Sweets, Sex, or Self-Esteem? Comparing the Value of Self-Esteem Boosts with Other Pleasant Rewards


  • This research was supported by Grants R01MH058869 from the National Institute of Mental Health to JC, and 1F32DA030017-01 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to SJM. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

  • This is an Accepted Article that has been peer-reviewed and approved for publication in the Journal of Personality, but has yet to undergo copy-editing and proof correction. Please cite this article as an “Accepted Article”; doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2010.00712.x

Address correspondence to Brad J. Bushman, Ph.D., School of Communication, The Ohio State University, 3127 Derby Hall, 154 North Oval Mall, Columbus, OH 43210-1339, Email: bushman.20@osu.edu


Many people ascribe great value to self-esteem, but how much value? Do people value self-esteem more than other pleasant activities, such as eating sweets and having sex? Two studies of college students (Study 1: N=130; Study 2: N=152) showed that people valued boosts to their self-esteem more than they valued eating a favorite food and engaging in a favorite sexual activity. Study 2 also showed that people valued self-esteem more than they valued drinking alcohol, receiving a paycheck, and seeing a best friend. Both studies found that people who highly valued self-esteem engaged in laboratory tasks to boost their self-esteem. Finally, personality variables interacted with these value ratings. Entitled people thought they were more deserving of all pleasant rewards, even though they did not like them all that much (both studies); and people who highly value self-esteem pursue potentially maladaptive self-image goals, presumably to elevate their self-esteem (Study 2).