Keynote Lecture: The Measurement of Self-Enhancement: A Curious History
Early concerns with self-enhancement centered on skepticism regarding the validity of self reports: How do we know when to believe people’s claims about their personality, psychopathology, and values? In the 1940s and 1950s, the recommended solution was to accompany self-report measures with scales tapping socially desirable responding (SDR). High scores on such scales were considered to be a warning of self-enhancement bias in the accompanying self-reports. Later researchers considered the possibility that SDR measures capture personality content, not self-enhancement. Crowne and Marlowe, for example, interpreted their SDR measure as need for approval. Later, Paulhus separated that construct into impression management and self-deceptive enhancement. To this day, researchers debate whether these self-report styles are novel personality variables or forms of self-enhancement. The individual difference variable that most closely links personality with self-enhancement is the construct of narcissism. Most recently narcissism has been separated into agentic and communal versions by Gebauer. Nonetheless, all these measures suffered from the same drawback: They were based entirely on self-reported bias. Taylor turned attention to operational indicators of self-enhancement, for example, discrepancies between self- and other reports. Recent operational measure include (a) Holden’s use of response latencies to positive vs. negative items and (b) Paulhus’s index of overclaiming non-existent items. Their utility is currently being evaluated and it continues to be controversial.