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Seeking To Understand the Value of Self

The self.  We all have one, we all spend energy caring for it, and we typically want others to like it.  But what is the self good for?

Actually quite a bit, according to Kent Harber, whose research indicates that people who feel good about themselves, and secure in their own worth, perceive more accurately, evaluate more judiciously, and communicate more candidly.

Harber’s “Resources and Perception Model (RPM)” research shows that when people feel good about themselves or have supportive friends, they more accurately perceive the steepness of hills, the severity of heights, the proximity of scary objects such as a live tarantula, and the presence of others. 

Harber’s work on emotional disclosure and judgment shows that after disclosing feelings (which boosts feelings of coherence and meaning), people are less likely to victim-blame and are more forgiving toward those who offended them.

The self also affects interracial communication. Harber found that in order to avoid seeing themselves as prejudiced, whites often provide more praise and less criticism to minorities than to fellow whites for work of equal merit.  But this “positive feedback bias” disappears when whites are reassured about their own tolerance.

Why does the self matter so much?  Harber researched the degree to which self-esteem affects people’s willingness to trust their own emotions, and  found that people with high self-esteem are more likely to “go with their gut” than those with low self-esteem.

Harber’s research on has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the Spencer Foundation, among others.  It has been reported in The Atlantic, Newsweek, Huffington Post and other news outlets.

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