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What Does Self-Enhancement Mean in Psychology?

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Self-enhancement is a psychological phenomenon that refers to taking a tendentiously positive view of oneself (Sedikides, 2008). This phenomenon exists in all cultures all over the world. Therefore, it can be claimed that it is universal. As a result of self-enhancement, people perceive themselves better than others and avoid taking responsibility for their failures or ineffective decisions. There are four ways of how self-enhancement can appear. It can be in the form of a process, a personality trait, an observed response or behavior, or an underlying motive (Weiten et al., 2016, p. 176).

Self-Enhancement and Downward Comparison

The first was how people strive for self-enhancement in a downward comparison. It is a common strategy for people to compare themselves with others. However, people striving for self-enhancement compare themselves with those with more serious troubles(Weiten et al., 2016, p. 177). Moreover, downward comparisons can be used to compare the present and past selves. People can think that now they are better than they were before. Studies indicate that such a self-enhancement strategy increases motivation and mood (Weiten et al., 2016, p. 177).

Self-Enhancement and Self-Serving Bias

The second strategy that is often commonly used is self-serving bias. When people achieve something or have success, they attribute it to their personal factors. However, when they face failure, they attribute it to situational factors. For instance, when a person wins a competition, he or she thinks that it is because he or she is better than others. However, when losing the competition, it is explained by lack of time or “bad luck” (Weiten et al., 2016, p. 177).

Self-Enhancement and Basking in Reflected Glory

The third strategy is basking in reflected glory. It refers to the situation when a person enhances their image by publicly announcing an association with successful people. When one’s friend or favorite football team achieves success, the person will likely perceive it as one’s own success. However, in the case of failure, a person tends not to associate oneself with other’s failure (Weiten et al., 2016, p. 178).

Self-Enhancement and Basking in Self-Handicapping

Another way to self-enhance is self-handicapping. This behavior is often manifested in academic settings. For instance, when students, instead of preparing for an exam, party all night or drink, which results in poor exam results. However, students have an excuse that they failed because they were partying (Weiten et al., 2016, p. 178). So, people often sabotage their performance to have an excuse for possible failure.

Is Self-Enhancement Bad?

As it can be seen, self-enhancement distorts the perception of reality. It leads to bias and prevents people from objectivity. At the same time, it protects self-esteem and can result in a better mood in case of failure. The study by Colvin & Block (1994) has found that positive illusions and self-enhancement may assist in the regulation of mood and even provide relief to people experiencing negative effects. However, they may result in poor adaptive functioning and lead to suboptimal and even maladaptive behavioral patterns.

Therefore, while in the short term, self-enhancement can be quite effective and positively affect mental health, in the long term, it results in various problems. People who use self-enhancement as motivation are less prone to self-development and self-improvement, which may result in poor social adaptation. Such people are unable to establish a causal link between their failures, lack of skills, or other personal factors.


Colvin, C. R., & Block, J. (1994). Do positive illusions foster mental health? An examination of the Taylor and Brown formulation.
Sedikides, C., & Gregg, A. P. (2008). Self-enhancement: Food for thought. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(2), 102-116.
Weiten, W., Dunn, D. S., & Hammer, E. Y. (2016). Psychology Applied to Modern Life: Adjustment in the 21st Century: Cengage Learning.

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