The Effect of Negatively Worded Measures of Self-Esteem on Children

By Tsurumaki, Masako; Sato, Taku et al. | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, November 2009 | Go to article overview

The Effect of Negatively Worded Measures of Self-Esteem on Children


Tsurumaki, Masako, Sato, Taku, Nihei, Yoshiaki, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


Low self-esteem in learning disabled or emotionally disturbed children has been reported as a result of their failures in various social and educational settings (e.g., Conley, Ghavami, Vonohlen, & Foulkes, 2007). To verify such a decline, a number of self-esteem scales have been used in research. These usually utilize positive and negative items. For example, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES; Rosenberg, 1965) has five positive descriptions and five negative descriptions.

However, it is not known how children who tend to evaluate themselves negatively will feel when completing self-esteem measurement, particularly on items that require the child to evaluate whether or not a negative description is accurate. The use of these items for children with low self-esteem may result in subjective discomfort and subsequently enhance the child's negative self-concepts. If this is true, self-esteem measurements involving both positive and negative self-descriptions would have to be reconsidered. In the present study, we examined how self-esteem measurement involving negative self-descriptions affects healthy children. The children's self-esteem was measured using the RSES.

Thirty-eight fifth-grade elementary school children (19 girls and 19 boys; 10- or 11-year-olds) were asked to rate the subjective discomfort they felt while completing the RSES on a 5-point scale with 1 = It was enjoyable; 2 = It was slightly enjoyable; 3 = It was not enjoyable, but not unpleasant either; 4 = It was slightly unpleasant; 5 = It was unpleasant.

The total self-esteem score was calculated by adding the positive self-evaluation scores to the inverse of the negative self-evaluation scores. Statistical analysis indicated a significant negative correlation between self-esteem scores and self-reported discomfort experienced during self-esteem measurement (r = -.50, p < .01). Thus, children with lower self-esteem reported greater discomfort during self-esteem measurement. The result suggests that self-esteem measurement may not be a pleasant experience for children with low self-esteem. …

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