Sam Briggs '12 and Beril Esen '13 Investigate Defensive Self-Esteem

Sam Briggs '12 and Beril Esen '13
Sam Briggs '12 and Beril Esen '13
Imagine looking through a series of portraits and being asked to observe the faces of each one. What if suddenly you saw your own face on the screen? How would you react? According to Sam Briggs ’12 and Beril Esen ’13, a lot of that reaction depends on how you feel about yourself.

The team is devising an experiment designed to see how eye movement on the screen displaying the person’s own picture correlates to his or her level of defensive self-esteem. A person with defensive self-esteem has high levels of explicit self-esteem but low implicit. The opposite of defensive self-esteem is secure self-esteem (high levels of both implicit and explicit). This means that someone with defensive self-esteem gives the impression of having high self-esteem to the outside world, but has low self-esteem internally.

Both secure and defensive self-esteems are part of a larger group known as fragile self-esteem, characterized by narcissism, unwillingness to admit any feelings of self-doubt, and dependence on desired outcomes for high self-esteem. Using an eye-tracking device that is placed on a person’s head while he or she participates in the experiment, Briggs and Esen will monitor the position of a participant’s gaze on a screen. If the data proves the hypothesis correct, the research could impact the way psychologists are able to measure and define self-esteem.

The pair is also studying autobiographical memory, which is a storage system of events gained over a person’s life. In this portion of their study they focus on the idea of temporal distance with regard to significant emotional events. Previous studies have found that negative events often feel farther away from the present than do positive events. Positive events may also play more of a role in defining our self-concept. The team plans investigate the findings of this literature and tie it into their study of defensive self-esteem.

Briggs and Esen dreamed up this project, and thesis students in the Psychology department will continue to conduct the experiments in the fall. For the moment, the team is compiling pictures and designing the stimuli for the experiment. They hope to begin conducting pilot tests within the next few weeks before preparing to help fall thesis students being testing incoming Introductory Psychology students.

Briggs and Esen clearly have a lot of fun in their lab. The two recounted how they flew through a lot of preparatory literature at the start of the study: they were able to pick and choose from many articles involving various types of self-esteem and memory studies, competing with one another to see who could read the most articles in the least amount of time.

The pair also spoke at length about having the opportunity to work with Associate Professor of Psychology Jennifer Borton. “Professor Borton is one of the best in the Psychology department and it’s an honor to work with her,” Briggs said. “She’s really a leader in the field of fragile self-esteem.”

Esen agreed, adding: “Hopefully we can finish these six weeks with something that can be built upon and eventually make an impact in this field.”

Sam Briggs '12 is a graduate of  Berwick Academy (Maine) and Beril Esen '13 graduated from Koc Ozel Lisesi (Turkey).
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