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
Date Written: November 10, 2018
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
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