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Self-Esteem Inventory (SEI)


Self-esteem is a set of attitudes and beliefs that a person brings with them when they go out to face the world. Self-esteem includes beliefs as to whether you can expect success or failure, effort that is put forth, whether failure at a task will “harm you,” and whether he or she will become more capable as a result of different experiences. In textbook terms, self-esteem provides a mental set that helps the person to respond according to expectations of success, acceptance, and personal strength. There are three dimensions to self-esteem: Significance, Competence, and Power.


Significance is the feeling of being loved and cared about, the feeling that you matter to a person. You can’t give this feeling in a child. You can try to influence it with words and deeds, with nurturing and protection, with caring, and with meeting needs, but you can’t make sure the messages you send are the ones the child will receive. A feeling of importance, the feeling that you are significant because you are cared about, is a choice the individual makes.

Competence: You can influence competence in a kid by helping him become very skilled in a number of areas. But whether the kid feels competent depends on whether they compare themselves with someone who is more competent than they are. It’s a decision the kid makes, not one that you make, though you can influence his decision by making comparisons yourself or demanding perfection. If competence is particularly important to him, he may experience lower self-esteem, even though he is highly competent, simply because he doesn’t see himself as competent enough. There’s a discrepancy between where he thinks he should be (or wants to be) and where he is. He doesn’t meet his own standards (which may or may not have come from his family or his culture).

Power is the third dimension of self-esteem. Feeling that you have control over the person that you are, making things happen in the world, having an effect on the people and events in your life, and living your life satisfactorily gives a sense of power. If power is very important to you, having a feeling of it can raise your self-esteem. Power has to do with effectiveness.

Self-esteem refers to the evaluation a person makes, and customarily maintains, of him- or herself; that is, overall self-esteem is an expression of approval or disapproval, indicating the extent to which a person believes him- herself competent, successful, significant, and worthy.

Self-esteem is a personal judgment of worthiness expressed in the attitudes a person holds toward the self.


Generally, people with high self-esteem are more persistent in the face of failures, misfortunes, ego threats, bad feedback, and other sources of stress than people with low self-esteem because they have plenty of other positive traits (Spencer, et al., 1993; Shrauger & Rosenberg, 1970; Shrauger & Sorman, 1977).  However, whether high self-esteem causes greater persistence or greater persistence causes higher self-esteem is a matter of continual debate: the causal arrow may point in both directions. 


People with high self-esteem utilize a self-serving bias to protect themselves from life’s daily events.  They tend to take credit for and exaggerate successes and deny blame for and minimize failure (Baumeister, 1998). 


The SEI is designed to measure evaluative attitudes toward the self in social, academic, family, and personal areas of experience.

Effective Evaluation Instruments must be reliable and valid. To determine this, instrument scores must be correlated. Correlation refers to the strength of the relationship between two measures. It is expressed in terms of a correlation coefficient (r) and can be positive or negative. Ranging from -1 to +1.  




A reliable instrument is one which is consistent enough that subsequent measurements of an item give approximately the same results. A reliable instrument will get the same results. If there is a high degree of positive correlations, then the test is reliable.

The SEI received correlation coefficients, r’s, ranging from .87 to .92 when tested by Kimball (1972). Kimball administered the SEI to approximately 7,600 public school children in grades 4 through 8.

Spatz and Johnston (1973) administrated the SEI to over 600 students in grades 5, 9, and 12 in a rural school district. They obtained correlation coefficients, r’s, of .81 for grade 5, .86 for grade 9, and .80 for grade 12.

Both of these tests indicated adequate internal consistency for the students in these different grades levels. The SEI is consistent in its measurement of self-esteem.


A valid instrument measures what the person using the instrument wishes to measure. The degree to which it performs this function satisfactorily is called the relative validity.

Tests have been conducted to see if the SEI measures what it is supposed to measure (Kokenes 1974, 1978; Kimball 1972).

The author, Coopersmith, found that the SEI scores are significantly related to creativity, academic achievement, resistance to group pressures, willingness to express unpopular opinions, and perceptual constancy (all Coopersmith, 1967); perceived reciprocal liking (Simon and Bernstein, 1971); perceived popularity (Simon, 1972); general and test anxiety (Many, 1973); selection of difficult tasks (Goodstadt and Kipnes, 1971); effective communication between parents and youth (Matteson, 1974); and family adjustment (Matteson, 1974).


Note: Most of the statements here are taken directly from Coopersmith’s instructional book on how to use the Self-Esteem Inventory. See Coopersmith’s reference below.

Baumeister, R. F. (1998). The Self.  The Handbook of Social Psychology, Fourth Edition, Vol. 1. Editors, Gilbert, D. T., Fiske, S. T., Lindzey, G. Chapter 15, pp 680-740.

Coopersmith, S. (1990, Eight printing). SEI Self-Esteem Inventories. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc. 

Goodstadt, B., and Kipnes, D. (1971). Report on Achievement Instruction Materials. Philadelphia: Research for Better Schools.

Kimball, O. M. (1972). Development of norms for the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory: Grades four through eight. Doctoral dissertation, Northern Illinois University. Dissertation Abstracts International, 34:1131-1132.

Kokenes, B. (1978).  A factor analytic study of the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory. Adolescence, 13, 149-155. 

Kokenes, B. (1974).  Grade level differences in factors of self-esteem. Developmental Psychology. 10:954-958. analytic study of the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory. Adolescence, 13, 149-155. 

Many, M. (1973). The relationship between anxiety and self-esteem in grades 4 through 8. Doctoral dissertation.

Matteson, R. (1974). Adolescent self-esteem, family communication and satisfaction. Journal of Psychology, 86: 35-47.

Simon, W. (1972). Some sociometric evidence for validity of Coopersmith’s Self-esteem Inventory. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 34: 93-94.

Simon, W. E., Bernstein, E.  (1971). The relationship between self-esteem and perceived reciprocal liking: A sociometric test of the theory of cognitive balance. Journal of Psychology, 79: 197-201. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 34: 93-94.

Shrauger, J. S., Rosenberg, S. E. (1970). Self-esteem and the effects of success and failure feedback on performance. Journal of Personality, 10.1111/J, 1467-1494.

Shrauger, J. S., Sorman, P. B. (October, 1977). Self-evaluations, initial success and failure, and improvement as determinants of persistence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 45(5): 784-795.

Spatz, K., Johnston (1973). Internal consistency of the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 33: 875-876.

Spencer, Jr., L. M., Spencer, S. M. (1993). Competence at Work. New York; Wiley. 372 pp.

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