Social Comparison Theory Essay

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As a fledgling artist I may compare myself to my five year old sister, my 35 year old cousin, who also happens to be a painter or the famous painter Michael Angelo. Or I could be a composer/musician and compare myself to Mozart or my neighbor who is always humming and singing to himself.

By comparing myself to the people around me I am engaging in what is referred to as social comparison. Individuals are constantly comparing themselves to other people around them. Accordingly, through the comparison I am able to evaluate myself on how good or, well, how bad I really am.Since there is no common universally objective yardstick that I may use for comparison purposes, I can only use the people around me or those who have previously excelled in my chosen profession. By opting to compare myself to those who have excelled, I am engaging in what is referred to as upward social comparison.

Conversely, pitting myself against individuals who I consider to be worse than me The Social Comparison Theory. According to Gilbert, Fiske & Lindzey, Leon Festinger is the person behind the development of the social comparison theory (1998).Though Festinger did not offer any precise definition into the social comparison concept, it is largely understood that social comparison is how an individual thinks of him/herself in comparison to others (Miller & Flores). The theory explains how individuals evaluate their opinions and desires by comparing themselves to those around them. Observation can be regarded as being primal in any learning process.

This is essentially true as demonstrated by children. Often times, how children behave and/or act in certain situations is the end product of their observations.In most instances, children behave in the same way they have seen their parents behaving (Bandura, 1986). According to the social comparison theory, individuals learn about their abilities and attitudes by comparing themselves to the people around them and the opinions they have of them (Festinger, 1954). It could then be concluded that observation is an important element in comparison.

Comparisons would not occur if people did not first observe the people around them and judged them as being better or lesser off than them. Mostly, individuals compare themselves against whom they believe they should have reasonable similarity.However, since there is no available benchmark that individuals may use for comparison purposes, individuals use almost anyone as long as they close by. Consequently, upward social comparison results when an individual compare themselves with people who appear socially better them in certain aspects. Conversely, downward social comparison results when the same individuals compare themselves to individuals whom they deem to be ranked socially lower. According to Miller & Flores, the fact that people compare themselves to others around them has its advantages as far as social life is concerned.

Comparisons help to provide self relevant information and also offer meaning. It is important to note that individuals view their own situation, capabilities, and behaviors depending on the types of social comparisons that they make (2007). According to Festinger, opinions and behaviors highly influence individual behavior. In most instances, individuals/people would like information on how their abilities are ranked against those of other individuals so that they may act accordingly; work on improving (1954).It is openly evident that individuals often make social comparisons for the simple fact that there is no available objective comparison information available. However, in some instances, both social and objective information may be available.

In this case, individuals are more influenced by the social information. The reason behind this is the fact that social information is usually regarded as being more pinpointing than objective information. Additionally, according to researchers, individuals may carry out comparisons with both the real and imagined others.Accordingly, social comparison does not require personal contact or conscious thought.

What’s more, it is also possible that individuals may compare themselves with other individuals within their social group or those outside it (Miller & Flores, 2007). Comparison information is available naturally in one’s environment; people are everywhere around us. However, research has adduced to the fact that sometimes individuals do seek out comparisons intentionally. In view of that, there are many motivating factors behind the individual need to seek social comparison information.One of these reasons is the search for information for purposes of self evaluation.

Where objective standards for comparison are lacking, people often look to other individuals similar to them as an indicator of how well or how badly they may be doing socially. According to Festinger, individuals tend not to evaluate themselves against individuals who seem too different from them opting instead for comparisons with other individuals who are most like them (1954). In the social comparison theory, it is apparent that Festinger was hypothesizing about certain things.First, according to Festinger, humans are impelled to evaluate themselves primarily by examining their own opinions and abilities in comparisons to those of other individuals around them.

Accordingly, Festinger concluded that this tendency of individuals to compare themselves to others gradually dwindles as the differences between their attitudes and aptitudes and those that they compare themselves to become more contradictory (Festinger, 1954). Festinger also hypothesized that individuals have an upward drive towards achieving better abilities.Nevertheless, the lack of social restraint is what makes it impossible to change these greater abilities. Types of Social Comparison According to Stangor, the theory of social comparison suggests that when individuals have a choice, they more often than not choose the people or groups of people to use for comparison. According to research, when individuals want to compare themselves, they more less settle for other individuals who are similar to themselves on relevant dimension. Sometimes, individuals even select those individuals who are slightly better than themselves.

For instance, an individual who wants information on how well or poorly they rank in a particular sport say swimming, the first option would be to compete with another person, the same age as you or who has the same level of training and experience as themselves. This is because these characteristics are openly analytical of the abilities being compared. However, it is also possible that the same individual may opt to compete with an individual who appears to have better skills (2004). In this case, the purpose of the comparison is for an individual to demonstrate their skills and have the opportunity to improve.

This then brings to the fore the two concepts of upward and downward social comparison. Downward Social Comparison It is part of human nature that individuals want to feel good. It is for this reason that they make constructive social comparisons with others. When individuals are able to create positive images of themselves by way of favorably comparing themselves to others who seem to be worse off than they are, they engage in a process known as downward social comparison (Stangor, 2004).Most people may assume that there is no good reason why an individual should engage themselves in downward social comparison.

However, according to Stangor, downward social comparison helps individuals deal with situations by making their own circumstance seem less negative. This is best explained through the following research carried on some students. In the first instance, the students were asked to apply for a job together with a different individual. It was reported that when the students were informed that the other individual was less qualified than they were, they registered high self esteem.This was as a result of the downward social comparison served to create positive images of the students in themselves. However, the reverse was true when the students saw the other individual in the job application process as being more qualified than they were.

The same findings were evident in research carried out in a group of women who were suffering from breast cancer. In most instances, the women appeared more comfortable comparing themselves to other women who were suffering from the same condition (Stangor, 2004).Thus, downward comparison results in positive feelings in individuals. Upward social comparison The other type of social comparison is referred to as the upward social comparison.

In this case, individuals compare themselves to others who are clearly better off than themselves. Stangor argues that upward social comparison is important for the simple fact that it may provide an individual with information that may not only give hope but also help individuals to do better (2004). It is part of human nature that individuals want to be the best in whatever activities they may engage in.Most individuals want to excel and perform better then their counterparts. This is one reason that they may then make upward social comparisons as it would help them up their game and become way much better in what they do.

However, it would be important not to leave out the fact that upward social comparison may also lead individuals to feel bad about themselves and their abilities. This is especially true when the person that one compares themselves to ends up performing much better in activity/tasks that is openly important to them (Stangor, 2004).Why social comparisons occur One may then ask, are social comparisons premeditated or do they just occur naturally? According to Winerman, social comparisons happen involuntarily and subliminally. This is after research that demonstrated the fact that unconscious signs are also capable of prompting mechanical social comparisons in individuals.

Most of the research that has been carried out into the causes of social comparison has alluded to the fact that social comparison occurs in context where it is openly obvious that the comparison is taking place.However, it could be that social comparison does happen automatically (2004). This was demonstrated by a research carried out by Stapel and Blanton. In the research, there were 114 students as the research subjects.

The students were divided into two groups. In the first research, the researchers had the students watch a computer screen as pictures flashed by. One group would view picture of a baby girl while the other would view pictures an elderly lady. The researchers had made sure that the pictures flashed by quickly so that the test subjects would not have a chance to take in the content of the pictures.

Later after the research had been completed, using a seven point scale form one to seven, participant who had viewed the picture of the baby girl openly rated themselves as older than their counterparts who had viewed pictures of an elderly woman (Winerman, 2004). In the second experiment, Stapel and Blanton used different stimuli. They had pictures of a clown Elbert Einstein and of two female faces (one that could be regarded as attractive and one that could not). In this experiment again, the researchers wanted to test if indeed social comparisons are automatic. Again the students were divided into groups.The research revealed that the students who viewed pictures of the more attractive female face rated themselves as less attractive.

This was unlike the students who viewed pictures of the less attractive female face. Accordingly, people who viewed pictures of Einstein rated themselves as less intelligent than those who viewed the pictures of the clown (Winerman, 2004). In the end, Stapel and Blanton concluded that indeed social comparisons are automatic. More over, that self perception is important in the outside world for the simple fact that it helps individuals pilot and respond to their external environment.

In order for individuals to develop accurate self perception, they resort to social comparisons. This is essentially true. Otherwise, how else would individuals be able to evaluate themselves without some form of comparison? If an individual is of the opinion that they are poor at tennis, not beautiful or less intelligent, the decision has to be made in relation to some set standards. Accordingly, since no objective yardsticks have been developed, yet that individuals may use for purposes of comparing their opinions and abilities, other individuals become the standards and social comparison then becomes automatic.

Conclusion. Social comparison is used to refer to the process by which individuals compare themselves to others. According to the social comparison theory, individuals appraise their opinions and desires by comparing themselves to those around them. There are two types of social comparison; the upward and the down ward social comparison. In upward social comparison, individuals compare themselves to others who are clearly better off than themselves.

In downward social comparison, the reverse is true; individuals compare their abilities to individuals whom they consider to be worse off then they are.While upward social comparison may influence individuals to improve on their abilities, it may also lead individuals to not only feel bad about themselves but also their abilities. On the other hand, downward social mobility may help an individual to develop positive self esteem. Social comparison is not premeditated. It is evident, that in individuals use other individuals as the standards in social comparison. However, this is only because no objective yardsticks have been developed that may be used in social comparison.

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