Self-esteem in early and late adolescence predicts dispositional optimism-pessimism in adulthood: A 21-year longitudinal study

Kati Heinonen, Katri R?ikk?nen and Liisa Keltikangas-J?rvinen
University of Helsinki, Finland

Published in ?Personality and Individual Differences?, 39, 511-521, 2005

The aim of this study was to investigate whether self-esteem in early and late adolescence predicted optimism-pessimism scores in adulthood.  The self-esteem data was initially collected from a population-based sample of young Finns at the age of 12.  The same information was gathered again at a 6-year follow-up in order for self-esteem records to be held for early adolescence (age 12) and late adolescence (age 18).  21 years later, data was collected for self-reported dispositional optimism-pessimism for 361 of the original participants, who were now aged 33 and more likely to be female.

To measure self-esteem in adolescence, participants completed a 20-item questionnaire that included items such as, ?I often feel ashamed of myself?, ?I often get discouraged at school?, ?I?m popular with children of my own age?, ?I?m easy to like?, and ?My parents and I have a lot of fun together?.  Dispositional optimism-pessimism was measured 21 years later using the Life Orientation Test-Revised, which included items such as, ?In uncertain times, I usually expect the best? and ?If something can go wrong with me, it will?.

The results indicated no significant differences in self-esteem at age 12 between males and females or in the levels of optimism-pessimism at the age of 33.  However, women reported a higher level of self-esteem at the age of 18 than men did, and high levels of self-esteem at the age of 12 were positively related to increased self-esteem at the age of 18.  The results also demonstrated that individual?s who had an increase or decrease in self-esteem during adolescence, or experienced constant low self-esteem, reported significantly higher levels of pessimism at the age of 33 compared with those whose self-esteem remained high over the adolescent developmental period.  Moreover, self-esteem at ages 12 and 18 significantly predicted dispositional optimism-pessimism at the age of 33.

Overall, the study found a positive correlation between high levels of self-esteem and optimistic life orientation and that this association persisted over a period of 21 years.  However, the researchers acknowledge limitations to their study.  In particular, they did not measure optimism-pessimism in the early and late adolescence periods therefore making it difficult to determine whether or not high levels of self-esteem did actually cause increased optimism in adulthood.  Nevertheless, the significant association between self-esteem during adolescence and optimism-pessimism 21 years later was still evident and the researchers argue that positive changes in self-esteem may also generalise to optimism-pessimism therefore prevention and intervention strategies should take this into consideration.

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