According to Elliot Aronson in his book The Social Animal we are in a constant tension between our values of individuality and conformity. We want to fit in with the group without losing our unique qualities. However, at one point or another we all conform whether it be changing our answer from line B to line A in Solomon Asch’s experiment or changing our positions in an argument in order to be more liked by the group. All of this relates to self-esteem in some way, how we perceive our value to the world drastically affects our relationships, our performance in school or other tasks, and can make us less aggressive or jealous.
Achieving higher self-esteem is easier said than done but if individuals focus on what they can contribute to others rather than basing their self-worth on appearance or other sources they will be more confident and optimistic. Positive self-esteem can have gratifying effects on an individual’s trust, relationships, work, confidence, optimism, the ability to learn from mistakes, self-care and take charge of his or her life without the anxiety and fear of being rejected.
On the other hand, individuals with low self-esteem often feel unworthy or incompetent when faced with day-to-day tasks. In research done by Jennifer Crocker, a psychologist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, people who base their self-esteem on exterior sources like appearance or academic performance are more likely to feel anxiety and encounter other mental health consequences. She surveyed over 600 college freshmen before they went to college, after their first semester and after their second semester.
When asked what they base their self worth on 65 percent said their appearance and 70 percent of those were women. Another 77 percent said they base their self worth on their family’s support and over 80 percent said academic performance. However, the students who determined their self worth based on academic success did not receive better grades despite their motivation; in fact, they often became anxious and distracted by their goals.
It comes as no surprise that the media is a huge influence on women who value appearance as the main factor in self-esteem. With beautiful fit celebrities plastered on the covers of magazines, who look even more fit and perfect after an intense amount of Photoshop and airbrushing, it’s hard not to feel as though that is how one is supposed to look. Crocker found that if individuals focus on something larger than their self to determine self orth it leads to higher self-esteem. As social beings we as humans have an innate need to belong and fit into groups. Aronson brings up in his book that being cut off from the protection of a group during the time when hunting and gathering was the only way to survive could have terrible life or death consequences for an individual. As a result it is human nature to want to preserve relationships and explains why we fear rejection.
According to Aronson people who have lower self-esteem are more likely to conform than those with higher self-esteem. This is evident in Solomon Asch’s experiment where he sends a participant into a room with four other people with three lines on the wall that the participant is supposed to compare to line X; although, it seems the answer is definitely line B all the other people say line A.
At this time the participant begins to question his or her initial idea and conform to the group’s response. An average of 35 percent of the participants in Asch’s experiment changed their response to match the other people in the group in order to fit in. People with low self-esteem tend to be dependent on others and allowed them to make decisions, this could explain why 35 percent of Asch’s participants altered their response.
However, it could be said that the remaining participants had generally high self-esteem due to the fact that they stood their ground and chose not to conform, following their need to be correct. Self-esteem can be a huge issue especially among adolescent girls; low self-esteem can build up over time and have debilitating effects. One way to help raise self-esteem as Crocker discovered is by evaluating self worth through internal sources like being virtuous rather than external sources like appearance.
Her study also showed that students who based self-worth on internal sources were less likely to develop eating disorders, use drugs or alcohol, and more likely to receive higher grades. Another way to raise self-esteem is through affirmations; through daily encouraging messages people can begin to change their feelings or beliefs about themselves. Once people can raise their self-esteem it will begin to show in their trust of others, their relationships, and their work leading to an improved and more joyous lifestyle.