The Affective Consequences of Social Comparison Either

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COMPARISON AND AFFECT 1239, cause they generate the positive affect essential for self enhance Various factors may moderate the affective impact of upward. ment Downward comparisons appear to boost self esteem and and downward comparisons Tesser 1986 proposed relevance. positive emotion and reduce anxiety Amoroso Waiters 1969 of the evaluation dimension as h potential moderator He hy. Crocker Gallo 1985 Gibbons 1986 Hakmiller 1966 pothesized that when one is competing with the comparison. Kiesler 1966 Lemyre Smith 1985 Morse Gergen 1970 target comparisons will have the effects typically described in. Upward comparisons appear to be a useful source of self downward comparison theory but that in noncompetitive cir. evaluative information Nosanchuk Erickson 1985 Wheeler cumstances when the evaluation is not self relevant down. et al 1969 but seem concurrently to produce negative affect ward comparisons will be negative and upward comparisons. and lower self evaluations by reminding one that one is inferior will be positive The studies presented here examine addi. Diener 1984 Marsh Parker 1984 Morse Gergen 1970 tional factors that may produce such outcomes Study 1 exam. Salovey Rodin 1984 Tesser Millar Moore 1988 Testa ined the influence of self esteem the likelihood of improve. Major 1988 ment or decline on the attribute under evaluation and per. In contrast to the previous literature the present article pro ceived controllability of the attribute being evaluated Study 2. poses that the affective consequences of a comparison are not extended these findings by replicating them in a second popula. intrinsic to its direction Although an upward comparison may tion and examining the moderating roles of uncertainty and. serve the purpose of evaluation more readily than a downward dissatisfaction over the dimension under evaluation. one and a downward comparison may more readily serve the First the effect of comparing may be dependent on personal. function of self enhancement each may not necessarily have ity characteristics of the individual who is making the compari. this effect Learning that another is better off than yourself son Crocker and her colleagues Crocker Schwartz 1985. provides at least two pieces of information a that you are not Crocker et al 1987 found that individuals high in self esteem. as well off as everyone and b that it is possible for you to be are more likely to make self enhancing downward comparisons. better than you are at present Those able by virtue of their than are those with relatively low self esteem They argued that. personalities or circumstances to focus on the positive aspect high self esteem individuals have positive self concepts in part. of this information may feel better about themselves as a result because they engage in these self enhancing strategies Their. of an upward comparison Those who focus on the negative hypothesis assumes that the meaning derived from a compari. aspect may feel worse Conversely learning that another is son is intrinsic to its direction and that downward comparisons. worse off than yourself also provides at least two pieces of always lead to greater self esteem and upward comparisons do. information a that you are not as badly off as everyone and b not However a more general version of the hypothesis would. that it is possible for you to get worse Focusing on the fact that be that individuals high in self esteem make comparisons favor. one is better off than others may lead one to feel better about able to themselves regardless of their objective standing rela. oneself as a result of a downward comparison but focusing on tive to the target Thus high self esteem individuals may be. the possibility of getting worse may produce negative feelings more likely to make self enhancing downward comparisons. about oneself Thus how one feels in response to the informa than low self esteem persons and more likely to interpret up. tion that another person is better off or worse off than oneself ward comparisons as self enhancing as well cf Wilson Ben. may depend on how one interprets the information ner 1971 Conversely those with low self esteem may be less. Preliminary evidence suggests that downward comparisons likely to interpret either an upward or a downward comparison. can indeed result in negative feelings In their studies of victims as favorable to themselves. of chronic illness a group under threat to self esteem both A second factor that may determine the effect of comparison. Dakof 1986 and Wood et al 1985 found that these individ information is the individual s likelihood of improving or de. uals sometimes felt threatened by exposure to others who had clining on the attribute under evaluation The importance of. the same disease as themselves but who were more ill For the possibility of the comparer attaining the target s level of. example their respondents described the doctor s waiting achievement for comparison processes has been examined. room as a particularly difficult situation because it forced on previously Studies testing the related attributes hypothesis sug. them the realization that things could be worse Downward gest that comparisons are more meaningful when the comparer. comparison theory would predict the opposite These people is similar to the target on dimensions related to that under. should feel better about their own state when they see how evaluation Goethals Darley 1977 Wheeler Zuckerman. much better off they are than others Wills 1981 Work by 1977 Furthermore Wheeler 1966 proposed that the com. Tesser and his colleagues see Tesser 1986 for a review also parer s motivation level affects presumed similarity to the tar. suggests that downward comparisons can be aversive When get as well and thus will determine the choice of a comparison. people learn of worse off others with whom they are close other Both lines of research imply that the meaning derived. highly similar or emotionally tied and the comparison dimen from a comparison is dependent on the likelihood of finding. sion is not central to self definition they may experience nega oneself at the target s level Brickman Bulman 1977 Thus. tive affect and arousal Tesser 1986 and Wood 1984 also if the comparison dimension is a skill acquired through prac. found evidence for positive affective consequences of upward tice or one that increases naturally with maturity upward corn. comparisons People who learned that another had done better. than they had felt better about themselves as a result of this. information For example a cancer patient may feel comforted t It should be noted that although he uses the same method to assess. or inspired by exposure to another who has recovered from the these two processes Tesser 1986 refers to the latter as a reflection. illness Taylor Lobel 1989 rather than comparison process and distinguishes between the two. 1240 BUUNK COLLINS TAYLOR VANYPEREN AND DAKOF, parisons may be uplifting because they provide the comparer of social support needs among cancer patients Taylor Falke Shoptaw. with the information that such achievements are within reach Lichtman 1986 2To be eligible for the present study patients had to. Similarly an individual who is undergoing a stressful event but be within 5 years of diagnosis or recurrence and between 30 and 70. whose situation may improve may make an upward compari years of age Blocks of potential subjects by gender estimated progno. son and feel good seeing him or herself as progressing toward sis good versus fair poor and support group membership yes or no. the target s superior state Conversely for someone whose situa were constructed for selection purposes Subjects were then randomly. selected from these blocks and invited to participate in the interview. tion is likely to decline an encounter with another who is worse. study Of the subjects contacted 93 agreed to participate i e 4 sub. offmay be threatening The information may be interpreted as jects declined. indicative of a worse future rather than as reassurance about The sample included 30 women and 25 men ranging in age from 30. one s presently superior state to 66 with a median age of 54 Eighty three percent were married and. Third the degree to which individuals perceive their prog 84 had children Fifty six percent were employed and the median. ress as controllable by themselves or by others may affect com yearly family income was between 40 000 and 49 000 Ninety three. parison responses Perceived control has been shown to have percent had completed high school and 29 were college graduates. powerful effects on other aspects of cognition see Fiske Tay The sample was 44 Protestant 25 Jewish 13 Catholic and 18. lor 1984 coping Taylor Lichtman Wood 1984 Thomp had another or no religious affiliation. Participants had been diagnosed or had sustained a recurrence an. son 1981 and emotional responses Thompson 1981 In, average of 3 2 years prior to the interview SD 1 7 Twentypercent of. terms of the present theory people in control may feel that they. respondents were receiving treatment for their cancer at the time of the. have the means to attain a higher level of functioning or avoid a interview Using medical chart materials an oncologist rated progno. downfall and thus neither downward nor upward comparisons sis on a 5 point scale ranging from very guardedor grave prognosis l to. would theoretically pose a threat In fact upward comparisons probable cure 5 Thirty six patients had cancers that were rated 4 or 5. should be inspiring to these individuals Consistent with this in remission and the remainder 19 had prognostic ratings ofl 2 or. point Testa and Major 1988 found that individuals making 3 activecancers Patients with all sites of cancer participated. upward comparisons reported lower levels of depression and Interview Respondents were telephoned and the interview was. hostility when control was high than did a group with low con arranged usually in the home At the beginning of the structured. trol However they did not have a baseline measure of mood so interview respondents received an informed consent form and per. mission to tape record the interview was obtained The average inter. it is not clear whether control produced a negative impact in one. view lasted between l h and 2 hr, group a positive impact in the other or both The interview covered basic demographic data the respondent s. To summarize the first study was conducted a to demon past and current health status social support experiences following. strate that comparisons in a given direction can lead to diver the cancer diagnosis perceptions concerning how his or her life had. gent atfective responses and b to determine how the factors of changed followingdiagnosis and items relevant to the present investi. self esteem probability of improvement or decline in out gation including beliefs about control as well as social comparison. comes and control over outcomes influence these responses processes. The population chosen to examine these issues was cancer pa Socialcomparisonitems Fourquestions concerningsocial compari. tients Previous research Wood et al 1985 has found that the sons related to the present study Because previous research has already. majority of these individuals make social comparisons sug documented the prevalence of comparisons in a similar population. Wood et al 1985 we felt closed ended questions were appropriate. gesting that it is a prevalent coping strategy among them This. To avoid leading subjects to report particular affectiveconsequences. research also found that most comparisons were self enhancing. however we presented the possibility of both emotional responses. downward comparisons as would be predicted by downward before questioning subjects more specifically Downward comparisons. comparison theory Wills 1981 Consequently we expected were assessed first Subjects were told. that the majority of comparisons would be self enhancing and. that most of these self enhancing comparisons would be made Some people have told us that when they see cancer patients who. to worse offothers However we predicted that when upward are not doing as well as they are it makes them feel lucky and. grateful that they are not in worse shape themselves Other people. comparisons were made individuals high in self esteem those. have told us that when they see cancer patients who are not doing. who expected their condition to improve and those who felt as well as they are it makes them feel worse For these people. their future was controllable would be more likely to experi seeing cancer patients who are worse offonly increases their fears. ence them as self enhancing and less likely to experience them and anxieties. as aversive than would those low in self esteem those who ex. pected their condition to decline or those who perceived their Subjects were then asked to rate the frequency with which they had felt. condition as uncontrollable Similarly we predicted that per lucky or grateful when exposed to worse off others on a 4 point scale. sons with high self esteem expectations for improvement and where i never 2 rawly 3 sometimes and 4 often Following this. participants giving a rating greater than 1 were asked to provide an. belief in control would be less likely to experience downward. example of a time when they experienced such a comparison Next. comparisons negatively and more likely to experience them subjects were asked how often they had felt fearful or anxious in re. positively than would those low in self esteem with poor prog sponse to such people Subjects indicated their answer on the same. Shelley E Taylor Department of Psycholng University of California 405 Hilgard Avenue Los Angeles California 90024 1563 explanations for these findings but in line with Festinger s theorizing clearly favored the idea of self evaluation More re cently social comparison theory has been expanded to include

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