January 11, 2011 / 6:11 PM / 10 years ago

Young people crave self-esteem above sex: study

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Young people crave boosts to their self-esteem more than sex and money, according to a new study.

Students take a university entrance examination at a lecture hall in the Andalusian capital of Seville, southern Spain, September 15, 2009. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

Researchers from Ohio State University and Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York found that college students rated receiving compliments, or doing well on a test, above such pleasurable activities such as sex, receiving a paycheck, seeing a friend, or eating their favorite food.

Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University, said the findings should raise red flags about the role of self-esteem in society.

“It wouldn’t be correct to say that the study participants were addicted to self-esteem,” said Bushman, who headed the research team. “But they were closer to being addicted to self-esteem than they were to being addicted to any other activity we studied.”

He said he and his team were shocked by the findings.

“We purposely chose things that we thought college students love. Most of the participants were around 19. College students love drinking, they love sex. They are poor; they love money and getting a paycheck.”

But experiences that boosted self-esteem trumped all other rewards, according to the study.

Bushman said the findings, which are published online by the Journal of Personality, suggest that many young people may be a little too focused on pumping up their self-esteem.

“I think that people are looking for a quick fix to complex problems,” he explained. “We see it as a cure-all to every social ill, from teen pregnancy to violence. People think that if only we feel better about ourselves, these things would not happen.”

The students rated activities both on how much they liked them, and how much they wanted them. The results showed they liked pleasant activities more than they wanted them, which is healthy, according to Bushman. But the difference between liking and wanting self-esteem was the narrowest.

“The liking-wanting distinction has occupied an important place in addiction research,” said Scott Moeller, of Brookhaven National Laboratory and a co-author of the study. “But we believe it has great potential to inform other areas of psychology as well.”

Bushman added that there is a fine line between self-esteem and narcissism. Over the top self-esteem becomes narcissism.

Reporting by Bernd Debusmann Jr., editing by Patricia Reaney

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