WHEREAS inflated self-esteem can potentially lead to unethical behavior (see trap 14, “Self-Enhancement”) low self-esteem can also be a factor that can drive us to take unethical short cuts. Selfesteem is defined as “our overall self-evaluation.”1 People who tend to feel worthless are tempted to cheat or lie to boost the impressions they make on others in an attempt to feel better about themselves.
Researchers Deborah Kashy and Bella DePaulo had seventy community members anonymously keep track of the number of lies they told during a week-long period by keeping a diary. Subjects told between zero and forty-six lies, averaging one lie per day; 25 percent of these were “white lies”—lies that are told to enhance a friend’s selfesteem. Participants completed ten different personality measures. It was found that subjects lied mostly to create a good impression of themselves socially.2
An intriguing experiment was conducted by Elliot Aronson and David Mettee at the University of texas in 1968. These researchers manipulated subjects’ temporary self-esteem by giving them false, negative feedback on a personality test. Subjects were then given an opportunity to cheat at a card game that would allow them to win money. Those who had received feedback that deflated their self-esteem were more apt to cheat.3