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Interpreting the uninterpretable: The effect of self-esteem on the interpretation of meaningless feedback


David H. Silvera, Institute of Psychology, University of Tromsø, 9037 Tromsø, Norway. Tel: +47 77 64 59 49; fax +47 77 64 56 10. E-mail:


People often seek out and retain positive information about themselves via self-enhancement processes. Under other circumstances, they seek out and retain self-confirmatory information via self-verification processes. Research on both of these self-evaluation processes has been based heavily on domains such as social skills, in which people have a large database of prior information that presumably influences the way in which incoming self-relevant information is interpreted. In the present research, participants were asked to evaluate themselves on a set of imaginary “pseudotraits” to investigate how self-esteem influences the self-evaluation process when prior information is unavailable. Participants who had been identified through pre-testing as either high or low in self-esteem received false feedback on five pseudotraits (e.g., “casortic”), after which they evaluated the favorability of this feedback. High self-esteem participants tended to view their feedback as favorable, whereas low self-esteem participants did not.