The importance of self-verification and self-enhancement strategies has become undeniable in our world of constant rivalry of interests, ideas, and even social statuses. People tend to accept conflictive positions towards each other trying to show one’s superiority, meanwhile, they should better spend their efforts on the promotion of both sides – helping others to foster person’s own self-esteem, helping to build a strong personality. This problem is especially topical for college students who survive all the complications of adolescence period as well as the need to cope with the adult life, where one should take on responsibility and accept life-changing decisions.
The main point of the theory on self-verification shows us that people desire others to look at them the same way as they see themselves. For instant, people who consider themselves to be intelligent and witty, want all others to accept them as intelligent and witty. Women, who think that they are attractive and smart, presume that all people who surround them see these qualities in them. This theory was developed in 1983 and achieved a lot of proponents since that time (Self-Verification, n.d.).
Self-enhancement theory represents another side of the self-evaluating system. Researchers have found out the growing tendency towards overly positive estimation of one’s skills and abilities during past two decades. However, little can be told about the cultural impact on the self-enhancement.
We can clearly observe that in many highly-developed countries people are prone to have a better opinion on their own potential than in the developing countries, not even comparing to the third-world countries. Such tendency can be explained by the fact that citizens of well-developed countries have more achievable opportunities and their social positions are initially higher when comparing to citizens from less lucky countries.
The American nation, for instance, is a vivid example of the self-enhancement attitude towards oneself. Americans tend to view themselves and think of themselves in much better terms than they think of other people. This tendency has two opposite sides as almost anything in our life (Kobayashi, 2002).
The positive side is revealed through better general physical state and, more importantly, the peaceful mind and the lower risk to be affected by stress. People with enhanced self-evaluation do not judge themselves too strongly and allow themselves to make mistakes from time to time, usually, taking lessons out of them. Such people are quite self-indulgent which can lead to certain problems as they cannot always control their bad habits and are inclined to suffer from insolence and arrogance.
The negative side of the self-enhancement theory is the superior treatment of surrounding people who are considered to be inferior. If the self-enhanced evaluation is common among people who tend to fall to the ill-mannered behavior from time to time, the acute conflictive situations can hardly be avoided. Frequently disrespectful treatment and inability to recognize someone else’s brilliance and high level of qualifications or natural talents leads to the thought that stubbornness and narrow-mindedness are the worst foes of such despots. This problem becomes especially vivid when such a person is a boss who is responsible for the fate of the company and the well-being of its workers – the stressful job is guaranteed for the subordinates (Kobayashi, 2002).
Self-verification and self-enhancement can both bring success into the lives of their proponents or make ruthless tyrants out of people. The effectiveness lies in balance and understanding of the possible positive and negative effects of both theories.
Therefore, harmonic amount of both types of self-views can either improve or destroy people’s authority and reputation in the society as well as in their families. However, the significance of these views for each human being cannot be diminished.
People with positive views of themselves prove thatthe desire for self-verification sets off another crucial motive, the motive for positive evaluations or self-enhancing. For instance, those individuals who tend to see themselves as "well-organized" recognize that their wishes for both self-verification and self-enhancement make them to search for the feedback that will confirm their positive, "well-organized" self-view.
Individuals with negative views of themselves consider that the two motives are conflictive; nevertheless it is an interesting fact that the wish for self-verification makes such individuals look for highly negative and demotivating evaluations. The desire for self-enhancement makes them search positive evaluations. The effective theory of self-verification points out to the conditions under which those individuals who possess negative self-views can resolve this conflict by searching self-verification and not self-enhancement (Self-Verification, n.d.).
Substantial evidence supports the theory of self-verification. For example, in one study, some researchers questioned participants with negative and positive self-views about their actions when they would be asked to collaborate with evaluators who had unfavorable or favorable impressions of them. All those people with brightly expressed positive self-views chose favorable partners, however, contrary to the theory of self-enhancement, those participants who had fully or mostly negative self-views chose unfavorable partners who would match them. A recent study has also revealed that the majority of people with highly-expressed self-verification strivings may from time to time trump quite positive strivings (Self-Verification, n.d.).
When applying these two theories to the situation in our colleges, we would see quite similar situations to those which are observed in the whole society but usually these situations are more evident due to the emotional instability of many adolescent students.
Self-verification motives act on various dimensions of the conception of one’s self and become even more different in many situations. Women and men are quite equally prone to display such tendency, and it does not makes a big difference whether the views of self refer to the features that are comparatively unchangeable (for example, intelligence) or mutable (for example, diligence when doing the homework), or, probably, the self-views tend to be very specific (for example, athletic) or global motives (for example, the feeling of worthlessness or low self-esteem).
Moreover, when people prefer negative partners to positive ones (similar to the way how students choose friendship with those less effective in studying, but more popular through the deeds of their group mates, instead of spending more time with those who have outstanding studying results in order to be motivated to pursue their education), it is not just an effort to avoid communicating with positive partners (to be more precise, out of a concern of a possible disappointment of their positive evaluators). The more crucial point is that people who preferred negative, self-verifying partners even when they had an alternative to participate in a different experiment (White, 1995).
Eventually, recent research has also shown that people work hard to verify their self-views which are related to certain group memberships. For instance, women seek assessment that can prove their belief that they definitely possess qualities related to being a real woman. Self-verification theory proposes that people can begin to form others' assessments of them before they even start to interact with each other. For example, they may show identity allusions or cues. The most successful identity cues allow people to make it clear for others who they are to them.
The following cues are usually the most significant for college students (Joiner et al, 2003):
- Physical appearance, including clothes, demeanor, and body posture. For instance, the individual with a low self-esteem can evoke such reactions which will only confirm her or his negative self-perception by looking down all the time and slumping her/his shoulders.
- Some other cues may include the beautiful house someone lives in, the new car which they buy, or how these people create pleasant atmosphere in their surroundings, etc. For instance, a sport utility vehicle often evokes such reactions which confirm an individual’s positive self-perception.
These cues affect the social status, behavior, and often the college performance of the students; many of them can often experience psychological problems due to the growing feeling of inferiority or superiority, depending on which social position they have accepted.
Strong desires for self-verification can also affect, and often do, the various social situations which people get into and where they usually remain for an extended period of time (Joiner et al, 2003).
Students frequently reject all those people who give them social feedback which does not prove their own self-views, such as students with unhappy families often despise those with happy families. College roommates behave in quite the same way.
When referring to the intimate relationships, partners are more prone to divorce those who perceived them over-favorably. Each of these examples shows that people gravitate towards such relationships that can provide them with assessments that prove their self-views (Heine et al., 2007).
When students fail to obtain self-verifying feedback by showing the identity cues or by preferring self-verifying social surroundings, they can still achieve such assessments by systematically causing confirming reactions. For instance, depressed people always treat negatively their roommates, at the same time causing these roommates to disapprove and reject them.
The theory of self-verification predicts that when students communicate with each other, a common tendency for them to compel others (both students, teachers, or parents) to see them the way they regard themselves comes out. This tendency, especially actual when students start to believe that someone has misconstrued them, is very evident, and students compensate by working hard to make others to prove their self-views. Students can even stop working on the homework if they feel that their performance is promoting non-verifying reactions (Heine et al., 2007).
According to the recent research conducted by Bonanno and Gupta who collected the data which can help to evaluate the relationship between adjustment and self-enhancement of college students to possible harmful events during their four years of education, we have the following results (Phillips, 2012):
- Students with low scores on self-enhancement; the increase of potentially harmful events leads to a positive increase in the distress;
- While at college, the majority of students experience about 4.4 of harmful events (Jordan et al., 2010);
- Students with high scores on self-enhancement are not experiencing a strong increase of distress;
- The data shows that the self-enhancement plays a role of a so-called buffer that alleviates the harmful effects.
In conclusion, I would like to say that self-enhancement and self-verification are crucial for perceiving oneself as an important person in the society. Students suffer especially, if their self-esteems are low and they lack confidence, hiding all the time behind the backs of their groupmates or teachers, and even worse, being unable to reveal their talents and make a path towards success.
However, all is good when it is balanced and harmonic. The positive self-views can do a student a great favor in creating successful life, but the overly-estimated individuals can cause many problems to the people around them, and to themselves, as their values change under the constant influence of their super-powerful ego which is fostered by narcissistic thoughts and wrongful perception of their own abilities.