Longitudinal tests of competing factor structures for the rosenberg self-esteem scale: Traits, ephemeral artifacts, and stable response styles

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Self-esteem, typically measured by the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE), is one of the most widely studied constructs in psychology. Nevertheless, there is broad agreement that a simple unidimensional factor model, consistent with the original design and typical application in applied research, does not provide an adequate explanation of RSE responses. However, there is no clear agreement about what alternative model is most appropriate—or even a clear rationale for how to test competing interpretations. Three alternative interpretations exist: (a) 2 substantively important trait factors (positive and negative self-esteem), (b) 1 trait factor and ephemeral method artifacts associated with positively or negatively worded items, or (c) 1 trait factor and stable response-style method factors associated with item wording. We have posited 8 alternative models and structural equation model tests based on longitudinal data (4 waves of data across 8 years with a large, representative sample of adolescents). Longitudinal models provide no support for the unidimensional model, undermine support for the 2-factor model, and clearly refute claims that wording effects are ephemeral, but they provide good support for models positing 1 substantive (self-esteem) factor and response-style method factors that are stable over time. This longitudinal methodological approach has not only resolved these long-standing issues in self-esteem research but also has broad applicability to most psychological assessments based on self-reports with a mix of positively and negatively worded items.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

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Journal Article

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ERA Access