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Investigating the Link Between Liking Versus Wanting Self-Esteem and Depression in a Nationally Representative Sample of American Adults



The self-esteem movement has been around since the 1970s, and may have influenced how much value people place on self-esteem. We predicted a negative relationship between age and the amount of value placed on self-esteem boosts. We also investigated the correlates of liking versus wanting self-esteem boosts (and other pleasant rewards) on depression. A nationally representative sample of American adults (N = 867) indicated how much they liked and wanted several pleasant rewards (i.e., sex, food, alcohol, money, friendship, self-esteem boost). They also completed a standardized measure of depressive symptoms. As expected, there was a negative relationship between age and valuing self-esteem boosts, sex, and alcohol. People with depressive symptoms wanted self-esteem boosts, even though they did not like them very much. Similar effects were obtained for depressive symptoms and alcohol and friendship. This is the first research to show that self-esteem boosts are more valued among a nationally representative sample of younger American adults. It also is the first research to explore the association between depression and the motivation to boost self-esteem. People with depressive symptoms want self-esteem, and may pursue it, but this pursuit may feel unrewarding because they do not derive pleasure from it.