The term core self-evaluations refers to fundamental, global evaluations that individuals make about their worth as individuals, including whether they have the capability to handle the tasks and challenges they face in life and the extent to which they feel in control of their lives. When faced with a problem or challenge, individuals with high core self-evaluations believe, “I can handle this problem.” Individuals’ tendencies to evaluate themselves negatively or positively may affect their evaluations of others and the world in general.
Structure and Measurement of Core Self-Evaluations
Core self-evaluation is a broad personality trait that includes shared elements of some of the most frequently studied personality traits, including self-esteem, locus of control, and neuroticism. Although researchers have spent decades studying these individual traits (e.g., self-esteem, neuroticism), only recently have researchers begun to recognize the commonalities among them. Recent research indicates that four core traits—neuroticism (reverse scored), locus of control, generalized self-efficacy, and self-esteem—are highly related to one another. Individuals who score high in one of these traits tend to score high on all of them, leading researchers to believe that individual traits may all be linked to a common source or core, labeled core self-evaluations.
Although it is clear that strong associations between these traits exist, research to date is not clear about the nature of this association. It may be that core self-evaluations are the underlying cause of traits such as self-esteem and neuroticism. If this is the case, individuals vary in the extent to which their broad, fundamental evaluations of themselves are positive or negative, and these evaluations, in turn, influence their feelings of worth and value (self-esteem), control (locus of control), confidence (self-efficacy), and general emotional stability (neuroticism). According to this approach, each of the individual traits serves as an indicator of individuals’ core evaluations of themselves, which are not directly observable.
It is also possible, however, that the four core traits are linked to each other in a hierarchical manner. For example, it maybe that self-esteem is the cause of the other traits: Individuals who have a low sense of self-worth (self-esteem) may tend to experience more sadness and anxiety (neuroticism) and have less confidence that they are capable of handling the challenges they face (self-efficacy) because they doubt their value.
The nature of the associations among the four core traits and the broader core self-evaluations concept, especially their causal associations, remains unresolved. Researchers have attempted to sort out the causal associations between evaluative self-reported traits such as self-esteem and neuroticism using factor analyses; however, such approaches are open to multiple interpretations and preclude definitive conclusions. In the future, our understanding of these traits may be aided by the biological, brain, and genetic research that is currently under way in the field of neuroscience.
There are two approaches to the measurement of core self-evaluations. One is to use existing measures of the four traits. In this approach, core self-evaluations can be assessed by either (a) averaging the scores of the four traits, which assumes that the specific elements of each trait represent the underlying core self-evaluation, or (b) using factor analysis to extract the commonalities between the traits, which assumes that only the commonalities between the four core traits represent core self-evaluations. A second approach is to measure individuals’ fundamental assessments of themselves and their capabilities directly. To this end, a short, comprehensive measure of core self-evaluations has been developed.
Emerging research suggests that core self-evaluations explain differences between individuals that are not captured by existing broad personality taxonomies, such as the Big Five. Although associations between core self-evaluations and the Big Five traits are to be expected (neuroticism is one of the four core traits), the Big Five traits cannot explain all of the differences between individuals in core self-evaluations. Furthermore, core self-evaluations have been shown to add incremental predictive validity to the Big Five traits in explaining important work and life outcomes, such as job and life satisfaction.
Core Self-Evaluations and Work
Regardless of how core self-evaluations are measured, it is clear that this trait is linked to important aspects of work. The concept of core self-evaluations was developed to explain individual differences in workers’ satisfaction with their jobs; however, it has also been linked to work motivation and job performance.
Early research on core self-evaluations showed that individuals who evaluate themselves positively also tend to be satisfied with their jobs. This appears to be true for several reasons. First, because individuals who are high in core self-evaluations tend to see others and their work in a positive light, they may simply take a more optimistic view toward their jobs as well. Second, research indicates that employees with high core self-evaluations actually choose and attain better, more enriched jobs. When given a choice, individuals high in core self-evaluations tend to choose jobs that are more complex. They also may attain more enriched jobs over time because they have the confidence to try new things and are more willing to take on challenging assignments. Third, individuals with high core self-evaluations report setting job goals that are important to them. Recent empirical research shows that individuals with high core self-evaluations set goals that are more intrinsically interesting to them and represent their own values; they rate their work goals as more important. Perhaps for this reason, they are also more likely than individuals with low core self-evaluations to achieve their work goals, leading them to be more satisfied with their jobs.
In summary, individuals high in core self-evaluations tend to be happier with their jobs, partly because of their global positive evaluations but also because they attain more challenging and interesting jobs and are more likely to achieve important work goals than individuals low in core self-evaluations.
Core self-evaluations are also positively associated with ratings of job performance. To understand the link between core self-evaluations and job performance, several motivational mechanisms have been considered, including goal setting and expectancy motivation. Individuals with high core self-evaluations report setting goals that are more intrinsically interesting and important to them. They also set higher goals, are more committed to their goals, and engage in more goal-directed activities at work than do individuals with low core self-evaluations. Furthermore, because they evaluate themselves and their competence highly, they may be more likely to persist in the face of failure and attribute failure to external, temporary causes. Thus, they are likely to achieve higher levels of performance by setting high goals and persisting in goal-directed activities in the face of obstacles. In this regard, core self-evaluations may be an ability factor in some jobs, especially those that require confidence, problem solving, and persistence in the face of failure.
Researchers have also suggested that an optimistic approach to life and work leads individuals with high core self-evaluations to have higher expectancy motivation. Specifically, they are more likely to believe their effort will lead to performance (expectancy) and that their performance will be rewarded (instrumentality), leading them to put more effort into their work. Both lab and field studies have documented links between core self-evaluations and self-reported motivation, as well as objectively assessed effort (time on task). Core self-evaluations may also influence job performance through coping. Under conditions of organizational change, both manager reports and independent reports of colleagues indicate that individuals with high core self-evaluations are better able to cope with change. Perhaps because they are happy on the job, motivated to work hard, and perform well, individuals with high core self-evaluations also tend to earn higher salaries and experience fewer career plateaus, less stress, and greater life satisfaction than do individuals with low core self-evaluations.
- Bono, J. E., & Judge, T. A. (2003). Core self-evaluations: A review of the trait and its role in job satisfaction and job performance. European Journal of Personality, 17, 5-18.
- Judge, T. A., Erez, A., Bono, J. E., & Thoresen, C. J. (2002). Do the traits self-esteem, neuroticism, locus of control, and generalized self-efficacy indicate a common core construct? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 693-710.
- Judge, T. A., Erez, A., Bono, J. E., & Thoresen, C. J. (2003). The Core Self-Evaluations Scale: Development of a measure. Personnel Psychology, 56, 303-331.
- Judge, T. A., Locke, E. A., & Durham, C. C. (1997). The dispositional causes of job satisfaction: A core evaluations approach. Research in Organizational Behavior, 19, 151-188.