Date Published: June 6, 2019
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Jianfeng Wang, Yan Wu, Maria Serena Panasiti.
Previous studies have shown that self-esteem modulates attentional responses to emotional stimuli. However, it is well known that emotional stimuli can vary in intensity. The main objective of the present study was to further investigate self-esteem related emotional intensity processing in happy and anger faces. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded while 27 high-esteem versus 27 low self-esteem participants carried out a visual oddball task, with neutral faces as the standard stimuli and deviant stimuli varying on valence (happy and anger) and intensity (40%, 70%, and 100% emotive) dimensions. The results showed only high self-esteem people, instead of those with low self-esteem, displayed significant emotion intensity effects for 100% than for 70% happy faces in P3 component. On the other hand, only people with low self-esteem exhibited pronounced intensity effects for anger faces in P3 amplitudes. Moreover, only people with low self-esteem displayed significant intensity effects for 100% compared to both 70% and 40% anger stimuli in N2 amplitudes at central sites. These findings indicate that high self-esteem individuals were typically more susceptible to highly as well as mildly positive stimuli yet less reactive to negative stimuli compared with people with low self-esteem.
Self-esteem is deemed as one’s evaluation of self-knowledge that signals to what extent people accept and like themselves. High self-esteem means greatly favorable evaluation of oneself on the whole, while low self-esteem is associated with mildly positive or ambivalent feelings toward oneself . Numerous studies have indicated that the difference in the level of self-esteem can influence how individuals respond to certain types of emotional information, such as emotional information concerning acceptance or rejection. For example, individuals with low self-esteem are more likely than those with high self-esteem to anticipate rejection , devote more attentional resources to potential rejection cues [3–6], fail to engage in strategies to prevent rejection , and react more strongly when rejection actually occurs in terms of self-reported responses  and physiological reactions [9,10].
This study reveals that self-esteem has a great impact on brain responses to positive and negative stimuli with different emotional intensities. Although both groups showed significant emotional electrophysiological effects for 100% and 70% happy faces in P3 amplitudes, only high self-esteem people showed significant intensity effects for 100% compared to 70% happy stimuli in this component. On the other hand, only people with low self-esteem exhibited pronounced intensity effects for anger faces in P3 amplitudes. Moreover, only people with low self-esteem displayed significant intensity effects for 100% anger faces compared to both 70% and 40% anger stimuli in N2 amplitudes at central sites.