Developmental and Individual Difference Perspectives on Self-Esteem

Authored by: Susan Harter

Handbook of Personality Development

Print publication date:  April  2006
Online publication date:  February  2014

Print ISBN: 9780805847161
eBook ISBN: 9781315805610
Adobe ISBN: 9781317778073


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This chapter begins with a brief historical overview of how interest in self-esteem or self-worth has waxed and waned over the last century (see Harter, 1999, for a more in-depth review). Then attention turns to the evidence on the emergence of self-esteem from a developmental perspective, charting the reasons for why the level of self-esteem is higher during the formative years of early childhood. This analysis is yoked to our own model of the determinants of self-esteem, as well as to cognitive-developmental processes among young children. Evidence is then provided that documents how, beginning in middle childhood, marked individual differences in level of self-esteem begin to emerge and will continue across the life span. A developmental analysis is provided. The focus then shifts to one controversy in this literature, namely, whether self-esteem, once established in childhood, remains stable over time or is susceptible to change. More recent literature on these issues is reviewed with regard to whether self-esteem should be viewed as a trait or a state. The chapter argues that this is a bogus question. Constructs such as self-esteem are not, in and of themselves, traits or states per se. Rather, for some individuals self-esteem is traitlike and for others it is more statelike. The goal then becomes finding a way to account for these individual differences. Three studies from our own laboratory are presented in support of this position.

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