Implicit and Explicit Self-Esteem and Irrational Beliefs

By Sava, Florin A.; Maricutoiu, Laurentiu P. et al. | Journal of Evidence-Based Psychotherapies, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Implicit and Explicit Self-Esteem and Irrational Beliefs

Sava, Florin A., Maricutoiu, Laurentiu P., Rusu, Silvia, Macsinga, Irina, Vîrga, Delia, Journal of Evidence-Based Psychotherapies


The relationship between irrational beliefs and explicit and implicit selfesteem was examined in two consecutive studies (N1 = 117; N2 = 102) conducted on undergraduate university students. Two robust findings were the negative correlation between explicit self-esteem and self-downing, a particular type of irrational belief and the absence of a correlation between implicit self-esteem and any type of irrational belief. These findings suggest that disputing irrational beliefs within therapeutic interventions may affect explicit cognitions only, while implicit cognitions remain unaffected.

Keywords: implicit self-esteem, explicit self-esteem, irrational beliefs, selfacceptance, REBT


One of the key issues in Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) (Ellis, 1994) is identifying and disputing core irrational beliefs and replacing them with rational beliefs. The positive consequences of this approach on various mental health issues have been widely underlined in several meta-analyses using both adult samples (Engles, Garnefski & Diekstra, 1993; Lyons & Woods, 1991) and adolescents and children samples (Gonzalez, Nelson, Gutkin et al., 2004; Hajzler & Bernard, 1991).

However, this approach is considered limited by some researchers who focused their attention on behavioral problems such as addictive behaviors (Wiers & Stacy, 2006). Their view is that people continue to use drugs even though they realize it is harmful for them and even though they are able to set up rational arguments against drug consumption. Research on implicit and automatic processes has shown that behavior is partly governed by automatically triggered stimuli or impulses (e.g., a fast associative system which includes the automatic appraisal of stimuli) in addition to a reflective system, which includes controlled processes and deliberated regulation of cognitions, emotions and actions (Strack & Deutsch, 2004).

Similar to irrational beliefs, self-esteem (actually, explicit low selfesteem) has been correlated with a variety of psychological distress outcomes such as depression (e.g., Abela, 2002), anxiety (e.g., Lohr & Bonge, 1981), eating disorders (e.g., Cervera, Lahortiga, Martinez-Gonzalez et al., 2003) and so on. More recent research has focused on implicit self-esteem, which was presumed to be "preconscious, automatic, nonverbal, associative, rapid, effortless, concrete, holistic and intimately associated with affect" (Epstein, 2006, p. 69). The relationship between explicit and implicit self-esteem seems to be almost orthogonal, two meta-analyses finding a small correlation between the two concepts (of around .12) (Hoffmann, Gawronski, Gschwendner, Le & Schmitt, 2005; Krizan & Suls, 2008). However, implicit self-esteem measures are only weakly correlated with measures of psychological well-being (Buhrmester, Blanton & Swann, 2010), while specific combinations of implicit and explicit measures have let to very interesting outcomes. For instance, people with high explicit self-esteem and low implicit self-esteem are more defensive and selfenhancing (Jordan, Spencer & Zanna, 2005), while people with incongruent selfesteem as compared with people with congruent self-esteem, are more prone to anger suppression, adopt a more depressive attributional style, and experience more days of impaired health (Schrider-Abe, Rudolph & Schutz, 2007). New concepts such as defensive or fragile self-esteem (high explicit, low implicit) or damaged self-esteem (low explicit, high implicit) have been proposed as sources of increased risk for psychological vulnerability (Bosson, Brown, Zeigler-Hill & Swann, 2003; Schrider-Abe, Rudolph & Schutz, 2007).

The focus of this research is to look at the relationship between implicit and explicit self-esteem and irrational beliefs; more precisely, we were interested to see if both measures of self-esteem are valid predictors of irrational beliefs as described in the REBT model. …

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