Over the last decade a number of theorists have advanced a multifaceted conceptualization of self-esteem. Central to this idea is the notion that self-esteem is less secure and more defensive when individuals are more focused on extrinsic contingencies. To test the hypothesis that individuals with high dispositional levels of extrinsic contingency focus (ECF) are insecure and respond defensively to threat, we developed a measure of ECF and conducted two validation studies. Study 1 showed that the extrinsic contingency focus scale (ECFS) was positively correlated with measures of defensiveness and was negatively correlated with measures of security and well-being. Study 2 showed that people with a high (vs. low) focus on extrinsic contingencies were more likely to defensively distance from a socially insensitive person following negative feedback about their own social sensitivity. Study 3 showed that when mortality (vs. dental pain) was salient, high ECF individuals responded more defensively toward a worldview violator than low ECF individuals. Discussion is focused on theoretical issues related to ECF and defensiveness. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.