Monday, January 10, 2011

Do You Value Self-Esteem Over Sex?

Sex, favorite foods, alcohol, a visit with a best friend and a paycheck – a self-esteem boost trumps them all for most college students, according to two new studies that asked students to rate the pleasant activities they most desired.

"These are college students, look at this list of activities," said Brad Bushman, lead study researcher and a professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.

"College students love sex, they love to eat — any place there is free food, they are there," Bushman told LiveScience, continuing through the list. "And yet they love self-esteem more."

When the results of the two studies were broken down by gender, however, self-esteem didn't trump everything. Male students preferred it to all other activities, but among women, self-esteem boosts, such as those linked with getting a good grade or a compliment, rated neck-and-neck with money and friends.

In the first study, Bushman's team asked 130 University of Michigan students, who received course credit, to think about their favorite food, sexual activity and self-esteem building experiences. Then they had to rate on a scale from 1 to 5 how much they liked it – "How pleasant would it be to eat it (food), do it (sex), or have that experience (self-esteem)?" – and how much they wanted it – "How much do you want to eat it (food), do it (sex), or have that experience (self-esteem)?"

n the second study, the 152 students rated how much they wanted and liked the same pleasurable experiences described in the first study as well as receiving a paycheck, seeing a best friend and drinking alcohol.

Overall, the participants liked all the activities more than they wanted, or needed, them, which is healthy, the researchers said. But the difference between liking and wanting was the smallest for self-esteem building experiences. This is significant, because addiction research suggests that addicts tend to "want" the object of their addiction more than they actually "like" it, according to Bushman.

"Notice for self-esteem the gap is the smallest, so if people are addicted to anything, they are addicted to self-esteem," he said, cautioning that the study results don't indicate any kind of addiction.