Low self-esteem and scared of death? Try hugging a teddy

Posted on November 20, 2013

Teddy bears and cuddly "haptic" jackets could be the solution to existential angst for people with low self-esteem. That's according to a team of psychologists based in Amsterdam who say that people with low self-belief are unable to use meaning in their lives to protect against fear of death, as other more confident individuals do. But on the plus side, the psychologists say that touch can provide the less confident with visceral comfort.

What's their evidence? For an initial study, a female experimenter passed a pair of questionnaires measuring death angst and self-esteem to each of 61 participants (35 men) who took part. If she touched a participant gently on the back for one second as she passed them the papers, then afterwards they tended to report having less fear of death, as compared with if no physical contact was made. But crucially, this was only the case for participants with low self-esteem.

The researchers said this shows touch provides existential security to people with low self-esteem. Unfortunately, other explanations were not examined. For example, no information was provided about the experimenter's attractiveness, nor about the participants' loneliness or mood. Differences in male and female participants were not explored.

A second study was a bolt-on to the first. An additional 59 participants underwent the same procedure except they were asked about their fear of dentists rather than of death. A gentle touch from the experimenter made no difference to the dental fears of any of these participants, whether they had low self-esteem or not. This helps make the case that the effect of touch in the first study was specific to existential angst.

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Category(s):Anxiety, Self-Esteem

Source material from British Psychological Society