The Relationship between Significant Others' Positive and Negative Statements, Self-Talk and Self-Esteem

Article excerpt

This study reports on a survey conducted with 269 primary school children in Grades 3 to 7 who completed self-report questionnaires measuring the frequency of positive and negative statements made by mother, father, teacher, and peers; their positive and negative self-talk; and their self-esteem. Class teachers also completed the Behavioral Indicators of Self-Esteem (BIOS) scale for each child. Structural equation modeling (SEM) was used to describe the relationships between these variables. A saturated model, which tested the mediating effect of self-talk between significant others' statements and self-esteem, was tested and modified.

Studies which have investigated the relationship between statements made by significant others and self-perceptions (Blake & Slate, 1993; Burnett, 1996a; Campbell, 1989; Elgin, 1980; Goodman & Ritini, 1991; Joubert, 1991) have found that positive interactions and statements made by significant others were related to high self-esteem and that negative interactions were associated with low self-esteem. Additionally, statements by significant others have also been found to be related to children's self-talk (Burnett, 1996b). Further, a number of studies (Burnett, 1994a; Kent & Gibbons, 1987; Lamke, Lujan & Showalter, 1988; Philpot, Holliman & Madonna, 1995) have reported associations between self-talk and self-perceptions. Collectively, the results of these studies suggest that self-talk may play a mediating role between statements made by significant others and self-concepts and self-esteem.

Statement by Significant Others and Self-Esteem

Four sources of significant others have been identified by Harter (1985) as being parents, teachers, classmates and close friends. Juhasz (1989) examined the importance of the type of significant other, using self-report to open questions and found that fifth and sixth graders' rank order of importance was mother, father, siblings, friends. However, in the seventh and eighth grade, friends become more important, and for university freshmen, teachers were high with friends and parents equal.

There is evidence that indicates that verbal abuse (negative statements by significant others) adversely affects self-esteem (Campbell, 1989), often resulting in the victim's self-degradation and blame (Elgin, 1980). Joubert (1991) investigated self-esteem of college students and mother and father treatment of self when younger and found that men with high self-esteem tended to have fair mothers, who were interested in their activities and less likely to engage in verbal abuse, while high self-esteem in women correlated with parental praise, interest, and less verbal put-downs. Verbal abuse was the only parental category influencing self-esteem for men and women, indicating the influence of positive and negative statements made by significant others. The effect of negative statements on self-perceptions is illustrated in the Goodman and Ritini (1991) study of the self-esteem of 8- to 10-year-old children whose mothers were diagnosed with depression. They classified the mothers' descriptions of their child with regards to school, peer relations, family relations, and sports using a positive/negative/neutral response format. Negative descriptions were classified as being critical/hostile, maternal over-involvement, self-blaming, or negative other statements. The results showed that the depressed mothers gave more negative emotional statements overall (specifically more critical/hostile and self-blame) and had children with lower self-esteem.

Blake and Slate (1993) developed the Verbal Interaction Questionnaire (VIQ) in response to lack of studies investigating the effects of parental verbal interactions on adolescents. They described four areas of verbal abuse: Belittling or berating; non-support; non-communication; and rejection and hostility. Their results showed that perceived parental verbal abuse was related to adolescent self-esteem (r = -.65, p [less than].01). More recently, Burnett (1996a) investigated the relationship between children's self-reported perceptions of statements made by significant others and self-concept and self-esteem. The results showed that positive statements correlated positively with self-esteem and non-academic self-concepts, while negative statements correlated negatively with reading self-concept and with relations with mother and father self-concepts. Interestingly, positive statements were more highly related to self-esteem suggesting that their presence or absence appears to have a stronger influence on self-esteem when compared to negative statements.

Teachers and peers create expectancies, relationships and positive and negative experiences which affect children's self-concept (Scher, 1990). The perception of teacher's feelings, as reported by students, correlated with favorable self-image, academic achievement and desirable classroom behavior (Davidson & Lang, 1960), while Kinney (1993) reported that "nerd" adolescents developed more positive self-perceptions through developing positive peer relations.

Statements Made by Significant Others and Self-Talk

Little research has investigated the relationship between statements made by significant others and self-talk. In one of the few studies conducted in this area, Burnett (1996b) found that positive self-talk positively correlated with the perceived frequency of positive statements made by significant others. Specifically, boys' positive self-talk correlated with positive statements made by parents while girls' positive self-talk correlated with positive teacher statements. Both boys' and girls' negative self-talk was related to negative statements made by other children (peers and siblings). Thus, adults appear to have more influence on positive self-talk while other children have more influence on negative self-talk.

Self-Talk and Self-Esteem

A number of studies have found more positive self-talk and less negative self-talk in subjects with high self-esteem (Burnett, 1994a; Kent & Gibbons, 1987; Lamke et al., 1988; Philpot et al., 1995). Burnett (1994a) examined the relationship between self-talk, assessed using interviews, and self-esteem. Positive self-talk was positively correlated with self-esteem whereas negative self-talk was not. It was concluded that positive self-talk was more influential in the development of self-esteem than the presence of negative self-talk. However, these findings are in contrast to some research which found that the frequency of negative self-statements rather than positive self-statements was more influential on psychological well-bring (Kendall, 1984; Kendall & Hollon, 1981; Philpot et al., 1995; Philpot & McDonald, 1995). For example, Philpot and Bamburg (1996) used an intervention to increase positive self-statements and restructure negative self-statements and found subjects increased in scores for self-esteem. Negative self-statements had a greater effect than positive self-statements.

Aim of the Study

This study investigated the mediating effect of self-talk between positive and negative statements made by significant others and self-esteem.



A sample of 269 students in Grades 3 to 7 at a middle class, metropolitan elementary school agreed to participate in the study. There were 144 boys and 125 girls involved in the study with a mean age of 9 years, 8 months.


Significant Others Statements Inventory (SOSI). Burnett (1996b) outlined the development of the SOSI which had eight subscales measuring children's perceived frequency of positive and negative statements made by parents, teachers, siblings and peers. In this study, the siblings scale was not administered. The reliability coefficients for the six scales ranged from .70 to .83 with a mean of .77.

Self-Talk Inventory (STI). Burnett (1996b) described the development process for the STI which resulted in the emergence of two scales: A positive self-talk scale (e.g., Just stay calm, Everything will be OK, It'll work out, I'll do well) and a negative self-talk scale (e.g., Everyone will think I'm hopeless, This is going to be awful, I'm going to muck this up, I'm hopeless). The reliability coefficients for the 17-item Positive Self-Talk Scale (PSTS) and the 16-item Negative Self-Talk Scale (NSTS) were .89 and .86, respectively.

Self-Esteem.. A Self-Esteem scale was developed and used by Burnett (1994b, 1996a). The scale has sound construct validity and high reliability (.91).

Behavioral Indicators of Self-Esteem (BIOS). Burnett (in press) reported that this 13-item unidimensional scale has an alpha reliability coefficient of .95 and test-retest reliabilities of .81 over a 10-week period and .70 over a 20- to 22-week period. The 13 behaviors are rated by teachers using the following response format: 1 = Never, 2 = Seldom, 3 = Sometimes, 4 Often, and 5 Always. Some examples of items are: Is confident in what she/he does; Is withdrawn from others (negative item); and Appears proud of him/herself.


The instruments described were administered in class time by an experienced research assistant. If children experienced any problems with reading an item, they were assisted. Teachers completed a BIOS form for each child in the same week that the children completed the instrument.

The Model

The model tested was a saturated model with significant paths hypothesized to go from (a) positive statements by parents, teachers, and peers to positive self-talk, (b) negative statements made by parents, teachers, and peers to negative self-talk, (c) negative self-talk to positive self-talk, (d) positive self-talk to self-esteem, (e) negative self-talk to self-esteem, and (f) self-esteem to the behavioral indicators of self-esteem. The saturated model is represented in Figure 1. The data were analyzed using LISREL 7 with SPSS. The goodness-of-fit of the data to the hypothesized model can be assessed using a number of indicators: The Goodness-of-Fit Index (GFI), the Adjusted Goodness-of-Fit Index (AGFI), the Tucker Lewis Index (TLI), and the Relative Noncentrality Index (RNI). Convention dictates that a AGFI above .90 (Reynolds & Walberg, 1991), a TLI and RNI above .90 (Marsh, 1991) would represent a good fit of the data to the model.


The covariance matrix for ETA and KSI is presented in Table 1.

The results obtained for the saturated model were GFI = .93, AGFI = .91, TLI = .98, RNI = .98, RMSR = .05, [X.sup.2] (145) = 185.4, indicating a good fit between the data and the hypothesized model. However, a number of hypothesized paths were not significant. These paths were removed from the model one by one until all paths in the model were significant. The results for the modified model were GFI = .94, AGFI = .92, TLI = .98, RNI = .99, RMSR = .04, [X.sup.2] (116) = 145.7. The final model is presented in Figure 2.


The results of this study suggest that positive and negative self-talk do play a mediating effect between positive and negative statements made by significant others and children's self-esteem. The results indicate that positive self-talk plays a mediating role between parents' and teachers' positive statements and self-esteem, but not between positive statements made by peers and self-esteem. Positive statements by peers is not related to positive self-talk, but instead has a direct path to self-esteem. Interestingly, negative self-talk seems to play a mediating role between negative statements made by peers and self-esteem. Additionally, self-esteem is related to behavioral indicators of self-esteem as is negative statements made by teachers.

In terms of self-esteem development, these results highlight the importance of (a) parents, teachers and peers saying positive things to children and (b) reducing the number of negative statements made to children by peers. These results support previous findings, which found that positive statements have more impact on self-talk and self-esteem than negative statements. Interestingly, negative statements are not directly related to self-esteem at all, although negative statements by peers have an indirect influence via negative self-talk. It seems that children may develop protective mechanisms to reduce the impact of negative statements made by adults (parents and teachers), but negative statements made by peers seem to have the power to hurt.

In summary, the mediating effect of self-talk between positive and negative statements and self-esteem is confirmed. The results also confirm that the presence or absence of positive statements made by significant others is more predictive of self-esteem than negative statements. Negative statements by significant others seem to have little effect on self-esteem with the exception of negative statements made by peers.


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                     Covariance Matrix of ETA and KSI
POSST    .695
NEGST   -.196  .809
SELFEST  .443 -.366    .927
BIOS     .195 -.161    .408  .902
POSPARS  .348 -.110    .226  .099    .695
NEGPARS -.119  .110   -.100 -.044   -.207    .454
POSTEA   .368 -.050    .217  .096    .331   -.124   .694
NEGTEA  -.123  .083   -.094 -.041   -.119    .292  -.228   .522
POSPEER  .332 -.072    .205  .090    .404   -.094   .358  -.062    .593
NEGPEER -.153  .227   -.156 -.069   -.214    .156  -.119   .194   -.153
NEGPEER    .534