A Role of Self Esteem in Educational Progress

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Unlike past research linking success of self-regulation to levels of self-esteem, the central idea of Crokcer et al. in the present research is that self-regulation is negatively affected by just the concern about self-esteem. Self-regulation is the willingness to make the effort to reach one’s goals while learning from failures and errors to improve strategies to reach these goals. Self-regulation is not only the reduction in discrepancies between the current state and the desired state, but also monitoring whether this reduction is leading toward progress (pg. 1750). However, sometimes it can be difficult to strive for goals because self-esteem is involved. Self-esteem can be both a stable and an unstable trait. People’s levels of self-esteem are normally stable over time and across situations, but their momentary experience of self-esteem fluctuates (pg. 1751). The instability of self-esteem is the consequence of a contingent self-worth. Self-esteem rises when people succeed at their goals and falls when they fail. The fluctuations depend on the relevancy of the events and contingency to self-worth. Success and failure in areas of contingency has an increased effect than in noncontingent areas. The authors argue that because “boosts in self-esteem are pleasurable and drops in self-esteem are painful, protection, maintenance, and enhancement of self-esteem can override desired goals and undermine self-regulation (pg. 1751).” This has an increased effect especially in areas of contingent self-worth, where individuals tend to set self-validation goals. Self-validation creates only a fragile motivation that disappears when success in unlikely. Moreover, this type of motivation decreases an individual’s autonomy over own behavior and produces tension and pressure, and leads to a lowered intrinsic interest. This not only derails self-regulation, but also leads people to gravitate to areas where success is likely and failure is not. This prevents one from learning new skills and improving on weaknesses, and results in self-handicapping when failure does occur (pg. 1753). As a solution, Crocker et al. propose to substitute self-validation goals with learning goals or learning orientation. However, their suggestion is effective only when effort to succeed is absent (pg. 1754).

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The benefits are increased motivation, increased effort, facilitation of self-regulation, attending to feedback about failures, and higher chance of reaching goals. The costs are lowered self-esteem and overriding important goals with protecting self-esteem as well as a depletion of self-regulation in general on subsequent tasks. Self-validation goals lead to a fragile source of motivation, and in turn decreased effort, stress, and a lowering of interest in achieving goals. Also, self-validation goals only exist as long as people believe they can succeed. Self-handicapping also occurs and not only leads individuals to avoid important lessons they can learn from mistakes, but also undermines their performance. The benefits are that self-worth and self-esteem are a stable trait and self-regulation is more predictable. Also, there is more autonomy over own behavior. The costs are no special motivation to succeed in important domains. Understanding these costs and benefits can be helpful in personal and professional lives because it can help individuals understand not only the link between important areas of their lives and their success in reaching goals, but also the intermediate processes involved and how they can learn to control them and improve their self-regulation. For instance, if people learn the negative consequences of setting self-validation goals in domains of contingency, they will be able to focus instead on learning goals and at least worry less about self-esteem when they are pursing success in important areas of their personal lives and professional careers. The research shows that individuals are motivated differently, largely depending on whether the area of concern is contingent to their self-worth. In areas of contingency people are more motivated to succeed and avoid failure than in areas of noncontingency. For instance, as a student my self-esteem depends on my academic successes. Accordingly, grades and my school work are contingent to my self-worth. Since success in areas of contingency has a strengthened positive effect and boost on self-esteem and failures has a negative effects, I should be motivated to increase my effort in the classrooms, spend more time doing homework, study for exams harder and avoid failure at all costs. If I do not, the research suggests I would either abandon my goals altogether or lose my intrinsic motivation and interest to continue. Contingencies of self-worth are a source of motivation; they can either motivate individuals to strive for their goals and succeed despite setbacks or weaken their self-esteem and lead to switching to easier majors, retreating back to the “comfort zone,” and self-handicapping.

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