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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: October 2009

1 - Social comparison orientation: a new perspective on those who do and those who don't compare with others

Summary

Social comparison as an individual difference characteristic

Social comparison – how we use others to make sense of ourselves and our social world – is a focal human concern. Indeed, scholars have long recognized the importance of social comparison for human adaptation and survival. As Suls and Wheeler (2000) have noted, theorizing and research on social comparison can be traced to some of the classic contributions to western philosophy and to pivotal work in social psychology and sociology, including work on the self, adaptation level, reference groups, and social influence. In many respects, it is a fundamental human social interaction process.

Nevertheless, it was not until Festinger's (1954) classic paper that the term social comparison was proposed. According to Festinger, “There exists, in the human organism, a drive to evaluate his opinions and abilities.” (p. 117) Although they generally do not like the term “drive,” most social psychologists would probably agree that the desire to learn about the self through comparison with others is a universal characteristic of humans. As P. Gilbert, Price, and Allan (1995) noted, social comparison is phylogenetically very old, biologically very powerful, and is recognizable in many species. Indeed, it has been suggested that the process of social comparison has an evolutionary basis, and stems from the need to assess one's power and strength compared to that of one's competitors. In the course of evolution, this tendency to compare oneself with others has undoubtedly increased as humans came to live in larger groups.

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