Children who think highly of themselves are more likely to react aggressively when they feel ashamed than their peers with lower self-esteem, a new study says.
“Young teens with low self-esteem apparently don’t feel the need to protect their punctured egos,” said University of Michigan psychologist Brad J Bushman, co-author of the study with colleagues from VU University and Utrecht University in The Netherlands.
Bushman, Sander Thomaes and colleagues conducted an experiment with 163 children aged 10 to 13 years from Michigan Middle Schools. Almost all, slightly more than half — 54 per cent — were males.
A few weeks before participating in the online experiments, the kids filled out a questionnaire designed to assess their levels of self-esteem and narcissism. Researchers measured self-esteem by assessing the degree to which participants were satisfied with themselves and the way they led their lives.
Narcissism included grandiose views of themselves, inflated feelings of superiority and entitlement, and exploitative interpersonal attitudes, assessed by questions such as: “Without me, our class would be much less fun;” “Kids like me deserve something extra;” and “I often succeed in getting admiration.” For the experiment, the children were told they would be competing on an Internet reaction-time game called FastKid! against an opponent of the same gender and age from a school in Columbus, Ohio.
Those who were randomly selected for the “shame condition” were told that their opponent was one of the worst players in the supposed tournament, and they should easily win; when they lost, their last-place ranking was displayed on a website they believed that everyone could see. Children were told they could blast their opponent with a loud noise after winning a trial.
The narcissistic kids were more aggressive than others, but only after they had been shamed. “Narcissists seem highly motivated to create and maintain a grandiose view of self,” the researchers wrote.