2.3: Trait and State Self-Esteem
The term self-esteem is often used generically, to refer to how people feel about themselves. However, according to research, there are three distinct constructs that should not be used interchangeably (Brown & Marshall, 2006).
When someone says they have high self-esteem, they are likely referring to their global or trait self-esteem—an individual’s self-opinion over long periods, which typically remains stable throughout adulthood. Research suggests that it probably has a genetic component related to temperament and neuroticism (Neiss, Sedikides, & Stevenson, 2002).
If someone says their self-esteem was either threatened or boosted, they are most likely referring to their feelings of self-worth or state self-esteem—a person’s self-evaluation in a particular moment, due to a specific situation. For example, after a person is dumped by their girlfriend, they may feel horrible and say they have low self-esteem in this emotional state.
When people evaluate themselves based on their abilities and attributes, they are referring to domain self-esteem—a general evaluation that's partly due to how a person views themselves in relation to specific attributes. For example, are you a good artist and horrible at organic chemistry? In that case, you would have high artistic self-esteem and low chemistry self-esteem. Thus, everyone can have different levels in different areas, whether it's in an academic subject or activity.
The Relationships Among Them
Now, while the three constructs are conceptually distinct, they are highly correlated. For instance, high self-esteem people evaluate themselves more positively and experience higher feelings of self-worth than do low self-esteem people (Brown, 1998).