Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 October 2009
Social comparison is a core element of human life (Festinger, 1954; Mussweiler, 2003; Tajfel, 1981; for a collection, see Suls and Wheeler, 2000). This is because comparing oneself to others is the most favored way people use to evaluate themselves. People choose to compare themselves to others with a variety of goals in mind. Obviously, a major concern would be informational: people like to know where they stand in terms of what they think, feel, or do. Are they simply normal or do they happen to be outrageously below or above widely popular standards? Often, people also rely on social comparison to motivate themselves. If getting a kick out of the comparison is the main goal of the comparison then the comparison target is likely to be some person or some group that fares slightly better. Finally, there could also be an explicit attempt at self-enhancement. By finding comparison others who are sufficiently similar yet also somewhat less knowledgeable, strong or likeable than themselves, people make sure that they will come out of the comparison with a feeling of psychological comfort. In short, people's self-knowledge, motivation, and self-esteem crucially hang on the outcome of dozens of daily comparison operations.
Although initially used in interpersonal theory contexts, the social comparison process also comes across as a major player in an impressive series of social psychology theories that focus on intergroup relations.
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