Exploring the Self
Self-esteem, fear or creativity: there is hardly a field of psychology in which he has not been involved. The scholar in question is Prof. Roy Baumeister of Florida State University in the United States. In November 2014, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation awarded him the most prestigious distinction for foreign scholars in Germany – the Humboldt Research Award. It is this award that will bring Baumeister to Bamberg. Baumeister is one of the most prominent psychologists active today, and Archives of Scientific Psychology has raked him 30th among the most influential psychologists of all time. This places him in the distinguished company of scholars like Albert Bandura, Jean Piaget and Carl Rogers.
Baumeister received the award after being nominated by Prof. Astrid Schütz, Chair of Personality Psychology and Psychological Diagnostics at the University of Bamberg. The distinction will allow him to spend a total of six months working in Bamberg over the next two years. “I am thrilled that I will be able to collaborate directly with Roy Baumeister. It’s a valuable opportunity to develop ideas for new research projects in a particularly creative and flexible way,” says Schütz. She has known Baumeister since 1993 when she received a scholarship to study at the University of Virginia where he was a visiting professor. Now, 22 years later, he is a guest in her department. “Astrid Schütz and I have been associates over many years of productive collaboration. I’m looking forward to building on that foundation,” says Baumeister.
Researching the self
The €60,000 Humboldt Research Award is one of the most prestigious distinctions bestowed upon foreign scholars in Germany. The award honours the whole of Baumeister’s academic achievements to date, a body of work that has had a lasting impact on the field of psychology. The tremendous scope of his life’s work is clearly evident when one considers his 528 academic publications, of which several have been translated in up to 20 languages.
One major topic addressed in many of Baumeister’s publications is the exploration of the self, which he understands as a person’s assimilation to the social system that surrounds him. Baumeister’s work on self-control has received a great deal of attention in recent years. Summarising his findings on the topic, he says, “Self-control resembles a muscle that can be exercised, but that also experiences a period of exhaustion following a strenuous effort.” In a number of well-regarded studies, he and his team have shown for example that it is more difficult for subjects to control the urge to eat sweets after performing exhausting mental exercises.
Schütz and Baumeister have maintained close contact and have continued to collaborate on various research projects since 1993. Their joint efforts have included things like research on self-defeating behaviour or exploring the ways in which people relate their own experiences to others. Concerning their work on the latter, they were able to show that people’s reports on conflict situations are highly dependent on personal point of view: An individual argues in such a way as to best preserve his or her own self-esteem. Based on this continuous contact and exchange, the two scholars have been able to develop further project ideas, including research on group creativity and on self-overestimation. Thanks to the Humboldt Research Award, they will now be able to set this research in motion.
Getting to the bottom of self-overestimation
The decades-long experience that Baumeister brings to joint research projects is particularly valuable, and a good example is his work on the topic of self-overestimation. As early as the 1990s, he had already begun to question the popular notion that lacking self-esteem was the cause for myriad problems. “At the time, it was believed that failures like poor performance in school could be traced back to low self-esteem,” explains Baumeister. “The darker sides of excessive self-esteem, things like self-overestimation and narcissism, were being completely ignored.” Contrary to the prevailing view at the time, he stressed that success in life could not be achieved by way of the extremely widespread trend towards self-esteem training, and in so doing he became an influential voice in the American discourse on the topic.
This press release was written by Samira Rosenbaum for the University of Bamberg’s press office and was translated by Benjamin Wilson. It may be used without restriction for journalistic purposes.
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