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Sociometer theory is a theory of self-esteem from an evolutionary psychological perspective which proposes that self-esteem is a gauge (or sociometer) of interpersonal relationships.

This theoretical perspective was first introduced by Mark Leary and colleagues in 1995[1][2] and later expanded on by Kirkpatrick and Ellis.[3] In Leary’s research, the idea of self-esteem as a sociometer is discussed in depth. This theory was created as a response to psychological phenomenon i.e. social emotions, inter- and intra- personal behaviors, self-serving biases, and reactions to rejection. Based on this theory, self-esteem is a measure of effectiveness in social relations and interactions that monitors acceptance and/or rejection from others.[4] With this, an emphasis is placed on relational value, which is the degree to which a person regards his or her relationship with another, and how it affects day-to-day life. Confirmed by various studies and research, if a person is deemed having relational value, they are more likely to have higher self-esteem. According to Leary, there are five main groups associated with relational value that are classified as those affording the greatest impact on an individual. They are: 1) macro-level, i.e., communities, 2) instrumental coalitions, i.e., teams, committees, 3) mating relationships, 4) kin relationships, and 5) friendships. A study was conducted to see just how much people depend on peers and outside factors and relational values to regulate their life. The objective of the study was to pick groups for an activity based on the evaluations given by the students. In the study, two groups were assigned. Both groups consisted of college students that submitted and were subjected to a peer evaluation. The difference being that the control group of students chose if they 1) wanted to interact with the person or 2) dissociated from the person. Previously asked, some students stated that they were indifferent or did not care what others' opinions of them were. However, when results were analyzed there was a great deal of fluctuation in overall self-esteem. Those who were placed in the second group (of dissociation), receiving a low relational value, displayed a lowered self-esteem. As a result, this compromised the way they assessed a/the situation. In the first group, where perceived relational value was high, self-esteem was also high. This provides some evidence for an evolutionary basis in the fundamental human need for inclusion in a group, and the burden of being on the outskirts of social acceptance.[5]


  1. ^ Leary, M. R., & Downs, D. L. (1995). Interpersonal functions of the self-esteem motive: The self-esteem system as a sociometer. In M. H. Kernis (Ed.), Efficacy, Agency, and Self-Esteem (pp. 123-144). New York: Plenum Press.
  2. ^ Leary, M. R., Tambor, E. S., Terdal, S. K., & Downs, D. L. (1995). Self-esteem as an interpersonal monitor: The sociometer hypothesis. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 68(3), 518-530.
  3. ^ Kirkpatrick, L. A., & Ellis, B. J. (2001). An evolutionary-psychological approach to self-esteem: multiple domains and multiple functions. In G. J. O. Fletcher & M. S. Clark (Eds.), Blackwell handbook of social psychology: Interpersonal processes (pp. 411-436). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.
  4. ^ Leary, M. R. (2005): Sociometer Theory and The Pursuit of Relational Value: Getting to the Root of Self-Esteem, European Review of Social Psychology, 16, 75-111
  5. ^ Leary, M. R. (2005): Sociometer Theory and The Pursuit of Relational Value: Getting to the Root of Self-Esteem, European Review of Social Psychology, 16, 75-111

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