Fragile Self-Esteem

48 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2019 Last revised: 4 Nov 2019

See all articles by Botond Koszegi

Botond Koszegi

Central European University (CEU) - Department of Economics

George Loewenstein

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences

Takeshi Murooka

Osaka University

Date Written: November 2, 2019


We develop a model of fragile self-esteem — self-esteem that is vulnerable to objectively unjustified swings — and study its implications for choices that depend on, or are aimed to protect, one's self-view. We assume that a person's self-esteem is determined by sampling from his store of ego-relevant memories in a fashion that in turn depends on his self-esteem. This feedback mechanism can create multiple "self-esteem personal equilibria,'' making self-esteem fragile. Self-esteem is especially likely to be fragile, as well as unrealistic in either the positive or the negative direction, if it is an important ingredient of overall utility. A person with fragile self-esteem who has a low self-view might respond to an increase in incentives by decreasing effort. An individual with a high self-view, in contrast, might distort their choices to avoid a collapse in self-esteem. We discuss the implications of our results for education, job search, workaholism, and aggression.

Keywords: ego, confidence, self-esteem, personal equilibria

JEL Classification: D03

Suggested Citation

Koszegi, Botond and Loewenstein, George F. and Murooka, Takeshi, Fragile Self-Esteem (November 2, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Botond Koszegi (Contact Author)

Central European University (CEU) - Department of Economics ( email )

Nador u. 9.
Budapest H-1051

George F. Loewenstein

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States
412-268-8787 (Phone)
412-268-6938 (Fax)

Takeshi Murooka

Osaka University

1-31 Machikaneyama-cho
Osaka, 560-0043

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