Measuring Up to Distant Others: Expanding and Contracting the Scope of Social Comparison
67 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2016
Date Written: February 6, 2016
People’s evaluations of their achievements and outcomes are strongly influenced by their standing relative to targets of comparison. Research suggests that, on the whole, people tend to compare themselves to interpersonally similar others. We qualify this finding by exploring the circumstances under which people compare themselves to dissimilar others — a behavior that entails expanding the breadth of what we term the “comparative scope,” or the range of targets deemed informative for comparison. Drawing on construal level theory (Trope & Liberman, 2014), which contends that people use mental abstraction to transcend psychological distance, we demonstrate that comparing themselves on high- (versus low-) level dimensions leads people to increase their interest in comparing to socially dissimilar others (Experiments 1 and 2); that high level mindsets result in similar expansion in the range of comparative interest (Experiment 3); that when distal others are used as targets of comparison, high level information exerts relatively more influence on people’s satisfaction with their outcomes (Experiments 4 and 5), and that this relative increase in the salience of high level information is congruent with the hypothesized link between distance and abstraction (Experiment 6). Overall, this research highlights the circumstances under which people compare themselves to distant targets, with significant interpersonal and societal implications.
Keywords: Social comparison, relative deprivation, construal level, psychological distance
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