Abstract and Keywords
Social comparison, a major source of social influence, refers to the selection and utilization of information about other people’s standings and opinions to make accurate self-assessments or to protect or enhance self-esteem. We survey the development of comparison theory over six decades, its ambiguities, and reformulations based on the psychology of attribution and social cognition. Selective comparisons allow people to gauge how well they have fulfilled their potential and capacity to accomplish important tasks, and whether their beliefs, values, and actions are appropriate and worthwhile. Exposure to superior and inferior targets shifts self-evaluations toward (assimilation) or away (contrast) from the targets, depending on the kinds of information made cognitively accessible by the situation or by individual differences. To illustrate comparison’s effects on social influence, applications, such as the effects of academic tracking on self-esteem and effects of large social networks on mental and physical health outcomes, are described.
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