You’d probably guess that the thing your college aged kid wants most is probably spending money, followed by free food, free time and, even though we’d all love to believe that college kids are law abiding angels, probably booze and sex. Turns out, the thing that college kids really value the most, according to two recent studies that asked them to rank pleasurable and desirable activities, is a self esteem boost.
“These are college students, look at this list of activities,” said Brad Bushman, lead study researcher and a professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.
“College students love sex, they love to eat — any place there is free food, they are there,” Bushman told LiveScience, continuing through the list. “And yet they love self-esteem more.”
This result was particularly true for young men, who valued a self esteem boost above all other activities. Young women are equally concerned with money and friends.
In the first study, Bushman’s team asked 130 University of Michigan students, who received course credit, to think about their favorite food, sexual activity and self-esteem building experiences. Then they had to rate on a scale from 1 to 5 how much they liked it – “How pleasant would it be to eat it (food), do it (sex), or have that experience (self-esteem)?” – and how much they wanted it – “How much do you want to eat it (food), do it (sex), or have that experience (self-esteem)?”
In the second study, the 152 students rated how much they wanted and liked the same pleasurable experiences described in the first study as well as receiving a paycheck, seeing a best friend and drinking alcohol.
The second study is relevant because addiction research suggests that addicts tend to want the objects of their addiction more than they actually like it, according to Bushman. The kids surveyed generally liked the activities in question more than they wanted or needed them, which is good. The gap between like and want was the smallest when it came to self esteem.
“Notice for self-esteem the gap is the smallest, so if people are addicted to anything, they are addicted to self-esteem,” he said, cautioning that the study results don’t indicate any kind of addiction.
So consider passing out compliments and praise the same way you do twenty dollar bills to your resident university goer. They might never admit it, but a little praise from their parents clearly goes a long way!