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Downward Social Comparison

  • By: Joanne V. Wood, Danielle Gaucher & Karen Choi
  • In: Encyclopedia of Social Psychology
  • Edited by: Roy F. Baumeister & Kathleen D. Vohs
  • Subject:Social Psychology (general)
Definition

Social comparison involves thinking about one or more other people in relation to the self. Downward social comparison involves making comparisons with others who are inferior to, or less fortunate than, oneself in some way.

History and Background

Leon Festinger's theory of social comparison proposed that because people seek accurate self-evaluations, they compare themselves with other people who are similar to themselves. People also make upward social comparisons with others who are superior, in hopes of learning how to improve. Early researchers discovered, however, that people are not always unbiased selfevaluators. Sometimes people wish to self-enhance—to feel better about themselves—which may lead them to compare downward. In a highly influential article in 1981, Thomas Wills proposed that when individuals are low in subjective well-being, they often ...

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