Saturday, October 27, 2007

Blog 2 social comparison for self-enhancement

‘Describe and explain the phenomenon of social comparison for self-enhancement. What is it and why does it occur? Include examples’.

People can differ extensively in terms of how they view and evaluate their personalities and abilities. Some people view themselves very positively and others more realistically. So who is likely to be better off, the individual with the overly positive self-perception or the person with the more realistic accurate self view? Some research suggests that having an enhanced view of ones self through social comparison can lead to very favourable outcomes, such as coping better mentally, emotionally and physically.

So what is social comparison for self-enhancement?

Social comparison
The theory of social comparison entails the process in which people learn about themselves by comparing themselves to others. There are two main types of social comparisons, upward social comparisons which involves comparing oneself to someone better than you. This could be to inspire you to want to do better in order to reach the others level. The second type is downward social comparisons which involves comparing oneself to someone worse off than you, to make yourself feel better (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). For example if you compared your mark on the social psychology exam to someone who scored higher than you, you would be engaging in an upward social comparison. If you compared your mark to someone who did worse than you, you would be engaging in a downward social comparison.

Wayment and Taylor (1995) outlined self-enhancement as the need to maintain a positive sense of self. When looking at the specific use of social comparison as a way to meet self-enhancement needs, Wills (1981) suggested that the need to make favourable self-comparisons is especially acute under conditions of threat or low self-esteem. Wills argued that comparing oneself with a less fortunate other will lead an individual to feel better. However, self-enhancement is not necessarily limited to situations of threat (Bunnk, Cohen-Schotanus, & Henk van Nek, 2007). Paulhus (1998) uses the label self-enhancement to describe the tendency to overestimate one's positivity relative to a credible criterion. Similarly Sedikides, Gaertner, & Toguchi, (2003) conceptualized self-enhancement as the tendency to perceive oneself as superior to similar others. The authors argued that this is a universal human tendency that is found in all cultures (although the dimensions on which one enhances oneself may vary between cultures).

Kwan, John, Kenny, Bond, and Robins (2004) defined self-enhancement as social comparison in terms of viewing the self more positively than viewing others. Their study found that this type of self-enhancement was typically linked to positive results. Which leads to the point of why social comparison for self-enhancement occurs?

Why does social comparison for self-enhancement occur?
A study by Bunnk, Cohen-Schotanus, and Henk van Nek (2007) examined the motivations behind both upward and downward social comparisons and found they differed significantly. Upward social comparisons were motivated by self-improvement, particularly when they involved identification. They were also motivated by self-evaluation, particularly when they involved contrast. Downward comparisons were mainly motivated by self-enhancement, particularly when they involved contrast.

Two clear motives for engaging in social comparison for self-enhancement emerged from multiple research sources. Firstly, to make one feel better mentally and emotionally and secondly to cope better physically.

Feel better emotionally
The desire for self-enhancement in social comparison leads, according to a number of authors, to deriving a positive feeling from seeing that others are doing worse (Wayment & Taylor, 1995 ; Wills, 1981). Much research has shown that people tend to be self-enhancing when judging their abilities and future outcomes in comparison with those of other people. Relative to their peers, people believe they are morally superior and possess more favourable and less unfavourable personality traits (Alicke, 1985). Additionally people who tend to be self-enhancing are more likely to experience successes such as good marriages and lucrative jobs (Weinstein, 1980), and less likely to experience negative life events such as health and relationship problems (Murray, Holmes, & Griffin, 1996; Weinstein, 1980). Somewhat distorting one's resources, one's chances for success and the beneficence of the environment may enable people to strive longer and harder to reach their goals, thus bringing about a self-fulfilling prophecy (Taylor & Brown, 1988). Zuckerman & O’Loughlin’s (2006) findings are consistent with the proposal that self-enhancement (as social comparison) leads to psychological health. More specifically self-enhancers showed higher HSM scores (How I See Myself Questionnaire a face-valid scale that requires participants to rate themselves relative to their peers) than did their peers. In a more recent series of studies, Gibbons et al. (2002) found that after failure, participants had a much stronger preference to discuss their scores with others with lower scores than after success and said they did this because they thought it might make them feel better. This finding could indicate a link to the self serving bias, that after failure we seek out others who did just as bad or worse so we can externalise the failure. After success we prefer not to discuss our higher scores, instead assuming that we achieved the success for individual internal reasons, so we don’t need to compare against anyone else.

Gibbons, Blanton, Gerrard, Buunk, & Eggleston (2000) proposed an academic comparison level (ACL). Findings from their research showed downward shifts in ACL, serve an ego-protective function (enabling one to see themself in an enhanced way even after failure). For example if you received a pass on your last essay you would stop comparing yourself to credit average students and shift your ACL downward and start comparing yourself to pass average students or students who failed the essay. By comparing to someone who failed you protect your ego, “I may have only got a pass, but they failed!”

Cope better physically
It has also been proposed that social comparison for self enhancement can lead an individual to cope better physically. Taylor and Brown (1988) presented evidence that most people regard themselves more positively than they regard their peers and that such self-enhancement fosters better mental functioning. In additional support of this view a study conducted by Taylor, Lerner, Sherman, Sage, & McDowell (2003) found self-enhancing beliefs can also act as a stress buffer. The authors found that high self-enhancers had lower cardiovascular responses to stress, more rapid cardiovascular recovery, and lower baseline cortisol levels than low self-enhancers did. Additionally Bonanno, Rennicke, & Dekel (2005) examined self-enhancing bias as a predictor of adjustment among individuals in or near the World Trade Centre during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Self-enhancement was again found to be beneficial and was associated with a resilient outcome, ratings of better adjustment prior to September 11th, greater positive affect, and reduced perceptions of social constraints.

So far social comparison for self-enhancement seems to be engaged in because it leads to quite favourable outcomes such as feeling better emotionally and physically. An interesting point to note however is both Paulhus (1998) and Robins and Beer (2001) suggested that self-enhancement might be beneficial in the short term but damaging over the long run. For example comparing your grade on an essay to that of someone who did worse than you will temporarily make you feel better, but in the long run if the grade isn't what you wanted or expected you’re not going to be truly happy with it regardless of what others got. However we still engage in this temporary enhancer perhaps because we value this immediate gratification of felling better. But by getting this immediate gratification we do nothing to improve for the future because we evaluate our performance as not too bad compared to others this leads to repeat of the problem at a later date.

It seems that many people engage in social comparison to self enhance. Evidence from many studies clearly suggests that especially in situations implying a threat such as a serious disease, or academic failure individuals prefer to compare themselves with others who are worse off. Whether they do this because it makes them feel better or because it helps them cope better with stress depends on the individual.


Alicke, M. D. (1985). Global self-evaluation as determined by the desirability and
controllability of trait adjectives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 1621–1630.

Baumeister, R. F., & Bushman, B. J. (2008). Social Psychology and Human Nature Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth

Bonanno, G., Rennicke, C., & Dekel, S. (2005). Self-enhancement among high-
exposure survivors of the September 11th terrorist attack: Resilience or social maladjustment? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 984-998.

Bunnk, A. P, Cohen-Schotanus, J., & Henk van Nek, R. (2007). Why and how people
engage in social comparison while learning social skills in groups. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 11, 140-152.

Gibbons, F. X, Blanton, H., Gerrard, M., Buunk, B., & Eggleston, T. (2000). Does
social comparison make a difference? Optimism as a moderator of the relation between comparison level and academic performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 637-648.

Gibbons, F. X., Lane, D. J., Gerrard, M., Reis-Bergan, M., Lautrup, C. L., Pexa, N.
A. (2002). Comparison-level preferences after performance: Is downward comparison theory still useful? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 865–880.

Kwan, V. S. Y., John, O. P., Kenny, D. A., Bond, M. H., & Robins, R. W. (2004).
Reconceptualizing individual differences in self-enhancement bias: An
interpersonal approach. Psychological Review, 111, 94-110.

Murray, S. L., Holmes, J. G.,&Griffin, D.W. (1996). The benefits of positive
illusions: Idealization and the construction of satisfaction in close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 79–98.

Paulhus, D. L. (1998). Intrapersonal and intrapsychic adaptiveness of trait
self-enhancement: Amixed blessing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1197-1208.

Robins, R. W., & Beer, J. S. (2001). Positive illusions about the self: Short-
term benefits and long-term costs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 340-352.

Sedikides, C., Gaertner, L., & Toguchi, Y. (2003). Pancultural self-enhancement.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 60–79.

Taylor, S. E., & Brown, J. D. (1988). Illusion and well-being: A social psychological
perspective on mental health. Psychological Bulletin, 103, 193-210.

Taylor, S. E., Lerner, J. S., Sherman, D. K., Sage, R.M., &McDowell, N. K. (2003).
Are self-enhancing conditions associated with healthy or unhealthy biological profiles? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 605-615.

Wayment, H. A., & Taylor, S. E. (1995). Self-evaluation processes: Motives,
information use, and self-esteem. Journal of Personality, 63, 729–757.

Weinstein, N. D. (1980). Unrealistic optimism about future life events. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology
, 39, 806–820.

Wills, T. A. (1981). Downward comparison principles in social psychology. Psychological Bulletin, 90, 245–271.

Zuckerman, M., & O’Loughlin, R. E. (2006). Self-enhancement by social
comparison: a prospective analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 751-760.

Appendix A

Self Assessment

Theory: I feel I addressed the appropriate theory for the question. There was a lot of research for both social comparison and self-enhancement so I provided definitions of both individually and then a definition of them combined. I also found several different ways of defining self enhancement so included several researchers’ definitions. Much research enabled me to find the main reasons proposed to account for the phenomenon.

Research: As evident from my reference list research articles for this topic are not in short supply. After reviewing many many articles I found there were two general headings all reasons for self enhancement by social comparison comes under, to feel better emotionally or to cope better physically.

Written Expression: I tried to write the essay in less of a formal research style and more of a blog style, adding in examples relevant to university students to try to clarify points made. The topic in general is not too complex so I tried to keep the message simple and easy to follow. I edited my essay until I reached a readability level of 12. I put headings in where I thought they would help the reader to follow. I also kept below the maximum word count and finished up with a total of 1, 422 words.

On-line Engagement: I feel really happy with my online engagement for the second blog. I feel it has been a great way to connect with the whole unit group regarding out opinions and ideas. I was a lot more confident regarding the bloging process this time so was able to contribute much more. I commented on seven other students’ posts where I felt I had something worth contributing or was simply interested in it. I also posted four of my own posts and had some great comments back. I also figured out how to add a poll and was able to get some votes on a topic I found interesting.

Appendix B
Comments on other’s Blogs

Jacqui’s social psych blog -

Mikes Blog-

BecBlair’s Blog-

Christina’s social psych Blog-

Josie’s social psych Blog-

Rebecca’s psych Blog-

Mrs Freud’s social psych Blog-

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Where do you compare?

Hi all, as I mentioned in an earlier blog my topic for blog 2 is ‘Describe and explain the phenomenon of social comparison for self-enhancement. What is it and why does it occur? Include examples’. Since getting this topic I have been thinking of all the areas of my life where I engage in social comparison. We just sat our social exam and I realised that I was much less distracted by having almost everyone stay till the end. I find that in other exams I see people get up and leave the exam when I am only half way through. I compare myself to them and think ‘they must be really good and must have known the topic so well!’ I found that the exam we just sat was much less distracting because it was more difficult to compare to others timing.
So back to examples of social comparison….I work in a ladies clothing store, last weekend I observed a relevant interaction of social comparison. Two ladies stepped out of the change rooms wearing the same dress. They both laughed, then told each other they both looked good. I could see them eyeing each other up and down very purposefully though. The first lady walked out of the fitting room and said “no I won’t take it, it looked better on the other lady”. The second lady walked out, and said pretty much the same thing. After they had left I thought why does it matter what it looked like on the other person….it matters what it looks like on you……But isn’t this the same as comparing grades…why does it matter if your friend got a HD, what matters is YOU got a credit. I have two things I would like people to think about…first is there any social comparison that is necessary or a good thing…and second can people think of everyday examples where they see or engage in social comparison (especially for self enhancement)….. : )

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

To ostracise

Hi all while reading our text recently I came across the interesting paragraph on the origins of the work ostracism. A Greek term, where if someone was violent or aggressive or rude they would have their name written down on a broken bit of pot and put in a large container in the centre of the market place. If someone had their name written 6,000 times the whole community agreed to give them 10years silent treatment. I was quite interested by this and started telling family and friends and was further interested by their reactions. Some people reacted by saying “wow that’s so harsh” or “that’s worse than prison”….others said “oh I wish we still had that in place today” or “what a great idea”……tell me what you all think in my poll...

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Does our need for similarity decline as we age?

Hi everyone, Since the lecture on attraction I have been reading over people' comments on their blogs regarding being attracted to people who are similar to you as opposed to people who are different. I was looking around and couldn't find any literature stating whether this finding differed depending on age. I wanted to find this as I was thinking my partner and I tend to be very similar in so many aspects of our life, such as eductation level, ses, morals, values, family,friends....even things like cooking and cleaning habits. I was thinking though, perhaps we are so similar because we started seeing each other so early on in our lives and so were experiencing so many new things like living out of home at the same time. In contrast a collegue at work who is much older than me said that when she separated from her husband she found it very difficult to find anyone with hardly any similarities to her. She said she was at a stage in her life where she was set in her ways and unwilling to have to change her lifestyle to suit someone else. Her current partner and herself seem to be completely opposite in so many ways yet she says they are so similar in their home life that the other differences works in their favour. I was wondering if the areas of similarity that we seek change depending on our age. Just something to think about....What areas do you think you look for similarity in? and what areas do you appreciate differences in?....