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Social comparison theory, initially proposed by social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954,centers on the belief that there is a drive within individuals to gain accurate self-evaluations. The theory explains how individuals evaluate their own opinions and abilities by comparing themselves to others in order to reduce uncertainty in these domains, and learn how to define the self.
Leon Festinger was an American social psychologist, perhaps best known for cognitive dissonance and social comparison theory. His theories and research are credited with renouncing the previously dominant behaviorist view of social psychology by demonstrating the inadequacy of stimulus-response conditioning accounts of human behavior. Festinger is also credited with advancing the use of laboratory experimentation in social psychology, although he simultaneously stressed the importance of studying real-life situations, a principle he perhaps most famously practiced when personally infiltrating a doomsday cult. He is also known in social network theory for the proximity effect.
Following the initial theory, research began to focus on social comparison as a way of self-enhancement,introducing the concepts of downward and upward comparisons and expanding the motivations of social comparisons.
In the theory, Festinger provided nine main hypotheses. First, he stated that humans have a basic drive to evaluate their opinions and abilities and that people evaluate themselves through objective, nonsocial means (Hypothesis I).Second, Festinger stated that if objective, nonsocial means were not available, that people evaluate their opinions and abilities by comparison to other people (Hypothesis II). Next, he hypothesized that the tendency to compare oneself to another person decreases as the difference between their opinions and abilities becomes more divergent. In other words, if someone is much different from you, you are less likely to compare yourself to that person (Hypothesis III). He next hypothesized that there is a unidirectional drive upward in the case of abilities, which is largely absent in opinions. This drive refers to the value that is placed on doing better and better. (Hypothesis IV). Next, Festinger hypothesizes that there are non-social restraints that make it difficult or even impossible to change one's ability and these restraints are largely absent for opinions. In other words, people can change their opinions when they want to but no matter how motivated individuals may be to improve their ability, there may be other elements that make this impossible (Hypothesis V). Festinger goes on to hypothesize that the cessation of comparison with others is accompanied by hostility or derogation to the extent that continued comparison with those persons implies unpleasant consequences (Hypothesis VI). Next, any factors which increase the importance of some particular group as a comparison group from some particular opinion or ability will increase the pressure toward uniformity concerning that ability or opinion within that group. If discrepancies arise between the evaluator and comparison group there is a tendency to reduce the divergence by either attempting to persuade others, or changing their personal views to attain uniformity. However, the importance, relevance and attraction to a comparison group that affects the original motivation for comparison, mediates the pressures towards uniformity (Hypothesis VII). His next hypothesis states that if persons who are very divergent from one's own opinion or ability are perceived as different from oneself on attributes consistent with the divergence, the tendency to narrow the range of comparability becomes stronger (Hypothesis VIII). Lastly, Festinger hypothesized that when there is a range of opinion or ability in a group, the relative strength of the three manifestations of pressures toward uniformity will be different for those who are close to the mode of the group than for those who are distant from the mode. Those close to the mode will have stronger tendencies to change the positions of others, weaker tendencies to narrow the range of comparison, and even weaker tendencies to change their own opinions (Hypothesis IX).
Since its inception, the initial framework has undergone several advances. Key among these are developments in understanding the motivations that underlie social comparisons, and the particular types of social comparisons that are made. Motives that are relevant to social comparison include self-enhancement,maintenance of a positive self-evaluation, components of attributions and validation, and the avoidance of closure. While there have been changes in Festinger's original concept, many fundamental aspects remain, including the prevalence of the tendency towards social comparison and the general process that is social comparison.
According to Thorton and Arrowood, self-evaluation is one of the functions of social comparison. This is one process that underlies how an individual engages in social comparison. [ citation needed ] However, individuals do not always act as unbiased self-evaluators, and accurate self-evaluations may not be the primary goal of social comparison.Each individual's specific goals will influence how they engage in social comparison. For self-evaluation, people tend to choose a comparison target that is similar to themselves. Specifically, they are most interested in choosing a target who shares some distinctive characteristic with themselves. Research suggests that most people believe that choosing a similar target helps ensure the accuracy of the self-evaluation.
Individuals may also seek self-enhancement, or to improve their self-esteem.They may interpret, distort, or ignore the information gained by social comparison to see themselves more positively and further their self-enhancement goals. They will also choose to make upward (comparing themselves to someone better off) or downward (comparing themselves to someone worse off) comparisons, depending on which strategy will further their self-enhancement goals. They may also avoid making comparisons period, or avoid making certain types of comparisons. Specifically, when an individual believes that their ability in a specific area is low, they will avoid making upward social comparisons in that area. Unlike for self-evaluation goals, people engaging in social comparison with the goal of self-enhancement may not seek out a target that is similar to themselves. In fact, if a target's similarity is seen as a threat, due to the target outperforming the individual on some dimension, the individual may downplay the similarity of the target to themselves. This notion ties closely to the phenomena in psychology introduced also by Leon Festinger himself as it relates to the diminishing of cognitive dissonance. One does not want to perceive oneself in a way which would downplay one's original belief upon which one's self-esteem is based and therefore in order to reduce the cognitive dissonance, one is willing to change the cognitive representation of the other person whom one compares oneself to, such that one's own belief about oneself remains intact. This effectively leads to the comparison of apples to oranges or psychological denial.
Later advances in theory led to self-enhancement being one of the four self-evaluation motives:, along with self-assessment , self-verification , and self-improvement .
Wills introduced the concept of downward comparison in 1981.Downward social comparison is a defensive tendency that is used as a means of self-evaluation. When a person looks to another individual or group that they consider to be worse off than themselves in order to feel better about their self or personal situation, they are making a downward social comparison. Research has suggested that social comparisons with others who are better off or superior, or upward comparisons, can lower self-regard, whereas downward comparisons can elevate self-regard. Downward comparison theory emphasizes the positive effects of comparisons in increasing one's subjective well-being. For example, it has been found that breast cancer patients made the majority of comparisons with patients less fortunate than themselves.
Although social comparison research has suggested that upward comparisons can lower self-regard, Collins indicates that this is not always the case.Individuals make upward comparisons, whether consciously or subconsciously, when they compare themselves with an individual or comparison group that they perceive as superior or better than themselves in order to improve their views of self or to create a more positive perception of their personal reality. Upward social comparisons are made to self-evaluate and self-improve in the hopes that self-enhancement will also occur. In an upward social comparison, people want to believe themselves to be part of the elite or superior, and make comparisons highlighting the similarities between themselves and the comparison group, unlike a downward social comparison, where similarities between individuals or groups are disassociated.
It has also been suggested that upward comparisons may provide an inspiration to improve, and in one study it was found that while breast cancer patients made more downward comparisons, they showed a preference for information about more fortunate others.
Another study indicated that people who were dieting often used upward social comparisons by posting pictures of thinner people on their refrigerators.These pictures served as not only a reminder of an individuals current weight, but also as an inspiration of a goal to be reached. In simple terms, downward social comparisons are more likely to make us feel better about ourselves, while upward social comparisons are more likely to motivate us to achieve more or reach higher.
Aspinwall and Taylor looked at mood, self-esteem, and threat as moderators that drive individuals to choose to make upward or downward social comparisons.Downward comparisons in cases where individuals had experienced a threat to their self-esteem produced more favorable self-evaluations.
Aspinwall and Taylor found that upward social comparisons were good in circumstances where the individuals making the comparisons had high self-esteem, because these types of comparisons provided them with more motivation and hope than downward social comparisons.However, if these individuals had experienced a recent threat or setback to their self-esteem, they reported that upward comparisons resulted in a more negative affect than downward comparisons.
However, people with low self-esteem or people who are experiencing some sort of threat in their life (such as doing poorly in school, or suffering from an illness) tend to favor downward comparisons over upward comparisons. People with low self-esteem and negative affect improve their mood by making downward comparisons. Their mood does not improve as much as it would if they had high self-esteem. Even for people with low self-esteem, these downward social comparisons do improve their negative mood and allow them to feel hope and motivation for their future.
Individuals who have a negative mood improve their mood by making upward social comparisons, regardless of their level of self-esteem. In addition, both individuals with high self-esteem and low self-esteem who are in a positive mood elevate their mood further by making upward comparisons. However, for those who have recently experienced a threat to their self-esteem or a setback in their life, making upward social comparisons instead of downward social comparisons results in a more negative affect. Self-esteem and existence of a threat or setback in an individual's life are two moderators of their response to upward or downward comparisons.
Because individuals are driven upwards in the case of abilities, social comparisons can drive competition among peers.In this regard, the psychological significance of a comparison depends on the social status of an individual, and the context in which their abilities are being evaluated.
Competitiveness resulting from social comparisons may be greater in relation to higher social status because individuals with more status have more to lose. In one study, students in a classroom were presented with a bonus point program where, based on chance, the grades for some students would increase and the grades for others would remain the same. Despite the fact that students could not lose by this program, higher-status individuals were more likely to object to the program, and more likely to report a perceived distributive injustice. It was suggested that this was a cognitive manifestation of an aversion to downward mobility, which has more psychological significance when an individual has more status.
When individuals are evaluated where meaningful standards exist, such as in an academic classroom where students are ranked, then competitiveness increases as proximity to a standard of performance increases. When the only meaningful standard is the top, then high-ranking individuals are most competitive with their peers, and individuals at low and intermediate ranks are equally competitive. However, when both high and low rankings hold significance, then individuals at high and low ranks are equally competitive, and are both more competitive than individuals at intermediate ranks.
Several models have been introduced to social comparison, including the self-evaluation maintenance model (SEM),proxy model, the triadic model and the three-selves model.
The SEM model proposes that we make comparisons to maintain or enhance our self-evaluations, focusing on the antagonistic processes of comparison and reflection.Abraham Tesser has conducted research on self-evaluation dynamics that has taken several forms. A self-evaluation maintenance (SEM) model of social behavior focuses on the consequences of another person's outstanding performance on one's own self-evaluation. It sketches out some conditions under which the other's good performance bolsters self-evaluation, i.e., "basking in reflected glory", and conditions under which it threatens self-evaluation through a comparison process.
The proxy model anticipates the success of something that is unfamiliar. The model proposes that if a person is successful or familiar with a task, then he or she would also be successful at a new similar task. The proxy is evaluated based on ability and is concerned with the question "Can I do X?" A proxy's comparison is based previous attributes. The opinion of the comparer and whether the proxy exerted maximum effort on a preliminary task are variables influencing his or her opinion.
The Triadic Model builds on the attribution elements of social comparison, proposing that opinions of social comparison are best considered in terms of 3 different evaluative questions: preference assessment (i.e., "Do I like X?"), belief assessment (i.e., "Is X correct?"), and preference prediction (i.e., "Will I like X?"). In the Triadic Model the most meaningful comparisons are with a person who has already experienced a proxy and exhibits consistency in related attributes or past preferences.
The three-selves model proposes that social comparison theory is a combination of two different theories. One theory is developed around motivation and the factors that influence the type of social comparison information people seek from their environment and the second is about self-evaluation and the factors that influence the effects of social comparisons on the judgments of self.While there has been much research in the area of comparison motives, there has been little in the area of comparative evaluation. Explaining that the self is conceived as interrelated conceptions accessible depending upon current judgment context and taking a cue from Social Cognitive Theory, this model examines the Assimilation effect and distinguishes three classes of working Self-concept ideas: individual selves, possible selves and collective selves.
The media has been found to play a large role in social comparisons. Researchers examining the social effects of the media have used social comparison theory have found that in most cases women tend to engage in upward social comparisons with a target other, which results in more negative feelings about the self. The majority of women have a daily opportunity to make upward comparison by measuring themselves against some form of societal ideal. Social comparisons have become a relevant mechanism for learning about the appearance-related social expectations among peers and for evaluating the self in terms of those standards" (Jones, 2001, P. 647).
Although men do make upward comparisons, research finds that more women make upward comparisons and are comparing themselves with unrealistically high standards presented in the media.As women are shown more mainstream media images of powerful, successful and thin women, they perceive the "ideal" to be the norm for societal views of attractive. In recent years, social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have made this more widespread, since social media makes it easier to compare yourself to the "ideal". Some women have reported making upward comparisons in a positive manner for the purposes of self-motivation, but the majority of upward comparisons are made when the individual is feeling lesser and therefore evoke a negative connotation.
Self-perceived similarities with role models on social media can also affect self-esteem for both men and women. Having more self-perceived similarities with a role model can help increase self-esteem, while having less can decrease self-esteem.Social comparison with peers on social media can also lead to feelings of self-pity or satisfaction. The desire for social comparison can cause FoMO and compulsive checking of social media sites.
Many criticisms arose regarding Festinger's similarity hypothesis. Deutsch and Kraussargued that people actually seek out dissimilar others in their comparisons maintaining that this is important for providing valuable self-knowledge, as demonstrated in research. Ambiguity also circulated about the important dimensions for similarity. Goethals and Darley clarified the role of similarity suggesting that people prefer to compare those who are similar on related attributes such as opinions, characteristics or abilities to increase confidence for value judgments, however those dissimilar in related attributes are preferred when validating one's beliefs.
Social psychology is the scientific study of how people's thoughts, feelings and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of others. In this definition, scientific refers to the empirical investigation using the scientific method. The terms thoughts, feelings and behavior refer to psychological variables that can be measured in humans. The statement that others' presence may be imagined or implied suggests that humans are malleable to social influences even when alone, such as when watching television looking at reality shows,music videos and movies they can be influenced to follow the behaviour in the visual setting or following internalized cultural norms. Social psychologists typically explain human behavior as a result of the interaction of mental states and social situations.
Self-esteem is an individual's subjective evaluation of their own worth. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs about oneself as well as emotional states, such as triumph, despair, pride, and shame. Smith and Mackie (2007) defined it by saying "The self-concept is what we think about the self; self-esteem, is the positive or negative evaluations of the self, as in how we feel about it."
Group dynamics is a system of behaviors and psychological processes occurring within a social group, or between social groups. The study of group dynamics can be useful in understanding decision-making behaviour, tracking the spread of diseases in society, creating effective therapy techniques, and following the emergence and popularity of new ideas and technologies. Group dynamics are at the core of understanding racism, sexism, and other forms of social prejudice and discrimination. These applications of the field are studied in psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science, epidemiology, education, social work, business, and communication studies.
In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort experienced by a person who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. This discomfort is triggered by a situation in which a person’s belief clashes with new evidence perceived by the person. When confronted with facts that contradict beliefs, ideals, and values, people will try to find a way to resolve the contradiction to reduce their discomfort.
One's self-concept is a collection of beliefs about oneself. Generally, self-concept embodies the answer to "Who am I?".
In-group favoritism, sometimes known as in-group–out-group bias, in-group bias, or intergroup bias, is a pattern of favoring members of one's in-group over out-group members. This can be expressed in evaluation of others, in allocation of resources, and in many other ways.
Interpersonal attraction is the attraction between people which leads to the development of platonic or romantic relationships. It is distinct from perceptions such as physical attractiveness, and involves views of what is and what is not considered beautiful or attractive.
Self-knowledge is a term used in psychology to describe the information that an individual draws upon when finding an answer to the question "What am I like?".
Terror management theory (TMT) is both a social and evolutionary psychology theory originally proposed by Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski and codified in their book The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life (2015). It proposes that a basic psychological conflict results from having a self-preservation instinct while realizing that death is inevitable and to some extent unpredictable. This conflict produces terror, and the terror is then managed by embracing cultural beliefs, or symbolic systems that act to counter biological reality with more durable forms of meaning and value.
Self-determination theory (SDT) is a macro theory of human motivation and personality that concerns people's inherent growth tendencies and innate psychological needs. It is concerned with the motivation behind choices people make without external influence and interference. SDT focuses on the degree to which an individual's behavior is self-motivated and self-determined.
Positive illusions are unrealistically favorable attitudes that people have towards themselves or to people that are close to them. Positive illusions are a form of self-deception or self-enhancement that feel good, maintain self-esteem or stave off discomfort, at least in the short term. There are three broad kinds: inflated assessment of one's own abilities, unrealistic optimism about the future, and an illusion of control. The term "positive illusions" originates in a 1988 paper by Taylor and Brown. "Taylor and Brown's (1988) model of mental health maintains that certain positive illusions are highly prevalent in normal thought and predictive of criteria traditionally associated with mental health."
Self-evaluation maintenance (SEM) concerns discrepancies between two people in a relationship. The theory posits that two people in a relationship each aim to keep themselves feeling good psychologically through a comparison process to the other person. Self-evaluation is the way a person views him/herself. It is the continuous process of determining personal growth and progress, which can be raised or lowered by the behavior of a close other. People are more threatened by friends than strangers. Abraham Tesser created the self-evaluation maintenance theory in 1988. The self-evaluation maintenance model assumes two things: that a person will try to maintain or increase their own self-evaluation, and self-evaluation is influenced by relationships with others.
Self-enhancement is a type of motivation that works to make people feel good about themselves and to maintain self-esteem. This motive becomes especially prominent in situations of threat, failure or blows to one's self-esteem. Self-enhancement involves a preference for positive over negative self-views. It is one of the four self-evaluation motives along with self-assessment, self-verification and self-improvement . Self-evaluation motives drive the process of self-regulation, that is, how people control and direct their own actions.
Ingratiation is a psychological technique in which an individual attempts to influence another person by becoming more likeable to their target. This term was coined by social psychologist Edward E. Jones, who further defined ingratiation as "a class of strategic behaviors illicitly designed to influence a particular other person concerning the attractiveness of one's personal qualities." Ingratiation research has identified some specific tactics of employing ingratiation:
In the field of social psychology, illusory superiority is a condition of cognitive bias wherein a person overestimates their own qualities and abilities, in relation to the same qualities and abilities of other persons. Illusory superiority is one of many positive illusions, relating to the self, that are evident in the study of intelligence, the effective performance of tasks and tests, and the possession of desirable personal characteristics and personality traits.
Implicit self-esteem refers to a person's disposition to evaluate themselves in a spontaneous, automatic, or unconscious manner. It contrasts with explicit self-esteem, which entails more conscious and reflective self-evaluation. Both explicit and implicit self-esteem are constituents of self-esteem.
Abraham Tesser' is Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Georgia. His research has made significant contributions to several areas in the field of Social Psychology. He created the self-evaluation maintenance model, a theory in social psychology that focuses on the motives for self-enhancement.
Social comparison bias is having feelings of dislike and competitiveness with someone that is seen physically, or mentally better than yourself.
Comparison or comparing is the act of evaluating two or more things by determining the relevant characteristics of each thing to be compared, and then determining which characteristics of each are similar to the other, which are different, and to what degree. Where characteristics are different, the differences may then be evaluated to determine which thing is best suited for a particular purpose. The description of similarities and differences found between the two things is also called a comparison. Comparison can take many distinct forms, varying by field:
To compare is to bring two or more things together and to examine them systematically, identifying similarities and differences among them. Comparison has a different meaning within each framework of study. Any exploration of the similarities or differences of two or more units is a comparison. In the most limited sense, it consists of comparing two units isolated from each other.