A method for the unobtrusive manipulation of self-esteem is presented. In four experiments, participants were subliminally exposed to either negative or positive adjectives paired with a self-referring word (‘I’). The manipulation affected both self-esteem and a probable consequence of self-esteem (self-serving bias) but did not affect mood or evaluation of a non-self-related object. When the adjectives were paired with a non-self-referring word, the manipulation had no effects. Together, the findings suggest that a) the method is an effective means of manipulating self-esteem without side-effects on mood and b) selective activation of evaluative self-knowledge is the mediating process. Thus, the method promises to be a useful tool for the experimental investigation of the consequences of self-esteem. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.