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Improving Implicit Self-Esteem

Implicit self-esteem is a much researched construct of recent years (e.g., Koole, Dijksterhuis, & van Knippenberg, 2001; Yamaguchi et al., 2007). In a general sense, implicit self-esteem is defined as an automatic evaluation of the self that occurs nonconsciously and affects spontaneous reactions to self-relevant stimuli (Bosson, et al. 2000). Implicit self-esteem has been shown to specifically predict diverse outcomes in a range of situations, including apparent anxiety in participants as they complete a self-relevant interview (Spalding & Hardin, 1999), levels of implicit gender bias in combination with implicit gender identity (Aidman & Carroll, 2003), and depressive symptomatology 6 months after measurement (Franck, De Readt, & De Houwer, 2007). Explicit self-esteem (i.e., explicit evaluations of self-worth), on the other hand, has specific predictive power for subjective well-being (Schimmack & Diener, 2003). It is the combination of the two constructs, however, that has excited most interest in recent years. In particular, the question of discrepant selfesteem has been examined (Zeigler-Hill, 2006). That is, what effects do high explicit but low implicit, or low explicit but high implicit, self-esteem have on behavior? One direct prediction based on psychodynamic theory concerns narcissism. The mask model of narcissism assumes that narcissistic individuals are characterized by deep self-doubt (corresponding to low implicit self-esteem), which they compensate for by projecting grandiose self-views (corresponding to extremely high explicit self-esteem) (Bosson et al., 2008). Empirical evidence supporting this model has remained mixed, however, perhaps partly because of the relative unreliability of measures of implicit self-esteem (Bosson et al., 2000).

By rather precisely spelling out the concepts involved, the RIM can contribute to the discussion of these and other phenomena of the implicit self. Implicit selfesteem might, for instance, be conceptualized as the total valence of the associative pattern linked with activation of the self in the impulsive system. This specification would imply recommendations for effective measures of implicit self-esteem— namely, measures that do not require any explicit judgment but rather depend solely on valence and behavior interference (e.g., the IAT, measures based on the logic of affective priming). In addition, the same logic that is applied to automatic stereotype reduction training (Gawronski et al., 2008) may be applied to the implicit selfesteem construct. Doing so yields a method through which to increase implicit selfesteem by consistently affirming positive pairings of valence and self (e.g., Dijksterhuis, 2004), suggesting a possible avenue for therapy of narcissism and other negative effects of low implicit self-esteem.

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