2019-02-28 13:42:34

SPSP 2019: Does low self-esteem really lead to outgroup derogation?

The Annual SPSP Convention was held in Portland, Oregon this year. Here, I presented a project which we recently completed with a team of distinguished researchers. I had the great pleasure of collaborating with Prof. Christopher Federico (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities), Prof. Constantine Sedikides (University of Southampton), Dr. Rita Guerra (Instituto Universitario de Lisboa, ISCTE-IUL), Dr. Marzena Cypryanska (University SWPS Poznan) and Dr. Thomas Baran (University of Warsaw) on this project led by Dr. Agnieszka Golec de Zavala (Goldsmiths, University of London), head of PrejudiceLab. We set out to investigate the relationship between low self-esteem and outgroup derogation across seven studies.

According to the Social Identity Theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979), low self-esteem promotes outgroup derogation. Although the Social Identity Theory has been accepted among social psychologists, this Corollary Two of the Self-Esteem Hypothesis has not been supported thus far by research (e.g., Rubin & Hewstone, 1988). Theodore Adorno (1963/1998) and Eric Fromm (1973) suggested that low self-esteem may lead to outgroup derogation through its relationship with collective narcissism. While earlier research linked collective narcissism to outgroup derogation (Golec de Zavala, Dyduch-Hazar, & Lantos, 2019), no relationship has been observed between collective narcissism and self-esteem, or between self-esteem and outgroup derogation (Abrams & Hogg, 1988).

In the present research program we not only included collective narcissism, the resentment for insufficient external recognition of the ingroup’s importance, but also ingroup satisfaction, the belief that the ingroup is of high value and a reason to be proud. Research from our lab found these two variables to be correlated with each other (Golec de Zavala et al., 2019). Here, we were interested in testing the hypotheses that:

  • 1.) There is a negative relationship between collective narcissism and self-esteem when the effects of ingroup satisfaction are partialled out, while there is a positive relationship between self-esteem and ingroup satisfaction when the effects of collective narcissism are partialled out.
  • 2.) Low self-esteem leads to outgroup derogation via collective narcissism when ingroup satisfaction is controlled for.

We conducted a total of seven studies investigating these hypotheses. Of the seven studies, I included four on my poster presented at the 2019 SPSP Convention, including cross sectional, longitudinal and experimental designs. The studies all looked at national collective narcissism and national ingroup satisfaction, drawing samples from two countries.

In Study 1, 427 Polish adult completed self-report questionnaires assessing self-esteem (Rosenberg, 1965), collective narcissism (Golec de Zavala, Cichocka, Eidelson, & Jayawickreme, 2009), and ingroup satisfaction (Leach et al., 2008). In support of Hypothesis 1, we found a negative relationship between self-esteem and collective narcissism, and a positive relationship between self-esteem and ingroup satisfaction, when the other group identification variable was controlled for.

In a longitudinal design conducted on a nationally representative sample in Poland (N = 853), Study 2 measured self-esteem, collective narcissism, and ingroup satisfaction and two separate time points. The results suggest that self-esteem at Time 1 negatively predicted collective narcissism at Time 2, and positively predicted ingroup satisfaction at Time 2, while the other group identification variable was controlled for, further supporting Hypothesis 1.

Study 3 explored the relationship between self-esteem and outgroup derogation. This study was also conducted on a representative Polish sample (N = 1059) and operationalized outgroup derogation assessing Social Distance (Bogardus, 1925) towards Syrian refugees. Self-esteem, collective narcissism, and ingroup satisfaction were measured as in Studies 1 and 2. Our results indicate that a that collective narcissism moderates the relationship between self-esteem and outgroup derogation when ingroup satisfaction is accounted for; with self-esteem negatively predicting collective narcissism, which positively predicts outgroup derogation, respectively. These results support Hypothesis 2.

The final study presented on the poster was conducted among a U.S. sample (N = 221) and included an experimental manipulation of self-esteem using Cyberball (Williams ref) in order to test Hypothesis 2. Cyberball is an online ball-tossing game, during which the extent to which the participant is included in the game can be manipulated. Research suggests that the exclusion of the participant negatively affects their self-esteem (ref). Our lab has developed an intergroup version of Cyberball, where the participant is merely observing as (allegedly real participants) their ingroup members are being excluded from the game, or included, by an other national team. Self-esteem, collective narcissism and ingroup satisfaction were measured as in Studies 1-3, and outgroup derogation was assessed using the Voodoo doll task (DeWall et al., 2013). Our findings are in line with Hypothesis 2, suggesting that intergroup exclusion positively predicts collective narcissism, which in turn positively predicts outgroup derogation, when ingroup satisfaction is controlled for.

The results presented here support Hypothesis 1, suggesting that collective narcissism and ingroup satisfaction have opposite, unique relationships with self-esteem. The negative association between self-esteem and collective narcissism is visible when the positive overlap between collective narcissism and ingroup satisfaction is partialled out. Ingroup satisfaction is positively related to self-esteem, independent of collective narcissism. The results further support Hypothesis 2, indicating that low self-esteem does predict outgroup derogation via collective narcissism. However, this relationship is only visible when the positive overlap between collective narcissism and ingroup satisfaction is partialled out.

Our studies show that the Social Identity Theory was not wrong to propose that low self-esteem leads to outgroup derogation – however, this may only hold true in the case of individuals with collective narcissistic beliefs. The present studies (and three additional ones in support of our theory) are currently submitted to JPSP – hopefully interested readers will soon be able to find more details there!

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Dorottya Lantos
Dorottya Lantos
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