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Self-esteem: The costs and causes of low self-worth

Nicholas Emler

28 November 2001

Low self-esteem has come to be seen as the cause for a wide range of personal and social ills, from crime and drug addiction, to educational failure and suicide attempts. For these reasons much effort is invested in raising self-esteem, particularly among young people. But can high self-esteem really be the magic bullet this effort assumes?

Through a comprehensive review of the available research evidence, this report examines the case for this assumption. Separate sections of the report look at: 

  • the popular image of high self-esteem as an all-purpose social 'vaccine', and scientific attempts to define and measure self-esteem;
  • what is known about the links between low self-esteem and a range of problem behaviours;
  • the origins of low self-esteem;
  • the relative effectiveness of different kinds of interventions intended to raise self-esteem.

The report raises serious doubts as to the value of investing in programmes to enhance self-esteem, given the very limited impact such programmes are likely to have on most problem behaviour.

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