Defensiveness versus remediation: self-theories and modes of self-esteem maintenance

Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2008 May;34(5):599-612. doi: 10.1177/0146167207312960. Epub 2008 Feb 14.


How people maintain and repair their self-esteem has been a topic of widespread interest. In this article, the authors ask, What determines whether people will use direct, remedial actions, or defensive actions? In three studies, they tested the hypothesis that a belief in fixed intelligence (entity theory) would produce defensiveness, whereas a belief in improvable intelligence (incremental theory) would foster remediation. In each study, participants assigned to the entity condition opted for defensive self-esteem repair (downward comparison in Studies 1 and 3; a tutorial on already mastered material in Study 2), but those in the incremental condition opted for self-improvement (upward comparison in Studies 1 and 3; a tutorial on unmastered material in Study 2). Experiment 3 also linked these strategies to self-esteem repair; remedial strategies were the most effective in recovering lost self-esteem for those in the incremental condition, whereas defensive strategies were most effective for those in the entity condition.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Culture*
  • Defense Mechanisms*
  • Feedback, Psychological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence*
  • Internal-External Control
  • Male
  • Problem Solving*
  • Psychological Theory
  • Remedial Teaching*
  • Self Concept*
  • Students / psychology