By: Christian Jarrett
Studies of identical and non-identical twins indicate that our self-esteem is influenced by the genes we inherited from our parents, but also, and perhaps slightly more so, by environmental factors. And according to a new study in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, these environmental influences started playing a lasting role very early in life.
Ulrich Orth at the University of Bern has reported evidence that, on average, the higher the quality of a person’s home environment when they were aged between 0 and 6 years – based on warm and responsive parenting; cognitive stimulation; and a safe, organised physical environment – the higher their self-esteem many years later in adulthood.
The data come from nearly 9,000 individuals, born between 1970 and 2001, whose mothers had enrolled in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth that started in the US in 1979.
Orth analysed the biennial interviews with the mothers that took place in their homes when their children – the participants in this study – were aged 0 to 6. This provided the measure of the quality of the participants’ early childhood home environment in terms of parental warmth and responsiveness, cognitive stimulation and the safety and organisation of the home. Orth also noted the quality of the relationship between mother and father during this period; the presence or not of the father; maternal depression; and family poverty.
Measures of the participants’ self-esteem started when they were aged just 8 and continued biennially until they were 27. The survey researchers used a measure designed for children until the participants were age 14, and thereafter switched to the well-known Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale.
The critical finding is that the quality of the home environment between the ages of 0 to 6 correlated significantly with participants’ self-reported self-esteem in later childhood, and even with their self-esteem into adulthood, although the association weakened over time. “The findings suggest that the home environment is a key factor in early childhood that influences the long-term development of self-esteem”, Orth said.