People might associate college life with pizza and promiscuity, but according to a paper published in the Journal of Personality, students would rather receive an ego boost from compliments or good grades than have sex. Yes, really!
Incidentally, ego boosts also trump favorite foods, which actually makes sense considering how closely hunger and sexual compulsions are linked.
The fact that young people value self-worth over a need as basic as sex reinforces the idea that we're quite narcissistic. At the same time, at least one researcher acknowledges that the relationship between sex and self-worth might reflect the old chicken and egg question: Do people experience successful relationships because they have good self-esteem, or does good self-esteem come from having healthy relationships?
Dr. Jean M. Twenge, co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic, says that self-esteem comes after academic and social success, but college students apparently think otherwise.
Researchers at the University of Michigan, where the study was conducted, gathered their data by asking subjects to think of their favorite food, favorite sexual activity, and favorite ego-boosting experience. Participants were then asked to rate how much they "wanted" that thing, and then how much they "liked" it.
The study found that students generally "liked" self esteem-boosters as much as they "wanted" them, which amplifies their power as a motivator.
The results surprised several experts in psychology, like researcher Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University.
"Everybody likes compliments, but more than engaging in your favorite sexual activity? More than receiving a paycheck? I was surprised it was such a powerful thing that it trumped everything else," Bushman said.
We agree, but when you think about self-esteem versus sex in terms of our values and what we want out of life, it makes sense that people would prioritize praise. A compliment affirms that you're making a difference, doing something important, being challenged and growing.
Especially for college students, having sex might be as easy as heading to a frat party or simply snuggling next to one's significant other. Feeling accomplished, however, takes more work, and the high of an ego boost often lasts longer than the euphoria of a really good sexual encounter.