Psychology

Short-Circuiting the Path to Violence

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Science  27 Nov 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5957, pp. 1165
DOI: 10.1126/science.326.5957.1165-c
CREDIT: ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

Self-esteem and narcissism are sometimes invoked as explanations for outbreaks of classroom aggression, whether physical or verbal. That is, too little of one or too much of the other putatively contribute to the tendency to lash out when threatened, and hence there have been efforts to boost students' self-esteem as a means of reducing the frequency of confrontations. Thomaes et al. argue instead that the critical need is to buffer self-esteem—whether a student has a lot or a little of it—and they conducted a randomized field trial in the Netherlands to assess the efficacy of a brief affirmation exercise designed to buttress self-esteem. Before the intervention, aggressive behavior was prevalent among the individuals who scored high on the narcissism scale and low on self-esteem. Afterward, acts of aggression decreased even though the individual levels of self-esteem (both high and low) were unchanged, supporting the conclusion that firming up one's sense of worth reduces the vulnerability to threat and thus diminishes the motivation to launch defensive counterattacks.

Psychol. Sci. 20, 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02478.x (2009).

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