Self-esteem is attractive as a social psychological construct because researchers have conceptualized it as an influential predictor of certain outcomes, such as academic achievement, happiness, satisfaction in marriage and relationships, and criminal behaviour. Self-esteem can apply specifically to a particular dimension (for example, "I believe I am a good writer and feel happy about that") or a global extent (for example, "I believe I am a bad person, and feel bad about myself in general"). Psychologists usually regard self-esteem as an enduring personality characteristic ("trait" self-esteem), though normal, short-term variations ("state" self-esteem) also exist. Synonyms or near-synonyms of self-esteem include many things: self-worth, self-regard, self-respect, and self-integrity.
The identification of self-esteem as a distinct psychological construct is thought to have its origins in the work of philosopher and psychologist, geologist, anthropologist William James (1892). James identified multiple dimensions of the self, with two levels of hierarchy: processes of knowing (called the 'I-self') and the resulting knowledge about the self (the 'Me-self'). Observation about the self and storage of those observations by the I-self create three types of knowledge, which collectively account for the Me-self, according to James. These are the material self, social self, and spiritual self. The social self comes closest to self-esteem, comprising all characteristics recognized by others. The material self consists of representations of the body and possessions, and the spiritual self of descriptive representations and evaluative dispositions regarding the self. This view of self-esteem as the collection of an individual's attitudes toward oneself remains today.
In the mid-1960s, sociologist Morris Rosenberg defined self-esteem as a feeling of self-worth and developed the Rosenberg self-esteem scale (RSES), which became the most-widely used scale to measure self-esteem in the social sciences.
In the early 20th century, the behaviorist movement minimized introspective study of mental processes, emotions and feelings, which was replaced by objective study through experiments on behaviors observed in relation with environment. Behaviorism placed the human being as an animal subject to reinforcements, and suggested placing psychology as an experimental science, similar to chemistry or biology. As a consequence, clinical trials on self-esteem were overlooked, since behaviorists considered the idea less liable to rigorous measurement. In the mid-20th century, the rise of phenomenology and humanistic psychology led to renewed interest in self-esteem. Self-esteem then took a central role in personal self-actualization and in the treatment of psychic disorders. Psychologists started to consider the relationship between psychotherapy and the personal satisfaction of a person with high self-esteem as useful to the field. This led to new elements being introduced to the concept of self-esteem, including the reasons why people tend to feel less worthy and why people become discouraged or unable to meet challenges by themselves.
Currently, the core self-evaluations approach includes self-esteem as one of four dimensions that comprise one's fundamental appraisal of oneself, along with locus of control, neuroticism, and self-efficacy. The concept of core self-evaluations as first examined by Judge, Locke, and Durham (1997), has since proven to have the ability to predict job satisfaction and job performance. Self-esteem may be essential to self-evaluation.