The virtues and vices of social comparisons: examining assimilative and contrastive emotional reactions to characters in a narrative

  • Mina Tsay-VogelEmail author
  • K. Maja Krakowiak
Original Paper


Based on social comparison theory, this study investigates how awareness of one’s morality and exposure to a character in a narrative affect emotions associated with four types of social comparisons—upward assimilative, downward contrastive, upward contrastive, and downward assimilative. A 2 (Morality Salience: virtue, vice) X 2 (Character: moral, immoral) experiment (N = 106) revealed that those whose vices were made salient elicited stronger: (1) contempt (a downward contrastive emotion) toward an immoral character than a moral character, and (2) envy (an upward contrastive emotion) toward a moral character than an immoral character. Whereas envy decreased positive affect, contempt increased it. Implications for assimilative and contrastive social comparisons with media characters that lead to distinct affective outcomes are discussed.


Morality Morality salience Social comparison Assimilation Contrast Emotion Affect 



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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Mass Communication, Advertising & Public RelationsBoston UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of CommunicationUniversity of Colorado, Colorado SpringsColorado SpringsUSA

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