Roy Baumeister, a psychology professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee, says he had "high hopes" for the benefits of boosting self-esteem when he began studying it more than 30 years ago.
But his lengthy review of 18,000 articles, published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, ended with the realization that only two clear benefits emerge from high self-esteem: enhanced initiative, which boosts confidence, and increased happiness.
"There is not nearly as much benefit as we hoped," he says. "It's been one of the biggest disappointments of my career."
Overall, research shows that self-esteem scores have increased with the generations, says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University who compared studies on self-esteem of 66,000 college kids across the USA from 1968 through 1994. Such studies are typically based on self-ratings.
She also has noticed that the undergraduates she teaches tend to have an inflated sense of self.
"When you correct writing, they'll say, 'It's just your opinion,' which is infuriating. Bad grammar and spelling and sentences being wrong is not my opinion, it's just bad writing," she says.
So when the criticism flows, some college students are increasingly seeking counseling.
Sam Goldstein, a neuropsychologist at the University of Utah, likened some students to bubbles - on the surface they seem secure and happy, yet with the least adversity they burst.
All we do when we overly praise mediocrity is lower kids' expectations of what they will need to do to succeed in life. Which can only set them up for indignant failure.
More Simon Cowell, less Leo Buscaglia.