Ego Boosts Are the Best, Better Even Than Sex

by Liz Colville

Remember in psychology class when you learned that America was an ‘independent’ society and many other countries, e.g. India, were ‘dependent’ societies? Well, I do, anyway, and this seems to have gotten…truer. A new study of 282 American students suggests that the majority of the subjects overwhelming prefer to be praised than to — get this — have sex, eat good food, hang out with their best friend, drink alcohol, or receive money. Says study author Brad Bushman:

We asked them about the things they really love. They liked to get a compliment rather than engage in their favorite sexual act. They love to have sex.

They love it! But not as much as “You rule,” “There is no one better than you,” “You are perfect,” etc.

Bushman says he was “shocked” that sex was not number one on the list, and was also baffled by the rankings of other favorite pastimes:

If I want college students to show up to a meeting, offer free pizza. Free food, they’re there.

Plus, of course:

College students are poor. They love money.

Me too! The research also suggests that “wanting” something means you could be addicted to it — that is, if the “want” outweighs how much you “like” it. For instance, I want James Franco, but I hate him, therefore I am addicted to him. Bushman says the only indicator for which “want” and “like” were close was praise, meaning the students are kind of addicted to people thinking they’re the greatest. Plus, those who were really into ego boosts seemed to actively pursue them, even if the ethics were blurry. For example:

[P]articipants took a test they were told measured their intellectual ability. Afterwards, they were told if they waited another 10 minutes, their score would be re-calculated with a method that usually produced better results. Researchers found students who highly valued self-esteem were more likely to stay to get the new scores.

So the praise can also come from a calculator! Or a computer, or a Wii, or a microwave (“Congratulations, your potato is done.”) We don’t even need humans anymore, except the ones who make those things, and the ones who think we’re awesome, including, according to this picture, the Lord, who — I’m not sure if he is a human or what.

Photo by DBV Cakes via Flickr