Yesterday’s News: A Temporal Discontinuity in the Sting of Inferiority

Psychological Science, Volume 30, Issue 5, 2019; https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797619839689

33 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2023

See all articles by Alex Kristal

Alex Kristal

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business

Ed O'Brien

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business

Eugene M. Caruso

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business

Date Written: November 10, 2018

Abstract

Reactions to others who get desirable outcomes should be a simple function of how much one desires those outcomes. Four studies (N = 4,978) suggest one’s reactions depend on the temporal location of outcome acquisition: Observers care more (e.g., feel more envy) right before, versus right after, others consume identical experiences (Studies 1-2a-2b). For example, participants’ envy in February rose as Valentine’s Day approached (as a peer’s enviable date loomed in the future) but abruptly plateaued come February 15th onward (after the date occurred). Further, the passing of time specifically assuages the pain of comparison (while positive reactions, like feeling inspired, remain high: Studies 3a-3b-3c), and therefore taking a past perspective can be used to regulate negative emotions in the present (Study 4). Time asymmetrically shapes the experience of upward comparison, despite others’ desirable outcomes indeed being achieved. Other people’s good lives sting less if they have already lived them.

Keywords: time, past/future, life experience, envy, social comparison

Suggested Citation

Kristal, Alex and O'Brien, Ed and Caruso, Eugene M., Yesterday’s News: A Temporal Discontinuity in the Sting of Inferiority (November 10, 2018). Psychological Science, Volume 30, Issue 5, 2019; https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797619839689, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4315501

Alex Kristal

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

Ed O'Brien (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

Eugene M. Caruso

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

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