Something of a follow-up to the semi-outrageous article about Chinese Tiger Mothers, the results of a couple recent studies at Ohio State concluding, surprise surprise, that “Young Adults Are Obsessed With Self-Esteem.” As it’s wisely been pointed out, the self-esteem movement is a losing game, regardless of how it’s played – human need is a bottomless pit. To paraphrase Gerhard Forde, who was paraphrasing Martin Luther, the thirst for glory needs to be extinguished rather than sated. If only knowledge alone were enough to get us to detach… And I don’t know about you, but the very idea of narcissism scale frightens me (ht SZ):

Ohio State University scientists found that college students valued boosts to their self-esteem more than any other pleasant activity they were asked about, including sex, favorite foods, drinking alcohol, seeing a best friend or receiving a paycheck. “It is somewhat surprising how this desire to feel worthy and valuable trumps almost any other pleasant activity you can imagine,” said Brad Bushman, Ph.D., lead author of the research… “We found that self-esteem trumped all other rewards in the minds of these college students,” Bushman said.

Bushman said there is nothing wrong with a healthy sense of self-esteem. But the results of this study suggest many young people may be a little too focused on pumping up their self-esteem. Here’s why: For all the pleasant activities examined in this study, participants were asked to rate both how much they liked the activity and how much they wanted it.

Both questions were asked because addiction research suggests that addicts tend to report they “want” the object of their addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling) more than they actually “like” it, Bushman said. “The liking-wanting distinction has occupied an important place in addiction research for nearly two decades,” Moeller said. “But we believe it has great potential to inform other areas of psychology as well.”

In this study, participants liked all the pleasant activities more than they wanted them, which is healthy, Bushman said. But the difference between liking and wanting was smallest when it came to self-esteem. “It wouldn’t be correct to say that the study participants were addicted to self-esteem,” Bushman said. “But they were closer to being addicted to self-esteem than they were to being addicted to any other activity we studied.”

American society seems to believe that self-esteem is the cure all for every social ill, from bad grades to teen pregnancies to violence,” he said. “But there has been no evidence that boosting self-esteem actually helps with these problems. We may be too focused on increasing self-esteem.”

Study co-author Crocker added,“The problem isn’t with having high self-esteem; it’s how much people are driven to boost their self-esteem. When people highly value self-esteem, they may avoid doing things such as acknowledging a wrong they did. Admitting you were wrong may be uncomfortable for self-esteem at the moment, but ultimately it could lead to better learning, relationships, growth, and even future self-esteem.”