicted on every college undergraduate required to take psychology ever since.

It's a very intuitive diagram, but it is the result of a classic misinterpretation of the causal directionality of a correlation. Maslow assumed that the causality link was self-esteem -> achievement, whereas the actual directionality is achievement -> self-esteem. And, being a correlation, even high achievement does not always yield self-esteem. We're not talking about mass/energy relations here.

It's a common error to make. Bill Clinton got sucked in. During the Clinton Administration, there was a crack epidemic, unwed motherhood was exploding, and minority neighborhoods were under attack. After all, this was the time when Bill was pushing for more severe sentencing and Hillary was worried about "superpredators" roaming urban streets. Here's what President Clinton said: "You want to reinforce family values in America, encourage two-parent households, get people to stay home? Make it easy for people to own their own homes..." Rather than understanding that safe neighborhoods were built by people with family values and intact marriages, Clinton, as all leftists do, assumed that positive cultural values are the result of more financial security, rather than the other way around.

We see how that worked out.

Consequently, as in Schneiderman's later post today about SJWs, we see how Maslow's misunderstanding of a causal relationship is playing out. In many ways, it's even more tragic than a global economic collapse.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Trigger Warning @November 2, 2016 at 12:38 PM:

I actually don't mind Maslow's model, particularly the bit about self-actualization. Maslow believed very few people ever self-actualize. And I really didn't ever get the sense that he believed it was some kind of grand achievement, worthy of a medal. It just was... almost a state for its own sake. It wasn't about public attention at all. That is not how it's framed today!

What I'm completely aligned with you on is where this is all created, and what self-actualization is about. A lot of people have made self-actualization into a self-fulfillment thing. Every time I have met what I would call a self-actualized person (very rare, and my assessment, not their proclamation), I find that their achievements and creativity is not at all about themselves. They are operating at their highest and best contribution in service of others. This is the key point: OTHERS. Not forced charity or "look at me" charity/do-gooding, but the reward of the impact their work has. This is true whether it's a factory they've built, or a child they've supported or some other tangible, real result they've had. They are satisfied they've had an impact.

That seems to be the transition: growing up. Growing up is moving from personal acquisition to personal contribution. The "Esteem" needs (level 4) are no longer about they serving themselves. They are about contribution. Some might call it "service," but that term has almost become synonymous with "servile" in the current public context, while "public service" has become something akin to a morally magnificent grifter.

So yes, the "positive" psychology movement, coupled with the disintegration of philosophy and theology that was religiously rooted in Christendom, is a destructive phenomenon because it is not self-evident, nor self-reinforcing. We've lost objective truth because we can't share anything... everyone wants to operate in their own orbit. "Positive" psychology seems to be an end (worthy of a cookie, medal or Bozo button) rather than the gateway to another evolution of personal growth that provides societal benefits. We are social creatures. And so many Social Justice Warriors are today manifestly antisocial, which destroys whatever "positive" impact they believe they have.

My understanding is that most college-educated and post-graduate citizens are going hard for Hillary. I believe there is a reason for this: their infatuation with hollow word constructions that tear at their asteroid field of emotions. This is reflective of indoctrination, not education. Colleges are Leftist seminaries today. When I talk to college graduates about Trump-Clinton, it is NOT an intellectual conversation. I might as well be talking with them about Michigan vs. Ohio State, Rolling Stones vs. Beatles, Cezanne vs. Mapplethorpe, Mac vs. PC. It's completely ridiculous. Politics is becoming wrapped in this bizarre intelligence identity, where people want to be intelligent, and the way to the intelligence moniker is to be with the smart set, the self-proclaimed brights. I hope it changes, or that a good share of college grads clandestinely vote for Trump. Because otherwise, we're screwed.

Trigger Warning said...

"A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself."
--- A Maslow

I recall reading in the WSJ about a young man with $120,000 in school loan debt and an Ivy MFA in puppetry. He was participating in Occupy Wall St., un-self-actualized, angry, with a smartphone and an Apple laptop.

And, yes, the diagram is cool. Everybody likes it. But what, precisely, is "self-actualization"? How do you know when you have it? And how does the drive to "self-actualization" explain acts of great self-sacrifice involving great danger and ignoring the "hierarchy of needs"?

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Puppetry and Occupy ____ don't mix. I get it. Whatever the man may claim, he's cracked. And he doesn't care about anyone but himself. That's why he's not self-actualized... he's merely occupying places. He has no contribution.

As far as what it is, I did my best to explain it above. Albeit not a scientific proof, but I did my best. Have at it. I don't believe in "positive" psychology, but I do believe a small minority's of people transcend the false self and contribute from love. I know it sounds far out, because it is. That's how I see it. Maslow made a contribution, but he wasn't a messiah. What he shared was useful, but not the Truth. The problem is when people treat it as the Truth.

AesopFan said...

The Haidt article in Stuart's other post actually speaks to this topic as well.

"“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” Nietzsche was right, and Nasim Taleb’s book “Antifragile” explains why. Kids need thousands of hours of unsupervised play and thousands of conflicts and challenges that they resolve without adult help, in order to become independently functioning adults. But because of changes in American childrearing that began in the 1980s, and especially because of the helicopter parenting that took off in the 1990s for middle class and wealthy kids, they no longer get those experiences.
Instead they are enmeshed in a “safety culture” that begins when they are young and that is now carried all the way through college. Books and words and visiting speakers are seen as “dangerous” and even as forms of “violence.” Trigger warnings and safe spaces are necessary to protect fragile young people from danger and violence. But such a culture is incompatible with political diversity, since many conservative ideas and speakers are labeled as threatening and banned from campus and the curriculum. Students who question the dominant political ethos are worn down by hostile reactions in the classroom. This is one of the core reasons why universities must choose one telos. Any institution that embraces safety culture cannot have the kind of viewpoint diversity that Mill advocated as essential in the search for truth."

AesopFan said...

Continued with comments from Haidt's post:

Zbyněk Dráb on November 1, 2016 at 2:51 pm
The main thing is this:
The two “teloi” can not clash. Because: whatever is not based in *truth* can not be, properly speaking, justice.
If “social justice” is irreconcilable with truth, that means one thing. It is not justice. It is some counterfeit morality, a simulacrum based in error. Which is precisely the case.
There cannot be a conflict between truth and justice. Justice is applied truth.

Emily on October 26, 2016 at 3:14 pm
I like this argument, but it implies that this choice is not hamstringed in advance by the DoE dear colleague letters and the very explicit threat of losing funding. Many college administrations are simply not willing to risk it.

Sean Mackesey on October 22, 2016 at 6:28 pm
Overall this was a clear and accurate– especially the parts on victim culture, equality of treatment vs outcome, and the distinction between correlation and causation.
However, I think Jon has the fundamental dichotomy wrong here. The conflict at the heart of the university culture war is not between changing the world (Marx) and understanding the world (Mill). There are many students and academics aligned with Mill who would are very motivated to change the world (economists, engineers, scientists). Similarly, campus social justice activists don’t seem to think they are sacrificing the truth. The real conflict is one of epistemic values. Classical liberals support a process of resolving truth through the evaluation of objective evidence. Though we are all biased and imperfect adherents to this value, we at least pay lip service to it. You are unlikely to find anyone who identifies as a classical liberal appealing to “lived experience” when trying to persuade. This is because it is understood that such appeals are not universalizable. They require you to take the other person’s honesty and fair-mindedness on faith, in a world full of disingenuous, self-deceiving, and fuzzy-thinking people. Essentially, it is saying: “just trust me”.
And yet, identity-based appeals to authority are explicitly advanced by social justice activists. In the past, religious authorities made similar appeals. ...