Self-Esteem Level, Lability, and Depressive Symptoms in Late Adolescence and Young Adulthood
Although a concurrent relation between self-esteem and depression has been well established, prospective tests of self-esteem as a risk factor for depression have yielded mixed results. Empirical investigations have focused nearly exclusively on average level of self-esteem despite theorists’ claim that self-esteem is a multi-dimensional construct. Lability, or daily fluctuations in self-cognitions, has been proposed as a particular dimension warranting further study. The current investigation was a prospective test of self-esteem level and lability in a larger model of potential risk factors for depression as prescribed by both theory and extant research. Data was collected from 160 college undergraduates at three time points and included a short-term daily survey of self-cognitions, mood, and minor positive and negative events. Lability was operationalized as the within-person covariance between daily fluctuations in self-esteem and same-day events. On average, daily self-esteem ratings were associated with both positive and negative events, and individuals significantly differed in the degree of lability, or covariance between self-esteem and daily events. Lower baseline levels of self-esteem and higher lability scores were concurrently associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms. In addition, baseline self-esteem level predicted residual variance in depressive symptoms at follow-up after controlling prior depression. Negative affect, neuroticism, and borderline symptoms also were associated with self-esteem level, lability, and depressive symptoms. Major life events occurring during the follow-up interval predicted depressive symptoms but did not moderate the relation between self-esteem level and depression. Implications for future research and treatment are discussed.