I don't think I need to give evidence that people do seek acknowledgement; if it's not from parents, it's from lovers or friends. It can be things as big as life ambitions/achievements (e.g. 'I will support your dreams are!', to smaller things like acknowledging you understand ('I understand what you're going through').

Possible pointers:

  • What makes us seek acknowledgement? (evolutionarily-wired or socially-induced)
  • What is the process that turns this acknowledgement into a good feeling?

I've come across a lot of blogs and opinions, I am interested in seeing if there's any scientific research on this.

  • $\begingroup$ Since I am not an expert, I will only post a comment. People seek acknowledgement because it reinforces their self image. It says to them that the person they have chosen to become has value that others recognize. That provides security for them within their social context, as well. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 7:10
  • $\begingroup$ Have a look to the book your erroneous zones: amazon.com/Your-Erroneous-Zones-Step-Step/dp/0060919760 $\endgroup$
    – Revious
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 12:57

2 Answers 2


Freud would say its all your Mother's fault you want acknowledgement! She should have never told you thats a good job. Indeed current pseudo-scientific psychologist say our childhood programming given to us by our guardians and peers are the reason why we seek affirmation through certain means. Their thought is if your parent created an appetite in you for praise and external affirmation then you will seek such from other people.

The thought that children are addicted to parental approval may be valid however I doubt such addictions come through praise alone. I suspect that gifting and rewarding much in the way Prince Horace was spoiled in the Whipping boy or the complete inverse like Lex Luthor's relationship with his father in the Smallville DC universe or Jace Lightwood's relationship with Valentine Morgenstern in the Mortal Instruments Universe. In these cases the parent was cruel to the child demanding an unnatural level of performance. In modern and real life that would be the bad sports scholarship parent vs the good parent involved in the life thier children which includes sports.

Science on the other hand offers a more clear view our desires for affirmation come from a maldeveloped self-esteem. As individuals we should not require the praises of others to remain mentally stable and happy. However when people base their self esteem on the praises and acclamations of others. They create a system which they are not running but an external group must continue and this is counter productive.

College students who based their self-worth on academic performance did not receive higher grades despite being highly motivated and studying more hours each week than students who did not rate academic performance as important to their self-esteem, Crocker found. Students who based their self-worth on academic outcomes also were more likely to report conflicts with professors and greater stress.

"They feel motivated to do well in academics, but having their self-worth on the line doesn't help their performance," Crocker says. She speculates that students who base their self-worth on academic performance might become anxious and distracted and threatened by feelings of failure, and, as such, their anxiety might then interfere with their memory. Students who based their self-esteem on internal sources--such as being a virtuous person or adhering to moral standards--were found to receive higher grades and less likely to use alcohol and drugs or to develop eating disorders.

"We really think that if people could adopt goals not focused on their own self-esteem but on something larger than their self--such as what they can create or contribute to others--than they would be less susceptible" to some of the negative effects of pursuing self-esteem, Crocker says. "It's about having a goal that is bigger than the self." Crocker's research appeared in a recent issue of the Journal of Social Issues (Vol. 58, No. 3).

-APA Self-esteem that's based on external sources has mental health consequences, study says

The follow is a valid summary of the science behind the previous series of work:

Authentic self-esteem is not dependent upon others or things external to us. Such self-esteem is a manifestation of our relationship with our self. The essence of self-esteem is that it flows from within. If we lay ourselves bare in our vulnerability and strip away our careers, our families, our friends, our possessions and achievements, what are we left with? And how does that feel? Beyond the obvious losses, do we like and respect who we are, irrespective of the markers of other-esteem?

We modify and mold so much of our behavior and even more, our very personality to achieve other-esteem. We literally create personality masks in this endeavor, presenting to others the person we think they would approve of. In such circumstances we are abandoning our true self to derive approval or recognition from others. Not only is this a self-deprecating experience, it also sabotages our relationships, for they are far from authentic. When we act in this manner we are literally taking our well being and serving it up to other people. It then becomes the other person's to decide if we are worthy. This is not a healthy place to be and it is a soul-defeating exercise. We should never judge ourselves based upon who we think others see us.

Who is the Judge?

The simple truth is that others don't judge us. They may have opinions of us. Yet, to elevate their opinion to the status of a judgment is simply ridiculous. No one can judge you unless you grant him or her the power of being your judge. Why would we put a judge's robes on an ordinary person and confer such power upon them? The only person who you might grant such power to works in a courtroom; all others are people with opinions. With a healthier measure of self-esteem we might more easily tolerate other's opinions without escalating them into counterfeit judgments.

Esteem most be generated from within and can then radiate outward. When we focus outwardly for approval, we are seeking it in the wrong place. And in so doing, we subordinate our authentic being in a vain attempt at happiness. Such fulfillment must be dependent and superficial and undermines our personal evolution. This process of external gratification is other-esteem. Self-esteem is not contingent upon others.

When we set up this drama around approval, we create issues in regard to notions of rejection. The issue of rejection can be misleading. With a healthy self-esteem one doesn't consider rejection. It is actually the rejecting of one's self that inclines people to seek approval from others. In such cases, we're not content with ourselves and so we solicit that acceptance from others. If that approval isn't granted, we have a habit of claiming that we were rejected. In truth, we have rejected ourselves when we set others up as judge. The degree to which we are reactive to other's opinions of us in likely inversely correlated to our level of self-esteem.

A reconsidering of our understanding of self-esteem might be helpful in reframing our cultural expectations of happiness. Almost all parents would claim that they are thoroughly invested in their children's self-esteem. Educators and other professionals place great value on the development of children's self-worth. Yet, I would argue that most don't begin to comprehend self-esteem. If an A student becomes depressed by a B, it is abundantly clear that their grades are a product of other-esteem. As such, the diminishment of other-esteem leaves them feeling devalued. Their sense of well being is dependent upon factors outside of themselves. Similarly, athletic achievement or popularity are things that we understandably encourage in our children. When put into proper perspective we might see that these experiences might enhance their lives. But it is critical that they not be the cornerstones of how they see themselves. For in that case, the average student or the mediocre athlete is relegated to the imprisonment of low self-esteem.

Self-esteem is the legitimate foundation for a healthy relationship with our selves and others. Genuine self-esteem removes the construct of neediness so prevalent in most relationships. And liberates us to thrive, as issues of rejection and judgment recede. If we seek our esteem from outside, we leave ourselves in a tentative and dependent place. When the sense of worth emanates from within, life unfolds in a empowered way.

-Self-Esteem or Other-Esteem?


Looking for acknowledgment is so important trait that some authors extracted specific contruct which can be responsible for this tendency - need for social approval. Polish researchers use Social Approval Questionnaire (by Drwal, 1995) next to the other tests, in order to exclude from their data base unreliable responses. It can be interesting for you what kind of questions are in this Questionarie. They are for example:

  • I have never been late for school.
  • I have got friends who I don't like. etc.

These questions are obvious for people whose need for social approval is not pathological. ALL of us was late for school, even one time. And there is no person who like everyone. People who are looking for acknowledgment, whose need for approval is very big, answer YES in those questions.

You can also read more in some english sources.


1) Drwal (1995), Kwestionariusz Aprobaty Społecznej KAS (Social Approval Questionnaire)

2) Millham (1980) Need for social approval: Impression management or self-deception?

  • $\begingroup$ I owe you another upvote (I've already used my maximum for yesterday), but I encourage you to add anything you might know about why some people have strong need for approval, as I think this was the main interest of the original post (OP). As the OP points out, some minimal need for approval seems nearly universal, so the basic mechanism underlying this motive is of interest, not just the degree of individual variation and associated measurement issues...but if you meant to suggest reading these articles for theoretical answers to those underlying questions too, that would be quite helpful! $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 21:56
  • $\begingroup$ I think reading more about social approval will result with better understanding its deeper conditions. In psychology there are many such constructs which we can describe and describe but always can still ask "But why?". I'm interested in psychoanalytic theories, and my understanding of human mind often leads to these deepest sources of our needs, traits etc. - I see these sources in sb's earliest years of life. Excpecially such contructs as seek for acknowledgment which are conected with society can be consider in psychoanalytic way. (more in the next comment) $\endgroup$ Commented May 1, 2014 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ An example of possible explanation is what kind of style of attachment has one person. There are 4 styles of attachment based on Ainsworth works: secure, ambivalent, avoidant and disorganised. Children wiht secure style will feel secure and self-confidently in their adult life, among other people. They will probably look for social approval less. In contrast, people with ambivalent attachment style feel insecure in interpersonal contacts, so they will probably look for acknowledgment more. $\endgroup$ Commented May 1, 2014 at 9:50
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    $\begingroup$ --> Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the Strange Situation. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. $\endgroup$ Commented May 1, 2014 at 9:51

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