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Loving, Hating, Vacillating: Agreeableness, Implicit Self-Esteem, and Neurotic Conflict


  • The first author acknowledges support from NIMH (MH 068241). Correspondence can be directed to Michael Robinson, Psychology Department, North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND 58105. E-mail:


ABSTRACT An implicit preference for the self over others may be beneficial when pursuing one's own desires but costly when adjusting the self to the desires of others. On the basis of this reasoning, the authors hypothesized that Agreeableness and implicit self-esteem would interact in predicting measures of neurotic distress. Three studies and one meta-analysis, involving 235 undergraduate participants, confirmed that high levels of implicit self-esteem were beneficial (i.e., less neurotic distress) within the context of low levels of Agreeableness but costly (i.e., more neurotic distress) within the context of high levels of Agreeableness. Because findings were robust across various measures of Agreeableness, implicit self-esteem, and neurotic distress, the interpersonal principles examined here appear to have broad relevance for understanding this particular form of intrapsychic conflict and its manifestation in neurotic distress. Results therefore support Horney's (1945) theory concerning the consequences of intrapsychic conflicts related to interpersonal motivation and cognition.