Lynch, Bridget Petersen
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The interpersonal nature of self-enhancement has often been restricted to partner-enhancement and basking in reflected glory, with very little work investigating the balance between needs for self-esteem and needs to belong. The current set of studies was designed to test the question how might self-enhancing and belonging maintenance processes function together or in opposition to one another? After discussing self-esteem and belonging as individual self-regulating systems, I propose that certain situations may influence the overlap between these two processes resulting in a tension that can predict behavior. As a first step in investigating this idea, I conducted two studies that placed the desire to feel positively about the self against the desire to belong and measured two different self-enhancement techniques (comparison, reflection)—one strategy representing a potential cost to belonging and one strategy that does not. Study 1 used a writing exercise to manipulate belonging status (inclusion, exclusion) and then assessed tendencies to self-enhance using comparison and reflection processes. There was no evidence to support the hypothesized interaction of belonging status and self-enhancement strategy. However, there was some evidence of individual difference variables influencing strategy preference. In Study 2, I manipulated the context of the self-enhancement opportunity (private, public) to mimic situations of varying belonging costs and again assessed tendencies to compare and reflect. This time, there was support for the hypothesized context of self-enhancement opportunity by self-enhancement strategy interaction such that people asked to self-enhance in a relatively public context showed a preference for reflection over comparison. Results are discussed concerning when reflective self-enhancement might be perceived as beneficial and recommendations for future investigation in this area.