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J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2011 Jul;52(7):774-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2010.02325.x. Epub 2010 Oct 6.

Delighted when approved by others, to pieces when rejected: children's social anxiety magnifies the linkage between self- and other-evaluations.

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  • 1Utrecht University, Psychosocial Development in Context, Utrecht, The Netherlands.



Socially anxious children tend to attach great importance to others' evaluations of them. However, the extent to which they base their momentary feelings of self-worth (i.e., state self-esteem) on social (dis)approval is unclear. It is also unclear whether this exceedingly approval-based self-esteem is a common correlate of social anxiety and depression, or specifically linked to one or the other.


Changes in children's state self-esteem were obtained in response to a manipulated peer evaluation outcome. Participants (N = 188) aged 10 to 13 took part in a rigged online computer contest and were randomized to receive positive or negative peer feedback. Self-reported state self-esteem was assessed via computer at baseline and immediately post-feedback. The predictive effects of self-reported social anxiety and depression symptoms on changes in state self-esteem were investigated.


Hierarchical multiple regression analyses showed that children with higher social anxiety, as indexed by the fear of negative evaluation component, experienced significantly stronger increases in state self-esteem following peer approval (β = .26, p < .05), and significantly stronger decreases in state self-esteem following peer disapproval (β = -.23, p < .05). In both conditions depressive symptoms did not predict changes in state self-esteem (ps > .20).


Socially anxious children's state self-esteem is strongly contingent on social approval. Because basing one's self-esteem on external validation has multiple negative consequences, these findings highlight the importance of teaching these children skills (e.g., making cognitive reappraisals) to weaken the linkage between other- and self-evaluations.

© 2010 The Authors. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry © 2010 Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

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