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Measuring Global Self-Esteem: Construct Validation of a Single-Item Measure and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale

Richard W. Robins Holly M. Hendin Kali H. Trzesniewski University of California, Davis Four studies examined the construct validity of two global selfesteem measures. In Studies 1 through 3, the Single-Item SelfEsteem Scale (SISE) and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE) showed strong convergent validity for men and women, for different ethnic groups, and for both college students and community members. The SISE and the RSE had nearly identical correlations with a wide range of criterion measures, including domainspecific self-evaluations, self-evaluative biases, social desirability, personality, psychological and physical health, peer ratings of group behavior, academic outcomes, and demographic variables. Study 4 showed that the SISE had only moderate convergent validity in a sample of children. Overall, the findings support the reliability and validity of the SISE and suggest it can provide a practical alternative to the RSE in adult samples. More generally, the findings contribute to the research literature by further elaborating the nomological network of global self-esteem. Williams, & Hancock, 1997). The RSE also has received more psychometric analysis and empirical validation than any other self-esteem measure (Byrne, 1996; Gray-Little et al., 1997; Wylie, 1989). In a recent review, Gray-Little et al. (1997) concluded that the RSE is a reliable and valid measure of global self-worth and "deserves its widespread use and continued popularity" (p. 450). However, they also point out that the 10-item RSE "could be shortened without compromising the measurement of global self-esteem" (p. 450). The present article proposes a new measure of selfesteem based on a single item. We will present evidence that this item has acceptable psychometric properties and can serve as a useful proxy for the RSE in a variety of research contexts. For example, a single-item measure would be advantageous in large-scale surveys, prescreening packets (e.g., to select participants who are high vs. low in self-esteem), longitudinal studies, experience sampling studies, and other research contexts in which time constraints limit the number of items that can be administered. These types of studies often include shortened versions of the RSE, but unfortuAuthors' Note: This research was funded by a faculty research grant (University of California, Davis), an Office of Educational Research grant (University of California, Berkeley), a Provost's Dissertation Research Award (University of California, Berkeley), and a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship. We thank Veronica Benet, Jonathan Cheek, Chris Fraley, Samuel Gosling, Oliver John, Gerald Mendelsohn, Delroy Paulhus, and Niels Waller for comments on an earlier version of this article. We thank Brent Roberts and Brent Donnellan for help collecting the data reported in Studies 1 and 4. Correspondence should be addressed to Richard W. Robins, Department of Psychology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616-8686; email: [email protected] PSPB, Vol. 27 No. 2, February 2001 151-161 © 2001 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.

he measurement of self-esteem is a long-standing issue in psychology, dating back to James's (1890) seminal writings on the self. Over the years, researchers have proposed a wide range of self-esteem measures. In addition to numerous self-report scales, there are "experience sampling" measures (Savin-Williams & Jaquish, 1981), pictorial measures for children (Harter & Pike, 1989), Q-sort prototype measures based on observer judgments (Waters, Noyes, Vaughn, & Ricks, 1985), peer ratings (Demo, 1985), self-ideal discrepancy measures (Block & Robins, 1993), measures based on letter preferences (Kitayama & Karasawa, 1997), and reaction time measures (Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998). However, the vast majority of researchers rely on face valid self-report scales. Of these, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE) (Rosenberg, 1965) is by far the most widely used (Blascovich & Tomaka, 1991; Gray-Little, 151



PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN tion (Campbell, Converse, & Rodgers, 1976), subjective well-being (Diener, 1984; Sandvik, Diener, & Seidlitz, 1993), affect (Russell, Weiss, & Mendelsohn, 1989), relationships (Aron, Aron, & Danny, 1992), and attachment style (Hazan & Shaver, 1987) all have found single items to be useful supplements to more extensive measurement procedures. In short, single-item measures can provide an acceptable balance between practical needs and psychometric concerns. We report findings from four studies to support the construct validity of the Single-Item Self-Esteem Scale (SISE). Study 1 is a longitudinal study in which the SISE and the RSE were administered six times over the course of 4 years of college; the SISE and the RSE were related to each other and to a wide range of variables to examine the construct validity of the two measures. In Study 2, we examined correlations of the SISE and the RSE with measures of socially desirable responding and examined the effects of a 5-point versus a 7-point response scale. In Study 3, we examined the correlation between the SISE and the RSE in a community sample. In Study 4, we examined the convergent validity of the SISE in a sample of fourth- to eighth-grade students by using the Global SelfEsteem Scale from Harter's (1985) Self-Perception Profile for Children.


nately, researchers do not consistently select the same items, for example, O'Malley and Bachman (1983) used four of the RSE items, whereas Tafarodi and Swann (1995) used six RSE items (only two items overlapped between the two studies). Moreover, a single-item measure eliminates item redundancy and therefore reduces the fatigue, frustration, and boredom associated with answering highly similar questions repeatedly. In our experience, even when the RSE items are interspersed with items from other scales, participants frequently write comments such as, "I have already answered this question!" Such reactions may lead participants to skip questions, respond randomly, and engage in other testtaking behaviors that contribute to invalid protocols. For these reasons, there is a need for a standard and brief measure of self-esteem. Despite the practical virtues of single-item measures, there are a number of psychometric reasons to be skeptical about them. First, multiple-item scales tend to be more reliable. According to the Spearman-Brown formula and classical reliability theory, item responses reflect both random measurement error and true score variance. By aggregating over multiple items, errors--if they are random--cancel out. However, there are good reasons to believe that measurement errors are not random across items in the RSE. Due to the redundancy of item content in the RSE, errors are unlikely to be averaged out as the number of items is increased. Moreover, asking more or less the same question 10 times may in fact compound systematic errors (e.g., socially desirable responding). Thus, the assumptions of the SpearmanBrown formula may be unrealistic for the RSE. A second reason to have multiple-item scales is to ensure content validity for multifaceted constructs. However, global self-worth refers to a person's overall positive versus negative feelings about the self; it is explicitly not domain specific and conceptually unidimensional. Thus, the 10 items of the RSE do not tap into different content domains (Gray-Little et al., 1997) but rather ask about general feelings of self-regard without reference to specific facets of the self. Moreover, global self-esteem is a subjective self-evaluation that is not necessarily based on any specific behaviors. Consequently, self-esteem may be easier to measure with a single item than constructs such as conscientiousness, which refer to an amalgamation of several domains of behaviors (e.g., punctuality, orderliness, responsibility). Thus, a conscientiousness scale with adequate content validity would require items assessing each domain, whereas a global self-esteem scale may possess adequate content validity with only a single item. The benefits of using single-item measures, when appropriate, have been noted by researchers (Burisch, 1984). For example, researchers studying life satisfac-



This study used data from an ongoing longitudinal study of 508 undergraduate students who attended the University of California at Berkeley. The sample is diverse in terms of ethnicity (42% Asian, 40% Caucasian, 11% Chicano/Latino, 6% African American, 1% Native American), gender (56% women), socioeconomic status (20% came from families with household incomes less than $25,000 and 20% from families with household incomes greater than $100,000), and academic ability (combined Scholastic Aptitude Test [SAT] scores ranged from 650 to 1540, M = 1183, SD = 180). Participants were assessed annually throughout college. During the first week of college, at the end of the semester, and at the end of each academic year, participants were contacted by mail and asked to complete an extensive questionnaire in exchange for money or course credit. To validate our single-item scale, measures of theoretical relevance to self-esteem were selected from the larger set of measures included in the longitudinal study. Table 1 shows the assessment periods when participants completed each measure.


TABLE 1: Measures Self-esteem SISE RSE TSBI Domain-specific self-evaluations Academic ability Seven domains Self-evaluation bias Self-enhancement Self-serving attribution Personality NEO Big Five Optimism Shyness Psychological and physical well-being Life satisfaction Affect Depression Perceived stress Physical health Group behavior Peer ratings Academic outcomes SAT scores High school GPA College GPA Attrition Study 1: Assessment Periods for Self-Esteem Scales and Criterion Measures Beginning of College End of First Semester End of First Year End of Second Year End of Third Year


End of Fourth Year
























NOTE: SISE = Single-Item Self-Esteem Scale, RSE = Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, TSBI = Texas Social Behavior Inventory, and GPA = grade point average. MEASURES

Self-esteem. Participants completed three measures of self-esteem: the SISE, the RSE, and the Texas Social Behavior Inventory-Form A (TSBI) (Helmreich & Stapp, 1974). All three measures were rated on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (not very true of me) to 5 (very true of me) and were administered along with several hundred items from other scales. The SISE consists of the item, "I have high self-esteem." The RSE consists of 10 items assessing global self-esteem (e.g., "On the whole, I am satisfied with myself"). Previous studies have reported alpha reliabilities for the RSE ranging from .72 to .88 (Gray-Little et al., 1997). In the present sample, alpha reliabilities ranged from .88 to .90 across the six assessments. The TSBI consists of 16 items focused on self-esteem in social settings (e.g., "I have no doubts about my social competence"). The alpha reliability of the TSBI was .82 in the present sample. Domain-specific self-evaluations. Participants rated their competence in seven domains: general intelligence, quantitative ability, verbal ability, social skills, artistic ability, athletic ability, and physical attractiveness (Pelham & Swann, 1989). Ratings were made on a 10-point percentile scale ranging from 1 (bottom 5% of college students) to 10 (top 5%). Academic self-concept was assessed using a standardized composite of seven items (s ranged from

.79 to .88), tapping two facets of perceived academic ability: direct self-reports of ability (e.g., "Compared to the average University of California [UC] Berkeley student, how would you rate your academic ability?") and expected performance in college (e.g., "Realistically, what overall grade point average [GPA] do you think you will attain in college?"). Self-evaluative biases. Self-enhancement bias was defined as the degree to which participants overestimated their academic ability relative to accepted measures of actual academic ability. Specifically, we used a residual score (computed via regression) reflecting the discrepancy between the academic self-concept scale and a composite measure of academic ability based on standardized test scores and high school grades (Robins & Beer, in press; see also Robins & John, 1997). Positive values indicate self-enhancement (i.e., overestimation by the self) and negative values indicate self-diminishment (i.e., underestimation by the self). Self-serving attributional bias was defined as the tendency to make internal attributions for academic success and external attributions for academic failure. We used the Multidimensional-Multiattributional Causality Scale (MMCS) (Lefcourt, von Baeyer, Ware, & Cox, 1979) to assess causal attributions to two internal factors (i.e., ability, effort) and two external factors (i.e., situation, luck)


PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN of 4; the frequency distribution of the averaged scores was as follows: 1 = 5.3%, 2 = 14%, 3 = 26.2%, 4 = 35.2%, and 5 = 19.2%. Thus, the SISE is approximately normally distributed with some negative skewness (­.47); that is, most individuals reported having relatively high selfesteem with a minority reporting lower self-esteem. Averaged across assessment periods, the RSE had a mean of 3.8 (SD = .7) and a median of 3.9, with scores ranging from 1.3 to 5.0. Similar to the SISE, the RSE had an approximately normal distribution but with slightly more skewness (­.63).


separately for success and failure experiences. Selfserving bias was computed as the sum of four scales: internal attributions for success, external attributions for failure, external attributions for success (reversescored), and internal attributions for failure (reversescored). Personality. The NEO-Five Factor Inventory (NEOFFI) (Costa & McCrae, 1992) is a 60-item measure of the Five-Factor Model completed by participants at the beginning and end of college (s = .83 and .82 for Extraversion, .76 and .77 for Agreeableness, .81 and .83 for Conscientiousness, .84 and .85 for Neuroticism, and .77 and .75 for Openness to Experience, respectively, for the two assessments). Participants also completed Cheek and Melchior's (1990) three-component measure of shyness, which assesses the physiological, cognitive, and behavioral aspects of shyness. The three items assessing the three components were summed to form a global measure of shyness ( = .65). We assessed dispositional optimism using the six-item Life Orientation Test-- Revised (Scheier, Carver, & Bridges, 1994) ( = .86). Psychological and physical well-being. Participants completed four measures of psychological well-being: (a) the 20-item Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (Radloff, 1977) (s = .90 to .92), (b) the single-item Overall Life Satisfaction Scale (Campbell et al., 1976), (c) the six-item Perceived Stress Scale (Cohen, Kamarck, & Mermelstein, 1983) (s = .70 to .76), and (d) the Positive and Negative Affect Scale (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988) (s = .88 for positive affect and .88 for negative affect). Two single-item measures of physical well-being were used: (a) a global, subjective indicator ("How would you rate your physical health right now?") and (b) a more objective indicator ("How often did you go to the student health services or a private doctor this year?"). Peer-rated group behavior. Participants interacted in groups of four to five for a 20-minute decision-making task. Following the interaction, participants rated themselves and the other group members on the following dimensions: overall effectiveness in the group, talkativeness, cooperativeness, competitiveness, task orientation, and creativity. Academic outcomes. SAT scores, high school GPA, cumulative college GPA, and attrition information were obtained from university records. Demographics. Gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and age were obtained from university records. Results and Discussion


Internal consistency reliability (e.g., Cronbach's coefficient alpha) cannot be computed for a single-item scale. However, Heise (1969, Equation 9) developed a procedure to estimate the reliability of a single-item scale based on its pattern of autocorrelations over three points in time. The Heise procedure provides an estimate of testretest reliability that separates true change from measurement error. We computed the Heise estimate three times using the across-time correlations of the SISE from the beginning to the end of college.1 The mean reliability estimate for the SISE was .75. To demonstrate the effectiveness of the Heise procedure, we also used this method to estimate the reliability of the RSE. The mean reliability estimate for the RSE was .88 (the same as its alpha reliability). To examine stability over time, correlations of the SISE and RSE were computed across the six assessments. The mean across-time correlation (averaged across all 15 possible time intervals) was similar for the SISE (mean r = .61) and the RSE (mean r = .69). Moreover, the pattern of across-time correlations was similar for the two measures, and both showed a simplex structure (i.e., higher correlations between adjacent time periods and lower correlations across longer time intervals).


Averaged across all six assessment periods, the SISE had a mean of 3.5 (SD = 1.1), a median of 4, and a mode

Concurrent correlations between the SISE and the RSE ranged from .72 to .76 across the six assessments, with a median of .75. (In comparison, the 10 RSE items had median item-total correlations ranging from .46 to .71.) These correlations were similar for men (Mdn = .74) and women (Mdn = .73) and for Caucasians (Mdn = .80), African Americans (Mdn = .71), Asians (Mdn = .70), and Latinos (Mdn = .70). After correcting for attenuation due to unreliability in the SISE and RSE, convergent correlations in the total sample ranged from .89 to .94 with a median of .93. Thus, it appears that virtually all of the reliable variance in the SISE overlaps with the RSE. Correlations with the TSBI were somewhat lower; the TSBI correlated .58 with the SISE and .62 with the RSE. These lower convergent validity correlations most likely reflect the fact that the TSBI is primarily a measure of

Robins et al. / MEASURING GLOBAL SELF-ESTEEM social self-esteem and not global self-esteem (Blascovich & Tomaka, 1991). Factor analyses of the 10 RSE items suggested a single general factor (Gray-Little et al., 1997): All items had high loadings on the first unrotated factor, a scree test showed an "elbow" after the first factor, and an analysis using structural equation modeling showed relatively good fit with a single-factor model (Comparative Fit Index [CFI] = .90). Moreover, when two factors were extracted and rotated using an oblique rotation, they correlated .55, which also suggests a strong general factor. The SISE was strongly related to both factors; it correlated .81 with the first factor and .65 with the second factor. These factors did not correspond to the positively keyed and negatively keyed item factors found in some previous studies of the RSE factor structure (Carmines & Zeller, 1979; Hensley & Roberts, 1976). Next, we compared the convergent and discriminant validity of the two self-esteem measures. Table 2 shows correlations of the SISE and the RSE with 37 different criteria. The two measures showed remarkably similar correlations with the domain-specific self-evaluations. High-self-esteem individuals tended to see themselves as academically competent, intelligent, socially skilled, athletic, and physically attractive. These findings are consistent with previous research linking global self-esteem to specific self-evaluations (e.g., Marsh, 1986) as well as with the recognition that global self-esteem is related but not equivalent to a person's domain-specific self-evaluations (e.g., Harter, 1998; Pelham & Swann, 1989; Rosenberg, 1979). Both measures also showed that high-self-esteem individuals are prone to self-evaluative biases. In particular, high-self-esteem individuals' beliefs about their academic ability were unrealistically positive (relative to their test scores and achievement) and they made selfserving attributions for their academic successes and failures (i.e., taking credit for success but externalizing blame for failure). These findings are consistent with previous research showing a link between self-esteem and positive illusions about the self (e.g., Aspinwall & Taylor, 1992; Brown, Collins, & Schmidt, 1988; Taylor & Brown, 1988). The SISE and RSE had highly similar Big Five profiles, deviating more than slightly only in their correlations with Agreeableness and Neuroticism. The Big Five correlates are highly similar to those found in a very large sample (N = 241,154) obtained over the Internet between the SISE and NEO-FFI measures of Extraversion (r = .38), Agreeableness (r = .13), Conscientiousness (r = .25), Neuroticism (r = ­.50), and Openness (r = .17) (Robins, Tracy, Trzesniewski, Gosling, & Potter, 2001). The Big Five correlates are also similar to those reported by Haig (1998), who found correlations between the



Study 1: Construct Validity of the Single-Item Self-Esteem Scale (SISE) and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE) SISE RSE

Domain-specific self-evaluations Academic ability General intellectual ability Quantitative ability Verbal ability Social skills Artistic ability Athletic ability Physical attractiveness Self-evaluative biases Self-enhancement bias Self-serving attributions Personality NEO Extraversion NEO Agreeableness NEO Conscientiousness NEO Neuroticism NEO Openness to Experience Optimism Shyness Psychological and physical well-being Life satisfaction Dispositional affect--positive Dispositional affect--negative Depression Perceived stress Physical well-being Number of doctor visits Peer-rated group behavior Effectiveness in group task Talkative Cooperative Competitive Task-oriented Creative Academic outcomes SAT scores High school GPA College GPA Attrition Demographics Sex (keyed toward male) Socioeconomic status Age

.20* .19* .17* .12 .27* .13 .19* .31* .28* .30* .39* .04 .23* ­.57* .11 .44* ­.26* .45* .53* ­.38* ­.25* ­.36* .23* ­.01 .17* .15* .08 .04 .15* .10 ­.08 ­.10 .05 .00 .16* ­.02 .01

.24* .20* .15* .16* .27* .10 .18* .31* .32* .38* .41* .23* .28* ­.70* .16* .48* ­.28* .54* .56* ­.56* ­.34* ­.39* .26* ­.07 .15* .19* .14* .04 .19* .17* ­.07 ­.03 .07 ­.01 .12* .02 .00

NOTE: Ns ranged from 299 to 496. Values in the table are correlations between self-esteem scores obtained in the first assessment, with criterion variables aggregated across all available assessment periods. The two columns in the table correlate at .98. For three of the criterion variables (NEO Agreeableness, NEO Neuroticism, and Dispositional Affect--Negative), the correlation with the SISE differed significantly (p < .01) from the correlation with the RSE, based on a t test for the difference between dependent correlations. GPA = grade point average. *p < .01.

RSE and NEO-PI-R measures of Extraversion (r = .45), Agreeableness (r = .13), Conscientiousness (r = .43), Neuroticism (r = ­.69), and Openness (r = .10) in a sample of 345 college students. Both self-esteem measures were strongly positively correlated with optimism and neg-


PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN with socioeconomic status or age. The similarity between the SISE and the RSE in their demographic correlates provides additional support for the psychological equivalence of the two scales. To further explore the similarity between the SISE and the RSE, we recomputed all of the correlations in Table 2 separately for men and women. The two columns correlated .97 for men and .97 for women, and for both genders the correlations differed only minimally in absolute level. In addition, to address the possibility that aggregating over time reduces error variance in the SISE more than in the RSE, we also computed all possible concurrent correlations between the self-esteem measures and each criterion variable and then averaged the resulting correlations. We found a nearly identical pattern for the SISE and the RSE (correlation between columns = .98) and a minimal difference in absolute level. Finally, to address the possibility that repeated assessments of the SISE increase its validity, we computed the correlations in Table 2 using only the first wave of self-esteem data. Again, the pattern of correlations for the SISE and the RSE was nearly identical (correlation between columns = .99), and there was a minimal difference in absolute level. In summary, the findings from Study 1 provide substantial support for the convergence between the SISE and the RSE. The two measures were highly correlated with each other and had similar relations with a broad range of criterion measures selected because of their theoretical or empirical link with self-esteem. In virtually all cases, the correlations were consistent with previous research on global self-esteem. Thus, the findings support the construct validity of both the SISE and the RSE and contribute to the general research literature by further elaborating the nomological network of global selfesteem.


atively correlated with shyness, which is consistent with research showing that high-self-esteem individuals tend to be optimistic (Scheier et al., 1994) and low in shyness (Cheek & Melchior, 1990). The SISE and RSE had similar relations with measures of psychological and physical health. The most notable difference between the two measures was the stronger relation between the RSE and measures of depressive and negative affect, perhaps reflecting the fact that the RSE includes items tapping negative feelings toward the self (e.g., "All in all, I am inclined to feel that I'm a failure."). Supporting this possibility, the negatively keyed RSE items had stronger relations with the maladjustment measures than did the positively keyed items.2 Whether this is an advantage or disadvantage of the RSE relative to the SISE depends on one's theory about how strongly global self-esteem should be related to psychological distress.3 The findings for the peer ratings of behavior were consistent with the self-report measures of personality and adjustment. High-self-esteem individuals on both the SISE and the RSE were described by their peers as effective, talkative, cooperative, task-oriented, and creative in the group interaction. Together, the self- and peer criterion measures paint a portrait of the high-selfesteem individual as functioning effectively in both the psychic and interpersonal domains. Neither the SISE nor the RSE was strongly associated with any of the academic outcomes. The correlations are consistent with, although somewhat weaker than, those reported in previous studies; for example, Hansford and Hattie (1982) conducted a meta-analysis of the relation between self-esteem and academic performance and found an average effect size of .14 for college students. Thus, our findings replicate previous research showing that self-esteem and objective academic outcomes are only weakly related and further confirm the realization that self-esteem may not be the panacea for academic problems that many hoped it would be (California Task Force on Self-Esteem, 1990). Consistent with previous research, men reported slightly higher self-esteem than did women at every assessment period (e.g., Major, Barr, Zubek, & Babey, 1999; Robins, Trzesniewski, Gosling, & Potter, 2001). The magnitude of this gender difference was approximately the same for the SISE (Cohen's d = .26, p < .05) and the RSE (Cohen's d = .21, p < . 05). There were significant ethnic differences for the SISE, F(3, 474) = 4.3, p < .05, and the RSE, F(3, 474) = 3.8, p < .05; the pattern of differences was the same for both measures: Asian Americans reported significantly lower levels of self-esteem than Caucasians (ds = .36 and .32, ps < .05, respectively) and marginally significantly lower self-esteem than African Americans (ds = .31 and .44, ps < .15, respectively). Neither the SISE nor the RSE had significant correlations

Study 2 had three goals. First, we examined the convergent correlation between the SISE and the RSE in an independent sample. Second, we tested whether a 7point rating scale would increase the convergent validity of the SISE relative to the 5-point scale used in Study 1. The length of the response scale might affect the validity of the measure because (a) it might increase the amount of reliable variance (if individuals can reliably discriminate among seven scale points when rating their selfesteem then the 5-point scale would lose valid information) and (b) it might affect the distributional properties of the measure, including the degree of skewness and kurtosis. Third, we examined the degree to which the SISE and the RSE are related to two different facets of socially desirable responding (Paulhus, 1994, 1998): selfdeceptive enhancement (the tendency to give honestly

Robins et al. / MEASURING GLOBAL SELF-ESTEEM held but inflated self-descriptions) and impression management (the tendency to consciously provide inflated self-descriptions as a form of self-presentation to an audience). Method



Correlation Between the Single-Item Self-Esteem Scale (SISE) and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE) Across Three Studies Total Sample Men .74* (.91) .76*/.71* (.93)/(.87) .79* (.95) Women .75* (.92) .74*/.70* (.90)/(.84) .79* (> .99)

The study included 208 undergraduate students (61% women) who participated in this study as part of a course requirement.


Study 1 (N = 496) a Study 2 (N = 208) Study 3 (N = 66)

.75* (.93) .74*/.73* (.91)/(.87) .80* (.99)

Participants completed the SISE, the RSE, and the 40item Balanced Inventory of Desirable Responding (BIDR) (Paulhus, 1994). The BIDR measures two forms of socially desirable responding: Self-Deceptive Enhancement (SDE) and Impression Management (IM). One hundred thirty-nine participants completed the questionnaire using a 5-point rating scale, and 69 participants used a 7-point scale. Alpha reliabilities for the 5-point and 7-point versions, respectively, were .89 and .93 for the RSE, .72 and .79 for the SDE, and .78 and .78 for the IM. Results and Discussion The SISE and RSE correlated .74 for the 5-point scale and .73 for the 7-point scale (see Table 3). These values are similar to the median correlation of .75 found in Study 1 and provide further support for the convergent validity of the SISE. However, the length of the response scale (5-point scale vs. 7-point scale) does not appear to affect the convergent validity of the SISE. In terms of socially desirable responding, the SISE and SDE correlated .21 and .47 and the RSE and SDE correlated .22 and .49, respectively, for the 5-point and 7-point scales. The SISE and IM correlated .04 and .05 and the RSE and IM correlated .13 and .08, respectively, for the 5-point and 7-point scales. Thus, both the SISE and the RSE were associated with self-deceptive enhancement but neither was associated with impression management. This is consistent with previous research on self-esteem and socially desirable responding (Paulhus, 1994, 1998) and provides further support for the relation found in Study 1 between self-esteem and self-enhancement bias. Men reported higher self-esteem than women on both the SISE (Cohen's d = .24 and .70, for the 5-point and 7-point scales) and the RSE (Cohen's d = .02 and .34, for the 5-point and 7-point scales). This sex difference is consistent with the findings from Study 1. In summary, Study 2 replicated the correlation between the SISE and the RSE in a second sample of college students and showed that this correlation is equally strong for a 5-point and 7-point rating scale. Study 2 also showed that high scorers on both the SISE and the RSE show a

NOTE: Values in parentheses are corrected correlations, disattenuated for unreliability in the RSE and the SISE (the SISE reliability estimate from Study 1 was used for all corrections). a. Correlations for 5-point/7-point response scales, respectively. *p < .01.

tendency toward self-deceptive enhancement but they do not seem to be consciously managing their impressions.


The goal of Study 3 was to replicate the convergent correlation between the SISE and the RSE in a noncollege student sample. It is possible that the single-item measure of self-esteem is only valid in college student samples, where the participants are highly educated and generally focused on their competencies, goals, and aspirations. If so, the high convergence between the SISE and the RSE found in Studies 1 and 2 may not generalize to a community sample. Method


Participants were 66 individuals recruited from several community locations, including shopping malls, bus stations, day care centers, and movie theaters. The sample was diverse in terms of gender (64% women), age (range = 21 to 61, Mdn = 44), and ethnicity (67% Caucasian, 17% Chicano/Latino, 12% Native American, 3% African American, 1% Asian). Participants were employed in a wide range of occupations, including manual labor (e.g., sheet metal worker), clerical (e.g., administrative assistant), managerial (e.g., store manager), and professional (e.g., architect).


Participants completed the SISE and the RSE ( = .87), which were embedded in a longer questionnaire. Results and Discussion The correlation between the SISE and the RSE was .80, even higher than in the two college student samples (see Table 3). The higher correlation was not due to greater variance in the self-esteem scores; the standard deviations of the SISE and the RSE were slightly lower in


PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN child might have about the meaning or content of the questions. Parents completed the self-esteem measures at home and returned the questionnaire by mail. For both children and parents, the self-esteem items were embedded in a larger questionnaire.


the community sample than in the college student samples. The correlation between the SISE and the RSE was not moderated by the occupational status of the participant; the correlation was .81 for individuals employed in jobs requiring a college degree (n = 29) and .79 for individuals employed in jobs that did not require a college degree (n = 37). This suggests that the SISE may be a valid measure of global self-esteem in noncollege student samples, although we recommend that additional validation evidence be obtained before using the SISE in such contexts. Men reported slightly higher self-esteem than did women, which is consistent with Studies 1 and 2. The magnitude of this gender difference was approximately the same for the SISE (Cohen's d = .40, p < .05) and the RSE (Cohen's d = .51, p < .05). Age was not significantly correlated with self-esteem for either the SISE (r = .14) or the RSE (r = .09).


SISE. Children rated their self-esteem using the SISE. The item was worded exactly as in Studies 1 through 3 ("I have high self-esteem"), and responses were made on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). A parent or primary caregiver also rated the child's self-esteem using the SISE ("My son/daughter has high self-esteem"). For a subset of participants, two parents or caregivers provided SISE data, in which case we averaged their ratings. Self-Perception Profile for Children. Children completed the six-item GSE Scale of the Self-Perception Profile for Children (Harter, 1985). A parent or primary caregiver described his or her child's self-esteem using the same set of items worded in the third person. For a subset of participants, two parents or caregivers completed the scale, in which case we averaged their scale scores. The alpha reliability was .77 for child-reported self-esteem and .84 for parent reports of the child's self-esteem. Results and Discussion The correlation between the SISE and the GSE Scale was .52 in the total sample (rs = .55 for boys and .50 for girls). There were no systematic trends across Grades 4 to 8 (convergent rs = .59, .37, .66, .50, and .43 for Grades 4 to 8, respectively). Overall, these convergent correlations are moderate in magnitude but substantially lower than we found in Studies 1 through 3. This suggests that the SISE may not be as valid for children as it is for adults. Nonetheless, the convergence between the SISE and the GSE is sufficiently high to justify further research into its construct validity for children (e.g., correlations with external criteria). Our second question concerned the convergence between parental reports of their child's self-esteem using the SISE and the GSE. The correlation between the SISE and the GSE was .74, which is near the reliability of the two measures. This suggests that parental ratings of self-esteem are highly similar for the two measures. Our third question concerned the convergence between child and parent reports of self-esteem; that is, to what extent do the children's self-reports of self-esteem correspond with parent reports of the child's selfesteem? The child SISE correlated .24 with the parent SISE and .30 with the parent GSE; the child GSE correlated .34 with the parent GSE and .35 with the parent SISE. Thus, child-parent convergence was comparable

Study 4 had three goals. The first goal was to determine whether the SISE shows convergent validity in a sample of children. To test this, we collected self-esteem data on a sample of children in Grades 4 through 8 and correlated the SISE with the Global Self-Esteem (GSE) Scale from the Self-Perception Profile for Children (Harter, 1985), the most widely used self-esteem scale for children. The second goal was to determine whether observer ratings using the SISE show convergent validity with observer ratings using the GSE. To test this, we correlated parent ratings of their child's self-esteem using the SISE and the GSE. The third goal was to determine whether agreement between child and parent ratings of self-esteem is comparable for the two measures of self-esteem. Method


The study included 212 children (58% girls) and their parents or primary caregivers. The sample consisted of fourth- to eighth-grade students recruited from a kindergarten through eighth-grade school in a predominantly middle-class suburban community. The sample was 65% Caucasian, 15% Chicano/Latino, 10% African American, 5% Asian, and 5% Native American.


To control for differences in reading ability, the children were interviewed individually and the questions were presented visually on a computer screen and read aloud to the children through headphones. The computer recorded response latencies for each item. A trained interviewer was present throughout the interview to assist the child and to answer any questions the

Robins et al. / MEASURING GLOBAL SELF-ESTEEM in magnitude for the two self-esteem measures but somewhat higher for the multiple-item GSE Scale. How can we explain the fact that the convergent validity of the SISE was lower in the child sample than in the college student samples (Studies 1 and 2) or the community sample (Study 3)? The lower validity may simply reflect the limited language proficiency of fourth- to eighth-grade students (e.g., they do not fully understand the meaning of self-esteem). However, this seems unlikely given that the convergent correlations do not increase with age. Another possibility is that the SISE is simply less strongly associated with the item content on the GSE than the item content on the RSE. However, this also seems unlikely because the GSE items ("I like the kind of person I am") are similar in content to the RSE items (e.g., "I take a positive attitude toward myself") and, moreover, the convergent correlations were very high for the parent ratings of the SISE and GSE.4 Part of the difference may be due to the lower reliability of the GSE Scale ( = .77) compared to the RSE. However, even the disattenuated convergent correlation is only .68 (correcting for unreliability in the GSE and the SISE), which is considerably lower than the disattenuated correlations reported in Studies 1 through 3 (see Table 3). Finally, a developmental interpretation is plausible. The findings from all four studies suggest an interesting developmental trend: The validity of the SISE may increase from childhood to late adolescence to adulthood. We found the lowest convergence in the child sample (r = .52), much higher convergence in the two college student samples (rs = .73 to .75), and even higher convergence in the community sample (r = .80), which had a median age of 44. It is possible that this trend reflects the development of a consistent and coherent self-schema; from this perspective, children may show lower convergence because they do not have fully developed global schemas for self-esteem. Consistent with this interpretation, we found that response latency on the SISE moderated the relation between the SISE and the GSE (beta of the interaction term in a moderated multiple regression analysis = ­.21); specifically, the convergent validity of the SISE was .72 for individuals 1 SD below the mean in response latency (schematics), .51 for individuals at the mean, and .30 for individuals 1 SD above the mean (aschematics) (Aiken & West, 1991).5 Interestingly, the estimated convergent correlation for schematic children is comparable to what we found for college students in Studies 1 and 2.



Together, the findings from Studies 1 through 4 further elaborate the nomological network of global self-esteem and show that global self-esteem has important and wide-ranging implications for interpersonal

and intrapsychic functioning. In general, the results replicate previous research on the correlates of self- esteem. The findings also provide information about self-esteem correlates that have received relatively little attention in the self-esteem literature, including how self-esteem relates to peer ratings of behavior in a group interaction task, how self-esteem relates to the Big Five personality traits, and the degree to which parent and child ratings of self-esteem converge. The replication of our findings using two measures of self-esteem strengthens the generalizability of the research. In addition to contributing to an understanding of the correlates of global self-esteem, the present research provides further support for the construct validity of the most widely used measure of global self-esteem--the RSE--as well as supporting the validity of a new measure of global self-esteem based on a single item--the SISE. The SISE had very high convergent validity with the RSE in all three studies using adult samples (see Table 3) and lower, but still moderate, convergent validity with Harter's GSE scale in the child sample. The strong convergence between the SISE and the RSE held (a) for males and females, (b) for different ethnic groups, (c) for both college students and community members, (d) for different occupational statuses, (e) across 4 years of college, and (f) for a 5-point and 7-point rating scale. Moreover, the SISE and the RSE had a nearly identical pattern of correlates with a wide range of criterion variables, including domain-specific self-evaluations, self-evaluative biases, two forms of social desirability, personality traits, psychological and physical health, peer ratings of group behavior, demographic characteristics, and several objective measures of academic outcomes. Thus, the findings suggest that in most cases, researchers using the SISE will find virtually the same relations as they would have had they used the RSE. Given its greater practicality, therefore, the SISE may be a useful alternative to the RSE in some research contexts. Clearly, the SISE has limitations. First, the SISE is not as reliable as the RSE. Yet, despite its lower reliability, the SISE exhibited essentially the same pattern of correlations as the RSE. Second, the SISE may be more susceptible to extremity and acquiescence response styles because it has only one positively keyed item. However, this concern is ameliorated by the fact that the SISE correlates almost as highly with a composite of the five negatively keyed RSE items (rs = .66 to .70 across Studies 1 to 3) as it does with a composite of the five positively keyed RSE items (rs = .71 to .75 across Studies 1 to 3). Third, the SISE is a blatantly face-valid measure and shows some susceptibility to socially desirable responding, in particular to self-deceptive enhancement. This is undoubtedly a problem but one that is equally applicable to the RSE (as Study 2 shows) and the GSE. If one wants a subtle mea-


PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN ence positive self- regard, it may be possible, as Allport (1942) suggested, to simply ask them.

NOTES 1. The Heise procedure assumes an equivalent interval between assessments so we excluded the data from the end of the first semester assessment; this left five assessment periods, each separated by about 1 year. 2. Overall, however, the pattern of correlations was highly similar for the negatively keyed Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE) items and the positively keyed RSE items. When we recomputed all of the correlations in Table 2 separately for the negatively and positively keyed items, the correlation between the two sets of correlations (computed across the 37 criteria) was .99, and they differed minimally in absolute level. 3. Psychological theory is somewhat ambiguous about what the nomological net of self-esteem should look like with regard to measures of neuroticism and depression. Self-esteem and neuroticism are generally considered to be distinct constructs, and very high convergent correlations between a measure of self-esteem and a measure of neuroticism could suggest a lack of discriminant validity, perhaps due to shared method variance, item content overlap, and/or responsestyle effects (e.g., socially desirable responding). On the other hand, in some psychological theories (e.g., Beck, 1972), negative beliefs about the self are considered central to depression and the two constructs are not entirely distinct. From this perspective, one would expect very strong relations between measures of self-esteem and measures of psychological distress. 4. In addition, in a pilot study of 304 fifth- and eighth-grade students, we administered the Single-Item Self-Esteem Scale (SISE) and the RSE and found a convergence correlation of .51, which is almost exactly the same as we found for the SISE and the Global Self-Esteem (GSE) Scale. 5. To ensure that this effect was not due to general processing speed, we conducted another analysis in which we subtracted mean response latency for a set of control items (ratings of teachers) from response latency for the SISE. This corrected measure of response latency also significantly moderated the relation between the SISE and the GSE. To ensure that the effect was not due to a few outliers, we conducted two additional moderated multiple regression analyses excluding individuals who were 3 or more and 2 or more standard deviations above the mean; in both analyses, response latency continued to significantly moderate the relation between the SISE and the GSE.

sure of deep-seated feelings of self-worth, neither the SISE nor the RSE nor the GSE is the measure of choice. Fourth, scale validation is an ongoing process (one never validates a scale but rather provides progressively more evidence for a particular interpretation of the scale) and researchers should be cautious about using the SISE without validating it in other contexts and in a wider range of samples. For example, Study 4 suggests that the SISE may not be as valid in childhood and further evidence is needed for its construct validity in that age group. The finding that a single item can provide a valid measure of global self-esteem is itself of theoretical importance, which may have implications for the development of self-esteem and the way in which evaluative knowledge about the self is organized and retrieved. We have speculated that a single item may provide an adequate measure of self-esteem because most adults are schematic for self-esteem. Self-esteem is an indicator of social status in group and interpersonal contexts and helps to motivate and regulate behavior in achievement contexts, and thus serves important adaptive functions (Leary, 1999; Robins, Norem, & Cheek, 1999). Consequently, global self-esteem is likely to be repeatedly activated in a wide range of situations and is therefore likely to be chronically accessible by adulthood. The fact that most adults are schematic for global self-esteem may reduce random error in self-reports of self-esteem (but not systematic errors that are correlated across items). Thus, in terms of measuring global feelings of self-worth, it may simply be necessary to activate the self-esteem schema (which can be done with a single item) so redundant items provide limited additional information. This interpretation is supported by the lower convergent validity found for the SISE in the child sample, as well as the moderating effect of response latency (see Study 4). This raises an important caveat: We are not arguing that single-item self-report scales are generally useful in psychological assessment or that they can be used to measure all (or even most) psychological constructs. For example, it is unlikely that a single-item measure would be valid for a multifaceted and psychodynamically complex construct such as narcissism or for a construct on which a nontrivial proportion of adults are not schematic, such as independence (Markus, 1977). The present findings are informative about the circumstances under which a single item can provide a suitable alternative to multiple-item scales. Specifically, a single self-report item may be adequate when the construct is (a) highly schematized for most individuals, (b) unidimensional in content, and (c) primarily reflects subjective experience. In the present case, we are convinced by the accumulated evidence that the SISE sacrifices little in the way of reliability and validity while at the same time providing a practical alternative to the RSE. In short, if the goal is to discover whether individuals consciously experi-

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