World Science reports Ego traps us in costly, losing battles, study finds.

An advance review of an article in the July issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, egotism is defined here by psychologists Roy Baumeister and Liqing Zhang as “the motivation to maintain and enhance favorable views of self.” Study participants risked more when ego was at stake in games of chance, reluctant to be portrayed as a failure.

The ego threats varied by experiment. In two setups, including the auction, students were told before the game that they had flunked a creativity test. Although creativity had little to do with the game, the results were similar, the researchers wrote: “greater entrapment and greater financial loss resulting from ego threat,” no matter the type of game and ego threat.

The researchers admit their findings are unclear in these applications, but in principle they propose extrapolating to applications in war, economics, and politics as “rationality can be at least somewhat subverted by messy subjective factors, such as egotism.”

But while it’s premature to overgeneralize something as complex as war, the urge to prove oneself strong in the face of criticism certainly crosses contexts. How often are people with mental illnesses reluctant to seek treatment with excuses like: I can handle it, I’m tough not weak, I don’t need help, I don’t need a crutch, I don’t want to be seen as crazy, boys don’t cry, etc.? Gets in the way of rationality, indeed.