Paradoxical self-esteem and selectivity in the processing of social information

Romin W. Tafarodi
1998 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology  
Paradoxical self-esteem is defined as contrasting levels of self-liking and self-competence. Consideration of the social and motivational implications of this uncommon form of self-esteem suggests that heightened selectivity in the processing of social information may be behind its persistence. Two experiments were conducted to confirm the prediction of heightened selectivity in paradoxicals. As expected, those paradoxically low in self-liking were more negatively biased in their memory for
more » ... heir memory for personality feedback (Study 1 ) and interpretation of valuatively ambiguous phrases (Study 2) than were their counterparts who shared the same low self-liking but were also low in self-competence. Symmetrical with this result, those paradoxically high in self-liking exhibited a heightened positive bias relative to those who were high in both self-liking and self-competence. The findings are discussed in relation to attitudes and motivation. And Richard Cory, one calm summer night, Went home and put a bullet through his head. --Edwin Arlington Robinson, Richard Cory These final lines of Robinson's famous poem deliver a jarring statement on the separation of self-esteem from public approval. Richard Cory is previously described as a "gentleman from sole to crown" and as having "everything to make us wish we were in his place." He is attractive, popular, and highly accomplished. The reader is left wondering how he could possibly hate himself enough to take his own life. More generally, we are puzzled by those who dislike themselves despite seeing themselves as capable and successful. We are equally puzzled by those who genuinely like themselves despite seeing themselves as unsuccessful on the whole. Consideration of self-esteem as a two-dimensional attitude suggests that these vivid forms of contrasting self-valuation can be justifiably viewed as paradoxical. How are such disparities sustained over time? I argue here that those with paradoxical self-esteem are likely to be distinctively biased in their processing of social information and that this bias makes their self-esteem resistant to change.
doi:10.1037/0022-3514.74.5.1181 fatcat:th65pwcjybegxb34nsfthfwnua