Self-Esteem as a Status-Tracking Mechanism

The imagined place or rank of an individual or group in a specific societal hierarchy or system is called status. It is frequently founded on money, schooling, employment, or social connections. Status can be subjective and objective, with some elements being more concrete and quantifiable than others. A person's social status can substantially affect their life, influencing their access to resources, chances, and social networks. It can also have an impact on their self-esteem and sense of identity because people often receive a feeling of pride or satisfaction from it.

What is Self Esteem?

Self-esteem is a person's overall subjective evaluation of their worth or value. It reflects people's beliefs and feelings about themselves, including their abilities, accomplishments, and personal qualities. An individual with solid self-esteem has an excellent and healthy self-image and believes in his or her value and abilities. They are more self-confident, have an optimistic perspective on life, and are better prepared to face life's challenges.

On the other hand, a person with poor self-esteem has a lousy self-image and may think they are unworthy or incapable. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and anxiety, which can interfere with their ability to accomplish their objectives and form good relationships.

Self-Esteem as a Status-Tracking Mechanism

Self-esteem is a status-tracking mechanism that reflects our perception of our worth and value to others. Our experiences, social interactions, and cultural values influence this perception of self-esteem is high. We feel good about ourselves and believe that we are valuable and deserving of respect and attention.

This can lead to positive outcomes such as greater confidence, better relationships, and improved mental health. Conversely, when our self-esteem is low, we may feel unworthy or inferior. This can lead to adverse outcomes such as depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal.

In this manner, self-esteem allows us to assess our standing with others and adjust our behavior appropriately. For example, if we have a strong sense of self-worth, we are more likely to express ourselves in social settings and follow our objectives with confidence. Conversely, poor self-esteem may make us more reluctant to speak up or take chances.

However, it is essential to note that self-esteem does not always accurately indicate our value. Our self-esteem may sometimes be boosted or diminished due to unrealistic or incorrect views of ourselves or others. In these instances, requesting input from trusted peers or professionals may be beneficial to obtain a more accurate picture.

Evolutionary Perspectives on Self-Esteem

Emotional and self-evaluative psychological systems that monitor adaptively relevant elements of social situations have piqued the interest of evolutionary psychologists. According to Barkow, "the appraisal that results in self-esteem is symbolic in character, requiring the application of criteria for the distribution of prestige." The sociometer hypothesis, proposed by psychologist Mark Leary and his colleagues, codified this notion.

The theory's primary concept is that self-esteem is a personal sign or gauge of other people's opinions. An increase in self-esteem indicates an increase in one's social inclusion and acceptance by others.

A decrease in the degree to which one is included and accepted by others leads to a loss of self-esteem. Leary's explanation for sociometer theory is based on evolutionary logic. Humans developed in communities and required the assistance of others to thrive and reproduce. As a result, impulses to seek the company of others, create social relationships, and curry the favor of those in the group evolved.

Failing to be accepted by others would have resulted in isolation and death if forced to survive without the group's protective blanket. Given the importance of social acceptability in survival, selection would have preferred a system that allowed one person to measure the degree of approval by others. According to sociometer theory, that mechanism is self-esteem. Blows to self-esteem inspire an individual to seek favor with group members, enhance current social ties, or seek new social interactions.

Much empirical research back up the sociometer idea. Participants in one research, for example, recalled a prior social experience and offered two assessments of that encounter −

  • How included or excluded they felt by others in that meeting, and

  • Their self-esteem at the time.

The findings supported the assumption that more felt inclusion by others was associated with higher self-esteem. Reduced self-esteem was associated with decreased felt inclusion. It is merely a minor step to extend this theory to indicate that self-esteem correlates with prestige, position, and reputation, as proposed by Barkow (1989). According to this interpretation, self-esteem is a psychological system that tracks the regard and respect in which others hold one. Gains in self-esteem should accompany improvements in social standing. Reduces in social standing should be followed by declines in self-esteem.

Evolutionary Objectives of Self-Esteem

According to this extended form of the sociometer idea, self-esteem would fulfill various evolutionary objectives. First, it might be a motivating tool rather than improving relationships with people when their respect dwindles. It may also encourage people to repeat or increase the frequency of behaviors that result in increased respect from others. Proper tracking of one's regard and the circumstances that produce increases might encourage an individual to retain or improve one's current standing and reputation.

Another purpose of self-esteem is influencing judgments about whom to challenge and whom to surrender to. Understanding where you are in the pecking order tells you whom you may mistreat with impunity and whom you should "not mess with." Mistakes in self-evaluation would have resulted in harm, exile, or death. Self-esteem serves to help in decision-making regarding confronting and submitting to others by offering accurate self-assessments of one's status in the social hierarchy.

Tracking one's desirability in the mating market, and hence the relative mate value of individuals to whom one spends mating effort is a third proposed function of self-esteem. In research to evaluate this expected function, men and women were exposed to a series of models that varied along two dimensions: beautiful versus nonattractive and dominant versus non-dominant.

Under the premise of assisting researchers in evaluating various formats for a dating service, participants were exposed to detailed profiles and images of same-sex others. The profiles rated the persons' dominance as high or low and the associated photos as high or low in physical beauty. Afterward, participants assessed themselves on various criteria, including their suitability as marriage mates.

The outcomes were stunning. Women exposed to physically appealing images of others rated themselves as less desirable as a marriage mate than those exposed to physically unattractive photographs of others. Women's self-evaluations were unaffected by whether the other women were dominant. The results for males were precisely the reverse.

Men exposed to images of same-sex partners labeled as significantly dominating assessed themselves as less desirable as a mate than men exposed to photographs of guys classified as low in dominance. The other men's physical attractiveness did not affect the participants' self-evaluations. This study lends credence to the concept that self-evaluations influence one's perceived attractiveness in the mating market. One intriguing route for future study in evaluating the functions of self-esteem is to attempt to affect other people's perceptions.

Even when the evident physical proof is missing, a person who seems confident in his or her capacity to destroy a rival physically is occasionally given a vast space. Animals frequently take one another at their word. We presume at least some honesty in self-presentations of one's position and respect.

However, this is not always the case. Person adjectives such as arrogant, egotistical, haughty, pompous, affected, pretentious, inflated, and presumptuous connote self-presentations that others perceive are exaggerated. They may also be comments used to disparage competitors to signal to possible mates that a rival lacks the resources he claims to have or is deceptive in her self-presentation of rank.

Factors Influencing Self-Esteem

A variety of variables affect self-image, including −

Personal Events

Our good and bad experiences can influence our self-image. For example, a person who has had many good encounters may have a more positive self-image than someone who has had many failures or disappointments.

Social Interactions

Interactions with peers, family members, and co-workers can also impact our self-image. Positive feedback from others can increase our self-esteem, whereas unfavorable feedback can decrease it.

Cultural and Societal Expectations

Cultural and societal standards and expectations can influence our self-image in various ways, including our looks, behavior, and views. Some societies, for example, put higher stress on physical appearance, leading to people developing a negative self-image if they do not reach those standards.

Media and Advertising

Media and advertising can also impact our self-image by portraying idealized and often unrealistic pictures of attractiveness, prosperity, and contentment. Individuals who do not reach those norms may feel weak or inferior.

Personality Characteristics

Our personality attributes can also influence our self-image. Individuals with high self-esteem, for example, may have a more favorable self-image, whereas those with poor self-esteem may have a negative self-image.

Mental Health

Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression can also impact our self-image because they can contribute to opposing ideas and emotions about ourselves. It is critical to understand that these variables can be complicated and interconnected and that self-image is a dynamic and changing notion that can change over time. Seeking assistance from trustworthy friends or experts can be beneficial in addressing any negative self-image and building a more optimistic self-image.


At last, self-esteem is essential in how people view themselves and their societal position. Self-esteem can influence societal order and individual well-being as a status-tracking mechanism. Understanding the variables that impact self-esteem and taking accurate measures to boost it can lead to a more positive self-image, confidence, and better connections with others. Building and keeping good self-esteem is a lifelong process, but it can have substantial personal and social advantages.

Updated on: 11-Apr-2023


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