Imagination and Self Esteem

July 11, 2008

A recent study shows that imagining one’s self with different people in our life has an effect on how we perceive ourselves, according to a study discussed in the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest. Students were asked to visualize a range of fairly mundane items or experiences and then at the end they were asked to visualize in detail either one of their parents, a recent romantic partner, or a friend. Afterwards they completed a range of personality and self-esteem tests. Post-experimental debriefing confirmed they hadn’t guessed the true purpose of the study.

Students who visualized a parent subsequently rated themselves as less sensual, adventurous, dominant, extraverted and industrious, than did students asked to visualize a friend or romantic partner, consistent with the idea that people revert to a more submissive “child role” with their parents.

A second study revealed some interesting interactions between self-esteem and the effect of visualizing different people. Low self-esteem female students who visualized a romantic partner subsequently rated themselves as less sensuous, relaxed and physically attractive, than did students with high self-esteem (however no such difference emerged after visualizing a same-sex friend). Meanwhile imagining a same-sex friend led low self-esteem, but not high self-esteem, students to subsequently rate themselves as less socially dominant.

The researchers concluded that people could benefit from being more aware of the influences the mere thought of others can have. “If people recognize that imagined audiences could influence their thoughts, feelings, and actions, thereby perpetuating patterns that exist in specific relationships and possibly carrying over to new relationships, they can try to circumvent any undesirable effects through a conscious override.” In other words, when it comes to seeing yourself in the best possible light for a given situation, mind who you think of.

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