Western societies value personal autonomy and interpersonal distinctiveness. These values have substantial implications for people's comparison strategies. In western societies, the default comparison other is the individual rather than the group. People thus tend to engage in interpersonal rather than intergroup comparisons (Festinger, 1954). However, in this chapter, we argue for a two-stage model in which group status moderates this general, shared tendency. Members of high-status groups embody the values of society to a greater extent than do members of low-status groups. Hence, they emphasize individual comparisons more often than do subordinates. This status moderation is illustrated by research examples carried out in a variety of domains.
Cultural values and social comparison processes among the dominants and the subordinates
Western societies value beliefs in the uniqueness and separateness of individuals. These beliefs emphasize individualist or egocentric characteristics of the person such as independence, autonomy, achievement, and competitiveness. The prototypical western person is deemed an “independent, self-contained, autonomous entity who comprises a unique configuration of internal attributes such as traits, abilities, motives, and values, and behaves primarily as a consequence of these internal attributes.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991, p. 224) People in western societies strive for idiosyncrasies, inner potentials, excellence, and praise interpersonal diversity. Accordingly, they tend to make comparison at the personal level rather than the group level (Snyder and Fromkin, 1980), and to confer more value on individual than collective behavior (Lalonde and Silverman, 1994).