Skip to main content

See also:

Can you convince someone they're worthy if they think they're not?

You may want to rethink cheering up your friends who have low self-esteem because chances are they don't want to hear it. The findings, "You can’t always give what you want: The challenge of providing social support to low self-esteem individuals," appear online in the July 2014 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The researchers in this new study found no evidence that positive reframing helps participants with low self-esteem.

Can you convince someone they're worthy if they think they're not?
Anne Hart, photography and book.

Just how do you cheer up friends who have low self-esteem when they don't want to hear it? People with low self-esteem have overly negative views of themselves, and often interpret critical feedback, romantic rejections, or unsuccessful job applications as evidence of their general unworthiness. A new study from researchers at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University found that they likely don't want you to try to boost their spirits. You could ask them what they'd prefer, so they'd have wider choices, if they're willing to share their thoughts and feelings with someone they really trust to feel safe with, safe with their lives under any changing circumstance.

"People with low self-esteem want their loved ones to see them as they see themselves. As such, they are often resistant to their friends’ reminders of how positively they see them and reject what we call positive reframing–expressions of optimism and encouragement for bettering their situation," said Professor Denise Marigold, according to the June 24, 2014 news release, "Not everyone wants cheering up, new study suggests." Marigold is with Renison University College at Waterloo, and lead author of the study.

These individuals usually prefer negative validation, which conveys that the feelings, actions or responses of the recipient are normal, reasonable, and appropriate to the situation

So a friend could express understanding about the predicament or for the difficulty of a situation, and suggest that expressing negative emotions is appropriate and understandable. The researchers found no evidence that positive reframing helps participants with low self-esteem. And in fact, the people providing support to friends with low self-esteem often felt worse about themselves when they attempted to cheer up their friend.

Some study participants indicated that supporting friends with low self-esteem could be frustrating and tiring. The researchers found that when these support providers used positive reframing instead of negative validation in these situations, they often believed the interaction went poorly, perhaps because the friends with low self-esteem were not receptive and the efforts didn't work.

"If your attempt to point out the silver lining is met with a sullen reminder of the prevailing dark cloud, you might do best to just acknowledge the dark cloud and sympathize," said Professor Marigold, according to the news release.

On the other hand moving together to music builds bonds, says another recent study

Researchers have shown that moving to music in time with others boosts the altruistic behavior of babies who have barely learned to walk. Whether they march in unison, row in the same boat or dance to the same song, people who move in time with one another are more likely to bond and work together afterward.

It's a principle established by previous studies, but now researchers at McMaster University have shown that moving in time with others even affects the social behavior of babies who have barely learned to walk. Moving in sync with others is an important part of musical activities," says Laura Cirelli, according to the June 24, 2014 news release, "Helpful bouncing babies show that moving together to music builds bonds." Cirelli is the lead author of a paper, "Interpersonal synchrony increases prosocial behavior in infants," appearing online since June 12, 2014 and scheduled to be published in print in an upcoming issue of the journal Developmental Science. "These effects show that movement is a fundamental part of music that affects social behavior from a very young age."

Cirelli and her colleagues in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behavior showed that 14-month-old babies were much more likely to help another person after the experience of bouncing up and down in time to music with that person

Cirelli and fellow doctoral student Kate Einarson worked under the supervision of Professor Laurel Trainor, a specialist in child development research. Researchers tested 68 babies in all, to see if bouncing to music with another person makes a baby more likely to assist that person by handing back "accidentally" dropped objects.

Working in pairs, one researcher held a baby in a forward-facing carrier and stood facing the second researcher. When the music started to play, both researchers would gently bounce up and down, one bouncing the baby with them. Some babies were bounced in sync with the researcher across from them, and others were bounced at a different tempo.

When the song was over, the researcher who had been facing the baby then performed several simple tasks, including drawing a picture with a marker. While drawing the picture, she would pretend to drop the marker to see whether the infant would pick it up and hand it back to her – a classic test of altruism in babies.

The babies who had been bounced in time with the researcher were much more likely to toddle over, pick up the object and pass it back to the researcher, compared to infants who had been bounced at a different tempo than the experimenter

While babies who had been bounced out of sync with the researcher only picked up and handed back 30 per cent of the dropped objects, in-sync babies came to the researcher's aid 50 per cent of the time. The in-sync babies also responded more quickly.

The findings suggest that when we sing, clap, bounce or dance in time to music with our babies, these shared experiences of synchronous movement help form social bonds between us and our babies. It's a significant finding, Cirelli believes, according to the news release, because it shows that moving together to music with others encourages the development of altruistic helping behavior among those in a social group. It suggests that music is an important part of day care and kindergarten curriculums because it helps to build a co-operative social climate.

Cirelli is now researching whether the experience of synchronous movement with one person leads babies to extend their increased helpfulness to other people or whether infants reserve their altruistic behavior for their dancing partners. You may wish to view a laboratory video from the experiment here.