What it means to be “better”: The role of comparison language in social comparison


Judgments of personal attributes are often informed by the social information available (Festinger, 1954). The results of social comparison can manifest as assimilation of judgments towards the comparison standard or the contrast of judgments away from the standard, and many theories attempt to describe the conditions under which the two patterns will occur (e.g. Mussweiler, 2003; Schwartz & Bless, 1992). Recent work on comparison-induced distortion (Choplin, 2007; Choplin & Hummel, 2002) highlights how the magnitude of difference implied by comparisons like “better” may influence estimates of the compared values and produce assimilation and contrast-like effects. We explored the influence of this comparison-suggested difference (CSD) on participants’ performance estimates. In Experiment 1, we examined the effects of social comparison when the difference between participants’ unbiased estimates and the standard did not agree with the CSD. Experiment 2 explored how comparison language (and the corresponding CSD) mediates the role of standard similarity in social comparison effects. Combined, these studies demonstrate that the outcome of social comparison can be influenced by the CSD of the comparison language applied.

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