Journal of Adult Development

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 36–44 | Cite as

Frequent Social Comparisons and Destructive Emotions and Behaviors: The Dark Side of Social Comparisons

  • Judith B. White
  • Ellen J. Langer
  • Leeat Yariv
  • John C. WelchIV
Article

Social comparisons may seem to serve several positive functions, including self-enhancement. Frequent social comparisons, however, have a dark side. Two studies examined the relationship between frequent social comparisons and destructive emotions and behaviors. In Study 1, people who said they made frequent social comparisons were more likely to experience envy, guilt, regret, and defensiveness, and to lie, blame others, and to have unmet cravings. In Study 2, police officers who said they made frequent social comparisons were more likely to show ingroup bias and to be less satisfied with their jobs. The dark side of frequent social comparisons was not associated with self-esteem. Results are discussed in terms of the role of individual differences in social comparison processes.

Keywords

social comparison styles well-being self-esteem. 

References

  1. Aberson C. L., Healy M., Romero V. (2000). Ingroup bias and self-esteem: A meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 4, 157–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aspinwall L. G., Taylor S. E. (1993). Effects of social comparison direction, threat, and self-esteem on affect, self-evaluation, and expected success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 708–722.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bandura A. (1977). Social learning theory. Oxford, England: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  4. Bandura A. (1978). The self system in reciprocal determinism. American Psychologist, 33, 344–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baumeister R. F., Scher S. J. (1988). Self-defeating behavior patterns among normal individuals: Review and analysis of common self-destructive tendencies. Psychological Bulletin, 104, 3–22.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baumeister R. F., Stillwell A. M., Heatherton T. F. (1994). Guilt: An interpersonal approach. Psychological Bulletin, 115, 243–267.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Buunk B. P., Gibbons F. X. (2000). Toward an enlightenment in social comparison theory: Moving beyond classic and renaissance approaches. In J. Suls, L. Wheeler (Eds.), Handbook of social comparison: Theory and research (pp. 487–499). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  8. Campbell J. D. (1990). Self-esteem and clarity of the self-concept. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 538–549.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chou K. L., Chi I. (2001). Social comparison in Chinese older adults. Aging and Mental Health, 5, 242–252.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Collins R. L. (1996). For better or worse: The impact of upward social comparison on self-evaluations. Psychological Bulletin, 119, 51–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Crocker J. (2002). The costs of seeking self-esteem. Journal of Social Issues, 58, 597–615.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Crocker J., Schwartz I. (1985). Prejudice and ingroup favoritism in a minimal intergroup situation: Effects of self-esteem. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 11, 379–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Crocker J., Thompson L. L., McGraw K. M., Ingerman C. (1987). Downward comparison, prejudice, and evaluations of others: Effects of self-esteem and threat. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 907–916.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Crocker J., Wolfe C. T. (2001). Contingencies of self-worth. Psychological Review, 108, 593–623.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Deci E. L., Ryan R. M. (1995). Human autonomy: The basis for true self-esteem. In M. H. Kernis (Ed.), Efficacy, agency, and self-esteem New York, NY: Plenum Press. (pp. 31–49).Google Scholar
  16. Diener E. (2000). Subjective well-being: The science of happiness and a proposal for a national index. American Psychologist, 55, 34–43.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Diener E., Diener M. (1995). Cross-cultural correlates of life satisfaction and self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 653–663.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Diener, E., & Fujita, F. (1997). Social comparisons and subjective well-being. In B. P. Buunk, & F. X. Gibbons (Eds.), Health, coping, and well-being: Perspectives from social comparison theory (pp. 329–357). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum AssociatesGoogle Scholar
  19. Duval S., Wicklund R. A. (1972). A theory of objective self awareness. Oxford, England: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  20. Fein S., Spencer S. J. (1997). Prejudice as self-image maintenance: Affirming the self through derogating others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 31–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Festinger L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gibbons F. X., Buunk B. P. (1999). Individual differences in social comparison: Development of a scale of social comparison orientation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76: 129–142.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Giordano C., Wood J. V., Michela J. L. (2000). Depressive personality styles, dysphoria, and social comparisons in everyday life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 438–451.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Harrison K. (2001). Ourselves, our bodies: Thin-ideal media, self-discrepancies, and eating disorder symptomatology in adolescents. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 20, 289–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hemphill K. J., Lehman D. R. (1991). Social comparisons and their affective consequences: The importance of comparison dimension and individual difference variables. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 10, 372–394.Google Scholar
  26. Hewstone M., Rubin M., Willis H. (2002). Intergroup bias. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 575–604.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Judge T. A., Locke E. A. (1993). Effect of dysfunctional thought processes on subjective well-being and job satisfaction. Journal of Applied Psychology, 78, 475–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kernis M. H., Paradise A. W., Whitaker D. J., Wheatman S. R., Goldman B. N. (2000). Master of one’s psychological domain? Not likely if one’s self-esteem is unstable. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 1297–1305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kirkcaldy B. D., Cooper C. L., Shephard R. J., Brown J. S. (1994). Exercise, job satisfaction and well-being among superintendent police officers. European Review of Applied Psychology, 44 117–123.Google Scholar
  30. Kleinke C. L., Miller W. F. (1998). How comparing oneself favorably with others relates to well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 17, 107–123.Google Scholar
  31. Koehn, A. (2000, February 4). God changes writer’s life. Retrieved November 21, 2002, from http://www.fhsu.edu/Leader/2000/020400/opinion/guest.html.Google Scholar
  32. Kohn A. (1980). Why competition? The Humanist, 40, 14–15, 49.Google Scholar
  33. Langer E. J. (1989). Mindfulness. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.Google Scholar
  34. Langer E. J. (1992). Matters of mind: Mindfulness/mindlessness in perspective. Consciousness and Cognition: An International Journal, 1, 289–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Langer, E. J. (2005). On becoming an artist: Reinventing yourself through mindful creativity. New York, NY: Ballantine Google Scholar
  36. Lyubomirsky S., Ross L. (1997). Hedonic consequences of social comparison: A contrast of happy and unhappy people. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 1141–1157.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lyubomirsky S., Tucker K. L., Kasri F. (2001). Responses to hedonically conflicting social comparisons: Comparing happy and unhappy people. European Journal of Social Psychology, 31, 511–535.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Maslow A. H., Hirsh E., Stein M., Honigmann I. (1945). A clinically derived test for measuring psychological security-insecurity. Journal of General Psychology. 33: 21–41.Google Scholar
  39. Mor N., Winquist J. (2002). Self-focused attention and negative affect: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 638–662.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Nolen-Hoeksema S., Larson J., Grayson C. (1999). Explaining the gender difference in depressive symptoms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1061–1072.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Pyszczynski T., Greenberg J. (1987). Self-regulatory perseveration and the depressive self-focusing style: A self-awareness theory of reactive depression. Psychological Bulletin, 102, 122–138.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rosenberg M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Silvia P. J., Duval T. S. (2001). Objective self-awareness theory: Recent progress and enduring problems. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5, 230–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Stapel D. A., Tesser A. (2001). Self-activation increases social comparison. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 742–750.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Stice E., Spangler D., Agras W. S. (2001). Exposure to media-portrayed thin-ideal images adversely affects vulnerable girls: A longitudinal experiment. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 20, 270–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Suls J., Lemos K., Stewart H. L. (2002). Self-esteem, construal, and comparisons with the self, friends, and peers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 252–261.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Swallow S. R., Kuiper N. A. (1992). Mild depression and frequency of social comparison behavior. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 11, 167–180.Google Scholar
  48. Tajfel H., Turner J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. Austin S. Worschel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33–47). Monterey, CA: Brooks Cole.Google Scholar
  49. Thompson L. L., Crocker J. (1990). Downward social comparison in the minimal intergroup situation: A test of a self-enhancement interpretation. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 20, 1166–1184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Tice D. M., Baumeister R. F. (1997). Longitudinal study of procrastination, performance, stress, and health: The costs and benefits of dawdling. Psychological Science, 8, 454–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. VanderZee K., Buunk B., Sanderman R. (1996). The relationship between social comparison processes and personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 20, 551–565.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wheeler L., Miyake K. (1992). Social comparison in everyday life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 760–773.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wills T. A. (1981). Downward comparison principles in social psychology. Psychological Bulletin, 90, 245–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wood J. V. (1996). What is social comparison and how should we study it? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22, 520–537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wood J. V., Giordano-Beech M., Ducharme M. J. (1999). Compensating for failure through social comparison. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 1370–1386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Wood J. V., Giordano-Beech M., Taylor K. L., Michela J. L., Gaus V. (1994). Strategies of social comparison among people with low self-esteem: Self-protection and self-enhancement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 713–731.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wood J. V., Taylor S. E., Lichtman R. R. (1985). Social comparison in adjustment to breast cancer. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 1169–1183.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Judith B. White
    • 1
  • Ellen J. Langer
    • 2
  • Leeat Yariv
    • 3
  • John C. WelchIV
    • 4
  1. 1.Tuck School of BusinessDartmouth CollegeHanoverUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  3. 3.Department of EconomicsUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  4. 4.Chapman UniversityOrangeUSA

Personalised recommendations