Early adolescents with high self-esteem are likely to turn aggressive when they feel ashamed, finds a new study.
The research led by University of Michigan, VU University and Utrecht University in The Netherlands suggests that young teens with inflated feelings of superiority are more likely to react violently to maintain self-worth when ashamed.
"Young teens with low self-esteem apparently don’t feel the need to protect their punctured egos," said University of Michigan psychologist Brad J. Bushman, a co-author of the study.
During the study, Bushman, Sander Thomaes, and colleagues conducted an experiment with 163 children ages 10 to 13, from Michigan middle schools with 54 percent males. Before the new study, the participants were asked to fill a questionnaire designed to assess their levels of self-esteem and narcissism.
Narcissism included grandiose views of themselves, inflated feelings of superiority and entitlement, and exploitative interpersonal attitudes. Later, they were made to an Internet reaction-time game called FastKid! against an opponent of the same sex and age from a school in Columbus, Ohio However, in reality, there was no opponent; the computer controlled all events. Those who were randomly selected for the "shame condition" were told that their opponent was one of the worst players in the supposed tournament, and they should easily win; when they lost, their last-place ranking was displayed on a website they believed that everyone could see.
The findings revealed that narcissistic kids were more aggressive than others, but only after they had been shamed. "Narcissists seem highly motivated to create and maintain a grandiose view of self," wrote researchers. "They tend to interpret social situations in terms of how they reflect on the self, and they engage in self-regulatory strategies to protect self-esteem when they need to.
"As shameful situations constitute a threat to grandiosity, narcissistic shame-induced aggression can likely be viewed as defensive effort to maintain self-worth," they added.