Self -esteem in young adolescents: Emotional and cognitive reactions to success and failure

Lawrence John Soriano, Fordham University


A variety of psychological theories have attempted to explain the origins of self-esteem, its definition, its function, and its consequences in the everyday lives of children. In addition, a vast amount of research literature has characterized self-esteem as an important variable in both the attainment of a variety of positive outcomes for children having high self-esteem and associated a variety children's clinical problems for those having low self-esteem. While there is some agreement about self-esteem's basic attributes, there is less agreement about its functions and its relevance to people's thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Within the self-esteem literature, there has been mixed empirical support for the relationship between self-esteem and negative emotional reactions to failure. The focus of this study was to address some of these research issues, and to explore the relationship between levels of self-esteem in young adolescents and their emotional reactions to success and failure in a challenging task situation. This study found that self-esteem generally had very little effect on how adolescents dealt with positive feedback. With very few exceptions, adolescents embraced success and felt good when they did well. Self-esteem was most significant when adolescents confronted negative outcomes. Negative results made adolescents with low self-esteem feel more ashamed and embarrassed and they generalized these reactions to other non-related domains. In addition, low self-esteem individuals exhibited greater self-handicapping and less task persistence after the experience of failure. Based on the results of this study, important implications for interventions designed to help low self-esteem adolescents were noted. Such interventions should not focus exclusively on improving low self-esteem with “success experiences.” The positive feelings generated from such experiences are likely to be superficial and short term until a serious setback is experienced. More effective interventions should “de-link” the experience of failure and negative emotional reactions in adolescents. Considerable further research is needed to determine the best way to help those with low self-esteem deal with experiences of failure and make such experiences less debilitating. This research must clarify the exact nature of the direct link between failure, emotional reactions and global self-views.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Soriano, Lawrence John, "Self -esteem in young adolescents: Emotional and cognitive reactions to success and failure" (2000). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9999835.