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Contingent Self-Esteem and Anticipated Reactions to Interpersonal Rejection and Achievement Failure

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The anticipated reactivity of individuals with contingent and noncontingent forms of high self-esteem to imagined self-esteem threats were compared across two studies using undergraduate participants. The self-esteem threat manipulation in Study 1 (N = 302) involved asking participants to predict their reactions to discovering that their romantic partner was having a sexual affair, whereas the manipulation in Study 2 (N = 392) asked participants to consider how they would respond if they failed to get a promotion that they really wanted at work. Participants were asked to anticipate their reactions to these scenarios in terms of state self-esteem, positive affect, negative affect, and anger. Our results revealed a tendency for individuals with contingent high self-esteem to predict they would have stronger reactions to these scenarios than individuals with noncontingent high self-esteem. The pattern of these findings suggests that the protective properties of high self-esteem may be largely limited to individuals who are relatively secure about their feelings of self-worth.