Over the course of a week I get several press releases sent to me by fax or email. Since I am more or less in the people business, I got one the other day from the Wake Forest University News Service that really caught my attention.
It was titled, "Who Cares What Others Think?” Says the university study, “Everyone.”
From the title, you can see where it’s going and it may or may not change your thinking, behavior or attitude. It is nevertheless information that may be of value to you.
I’m going to share this release as it came to me and then I am going to share some of my own thoughts to supplement the basic premise.
It begins, "Practically everyone cares what people think of them, including those who insist they are not affected by others’ opinions, suggests new research by a Wake Forest University psychology professor. The results of the study show that social approval and disapproval affect virtually everyone’s feelings about themselves, even those individuals who steadfastly and adamantly claim that their feelings about themselves are not affected by other people’s evaluations, said Mark Leary, chair of Wake Forest’s psychology department and lead author of the study.
“Leary’s research was published in the most recent issue of the ‘Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.’ He conducted two experiments that compared the effects of social approval and disapproval on participants who said that their self-esteem is affected by how other people evaluate them and on participants who said their self-esteem is not affected by feedback they get from others. Participants, all college students, completed a pre-test to measure self-esteem at the beginning of the study. Then, the participants filled out questionnaires about themselves and received either positive or negative feedback about whether others in their group would like to get to know them better based on that information.
“The researchers then evaluated how the participants felt about themselves and the degree to which that depended on how much other people liked, approved or accepted them. Leary made one important change in the second experiment. During the pre-test session, conducted weeks in advance, he described for the participants the specific situation that would be used for the experiment and asked them to evaluate how they thought their self-esteem would be affected in those circumstances.
“Both experiments showed that approval or disapproval affected participants equally, regardless of their beliefs about whether or not their self-esteem would be affected. People underestimate the degree to which they are influenced by others, said Leary, the author of ‘Interpersonal Rejection’ and seven other books. It’s hard to know why, but part of it may be the American ideal of marching to your own drummer. We grow up thinking we shouldn’t be affected by what others think. What is useful about this study is to remind us that perfectly healthy people with perfectly healthy self-esteem are still affected by what others think."
To be sure, this university professor knows a lot more about self-esteem and interpersonal relationships than I do, but it seems to me that what this study proves is that human nature is alive and well.
When you think about it, we really do care about what others think of us. There are basic human needs that cry out for acceptance and approval, and we will do whatever it takes to satisfy those needs. For example, the kid who turns up his radio so loud it can be heard all over town, dies his hair green or has tattoos all over his body is crying out, "Pay attention to me." He definitely cares what others think of him, even if this thinking is mostly negative.
When it comes to having healthy self-esteem, this is a very important part of life, but the only way I have found that we can feel good about ourselves is when we have achieved something really and truly worthwhile.
We can’t simply tell someone that he or she is a world-beater and have it stick, unless these thoughts are reinforced and backed up by their performance. Since the beginning of time, this story has never changed. Our hard-earned success, which is what all of us desire, really comes down to deciding what we want to achieve in life and then working hard to make it happen.
While we are busy doing this, we won’t worry so much about what other people think of us, if we will just realize how seldom they do.
(Editor’s Note: Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. He may be contacted at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway AR 72034.)