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Secure Versus Fragile High Self-Esteem as a Predictor of Verbal Defensiveness: Converging Findings Across Three Different Markers


  • This research was supported by NSF grant BCS-0451029. We thank Lindsay Connell, Hayley Cutts, Shannon Looney, Ashley Norman, and Whitney Vance for their assistance conducting this research.

Address correspondence to Michael Kernis, Department of Psychology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602. E-mail:


ABSTRACT Why is it that many individuals verbally rationalize and distort self-esteem threatening information? We examined whether such verbal defensiveness (Feldman Barrett, Williams, & Fong, 2002) differs as a function of whether individuals' high self-esteem is secure or fragile. Our findings indicated that individuals whose self-esteem was stable, not contingent, or congruent with high implicit self-esteem exhibited especially low amounts of verbal defensiveness. In contrast, verbal defensiveness was considerably higher when individuals' high self-esteem was unstable, contingent, or paired with discrepant low implicit self-esteem. Discussion centers on why the possession of well-anchored and secure high self-esteem obviates defensiveness directed toward enhancing, maintaining, or bolstering feelings of self-worth.

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