Implicit and explicit self-esteem discrepancies, victimization and the development of late childhood internalizing problems.


Discrepancies between implicit and explicit self-esteem have been linked with internalizing problems among mainly adolescents and adults. Longitudinal research on this association in children is lacking. This study examined the longitudinal link between self-esteem discrepancies and the development of internalizing problems in children. It furthermore examined the possible mediating role of self-esteem discrepancies in the longitudinal link between experiences of peer victimization and internalizing problems development. Children (N = 330, M age = 11.2 year; 52.5 % female) were followed over grades five (age 11 years) and six (age 12 years). Self-report measures were used annually to test for victimization and internalizing problems. Implicit self-esteem was assessed using an implicit association test, while explicit self-esteem was assessed via self-reports. Self-esteem discrepancies represented the difference between implicit and explicit self-esteem. Results showed that victimization was associated with increases in damaged self-esteem (higher levels of implicit than explicit self-esteem. Additionally, damaged self-esteem at age 11 years predicted an increase in internalizing problems in children over ages 11 to 12 years. Furthermore, damaged self-esteem mediated the relationship between age 11 years victimization and the development of internalizing problems. No impact of fragile self-esteem (lower levels of implicit than explicit self-esteem) on internalizing problems was found. The results thus underscore that, as found in adolescent and adult samples, damaged self-esteem is a predictor of increases in childhood internalizing problems. Moreover, damaged self-esteem might explain why children who are victimized develop internalizing problems. Implications are discussed.