Subject: Re: [evol-psych] The Trouble With Self-Esteem Date: Tue Feb 19, 2002 2:34pm From: "Phil Roberts, Jr."
To: email@example.com Ian Montgomerie wrote: > > On 16 Feb 2002, at 17:17, Phil Roberts, Jr. wrote: > > > > > I know that it is not particularly fashionable to assume that a > > scientist of the mind should actually spend a bit of time observing > > one, but I respectfully disagree with the last sentence based on > > personal experiences with self-esteem. When my self-esteem has been > > at its peak, and I remember one particular epoch where it was very > > high indeed, I was most at peace with myself. Indeed, I distinctly > > remember that I was thinking about getting a job as s dish washer, > > since for the first time in my life my social status had become > > totally irrelevant. > > My own anecdotal observations are that high self-esteem is in > most people not at all associated with thinking that social status > has become irrelevant. (Remember, the issue is averages, not any > one person). > That's because, for most people, social status is the primary VEHICLE to self-esteem and it rarely reaches a point where it becomes possible to leave the vehicle behind. But, as I say, based on my own "anecdotal" experiences, I would say that it is status that is the vehicle to esteem, not esteem that is the vehicle to status, although I can certainly appreciate how someone who is a died-in-the-wool panadaptionist might have a little difficulty understanding how this might fit into the evolutionary scheme of things. But somehow feelings of worthlessness just don't look all that adaptive, if you don't mind my saying so. Also, there is more to my anecdote than meets the eye. I was assuming, in offering it, that I was offering intersubjectively reproducible data, that my own mind is not atypical, and therefore that you yourself might have had some experience in your life where esteem was at a maximum, perhaps not to the extraordinary degree of my own experience, but enough to have noticed that peace and contentment ensued along with a certain temporary inocculation to insult. There is other anecdotal evidence as well. The reason I assume that status is a vehicle to esteem, and not the other way around, is because there have been times in my life where I seriously comprimised my status merely to 'do the right thing'. This suggests to me that its not what others think of me that is the bottom line for my emotional well-being, but rather what I think of myself, and it seems to me that this little fact is a bit awkward for the particular evolutionary explanation you are currently favoring. Then too, there was the assumption on my part that the hypervigalence to insult you were talking about fits nicely with the analogy of a physical wound, that indeed, it is precisely this sort of hypervigilance to insult which is probably our most reliable indicator of low self- esteem. Is there any reason why we should assume Baumeister's means of assessing esteem to be infallible? Oh! Oh! I feel another anecdote coming on: Several years ago, Merv Griffin interviewed James Watson on television and asked him the question, 'Is it true that you only have an I.Q. in the nineties. Watson answered in the affirmative, but was completely unmiffed by the information. But then, why should he be? Given between choosing between 1. One of the two guys most responsible for figuring out the structure of DNA is operating with a rather dim bulb. or 2. We don't really know what intelligence is, let alone how to measure it. I suspect James Watson simply dumped 1 as any truly intelligent person should have. Similarly, choosing between 1. Hypervigilence to insult is a function of high self-esteem or 2. We don't really know how to measure self-esteem. I currently favor 2 unless, of course, you can convince me that Baumeister really does have his ducks in a row when it comes to making self-esteem estimates. But if the list of questions Ian Pitchford posted at the beginning of this thread was his primary tool, I think dumping 1 is a bit of a no brainer. > > As such, it seems unlikely to me that the self-worth > > complex can be lightheartedly dismissed as little more than a fitness > > maximizing instinct for social status, particularly given the > > likelihood that dominance hierarchies can be maintained by other more > > biologically expedient means (e.g., animal appetites counter valenced > > by fear) with far less deleterious consequences (depression, suicide, > > addiction, etc.). > > I think your "likelihood" is nonexistant. It would in fact be quite > counter-adaptive for hierarchies to be maintained by "animal > appetites counter valenced by fear". Fear is a _very_ costly state > to be in for any length of time. It is basically an adaptation to deal > with immediate emergencies. It mobilizes the resources of the > body and the mind to deal with immediate threats. It is > physiologically costly. It is not a continuous strategy for deciding > social actions. Have you had a look at nature lately? > "Animal appetites" aren't useful either. In a highly > social species (such as humans or other primates), social > interactions are a realm for complex alliances, keeping track of > friends, kin, and enemies, the past and expected future behavior of > others, and generally knowing how to most effectively manipulate > the behavior of others for (genetic) advantage. Nothing I've ever > heard referred to as an "animal appetite" is particularly well-suited > for dealing with social interactions. > So suppressed animal appetites are an impossibility as an impetus for social interaction from your perspective. Far more expedient to have organisms climbing Mt. Everest and riding in little rubber rafts between the whales and a pissed off whaler with his finger on the trigger of a two ton harpoon, eh? What's your definition of efficiency here? We are talking about perpetuating DNA aren't we? > > to help us maintain it [self-esteem], mother nature in her infinite wisdom (NOT) has > > managed to gerrymander a number of animal impulses to assist in the > > shepherding of self-worth (e.g., fear of giving a speech or asking for > > a date, anger over an insult, sex as a basis for endearment). > > States such as self-confidence versus depression, on the other > hand, are highly social states. They are persistent, they have a > substantial influence on social decision-making, they correlate > heavily with social success, and there are strong adaptive > arguments for their existence in social beings. For example, it has > been found that while most people are moderately optimistic, > depressives usually aren't pessimistic when it comes to predictions > of the future and evaluations of their own prospects for success - > they tend towards the neutral point, more objective than normal. I assume you are referring to the work of Taylor and Brown: [Quotes from Taylor and Brown, Psychological Bulletin, 1988, Vol. 103, No. 2, 193-210] Many prominent theorists have argued that accurate perceptions of the self, the world, and the future are essential for mental health. Yet considerable research evidence suggests that overly positive self evaluations, exaggerated perceptions of control or mastery, and unrealistic optimism are characteristic of normal human thought..... D. Summary To summarize, traditional conceptions of mental health assert that well-adjusted individuals possess relatively accurate perceptions of themselves, their capacity to control important events in their lives, and their future. In contrast to this portrayal, a great deal of research in social, personality, clinical and developmental psychology documents that normal individuals possess unrealistically positive views of themselves, an exaggerated belief in their ability to control their environment, and a view of the future that maintains that their future will be far better than the average person's. Furthermore, individuals who are moderately depressed or low in self-esteem consistently display an absence of such enhancing illusions. Together, these findings appear inconsistent with the notion that accurate self-knowledge is the hallmark of mental health. [end Taylor & Brown quotes] > There are good arguments that depression is an adaptation to loss > or social success, designed to make a person call a halt to risk- > taking, aggression, and high social activity and be in a state of > mind to re-evaluate their affairs. The sort of thing that would make > them more likely to discard whatever they were doing, and engage > in new activities only when the prospects for success looked good. > Just the sort of thing that would be adaptive following a loss of > status, resources, etc (which may have been caused by a > mistaken strategy, or by a change in situation which makes the old > strategy less worthwhile). > But the Taylor and Brown data could also constitute an even better support for the thesis that feelings of worthlessness are actually a maladaptive by-product of the evolution of rationality. In which case, status as a vehicle to esteem rather than the converse would make all kinds of sense, wouldn't it? [snipped] > > I would like to suggest an alternative interpretation here: > > > > Self-esteem is central to our will to survive, > > Not according to the research I'm aware of. People who are not > clinically depressed, but nonetheless have low to moderate self- > esteem, display plenty of "will to survive". In fact in a lot of > respects they are as successful in modern life as people with high > self-esteem. Having high self-esteem may be incredibly popular > with late 20th century Western culture (and psychologists), but in > concrete terms it is _not_ that beneficial. It is probably a > reproductively beneficial trait for successful men, more so in the > ancestral environment than now, but the conclusion of some > leading self-esteem researchers (including Baumeister) is that as > far as general life success goes, it's quite overrated. > No. Extremely low self-esteem is perhaps one of the most reliable clinical indicators that an individual should be closely monitored for thoughts of suicide. Any clinical psychologist worth his salt can tell you this: There is no value-judgment more important to man -- no factor more decisive in his psychological development and motivation -- than the estimate he passes on himself. This estimate is ordinarily experienced by him, not in the form of a conscious, verbalized judgment, but in the form of a feeling, a feeling that can be hard to isolate and identify because he experiences it constantly: it is part of every other feeling, it is involved in his every emotional response. ... it is the single most significant key to his behavior. (Nathaniel Branden) [snipped] > If self-esteem was a benefit for pretty much everybody pretty much > all of the time, quite simply we'd all have high self esteem all the > time. The fact that depression and low self-esteem exist is hardly > an evolutionary "oversight". > Now we're getting somewhere. I think its because volatility in self-esteem is the maladaptive price mother nature has been willing to pay in order to have a rational species to do her bidding. We no longer surivive as automatrons, but require REASONS for doing so (needs for love, attention, purpose, moral integrity, meaning, etc.). Its just that we do it so well that mamma has been willing to put up with a valuative profile that is, shall we say, something less than optimal. Cheers! Phil Roberts, Jr. Feelings of Worthlessness An Annotated Outline of a Theory of Emotional Instability http://www.rationology.net