ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2020, Vol. 52 ›› Issue (5): 645-658.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2020.00645

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Outstanding others vs. mediocre me: The effect of social comparison on uniqueness-seeking behavior

GONG Xiushuang,ZHANG Honghong()   

  1. School of Business, Jiangnan University, Wuxi 214122, China
  • Received:2019-06-06 Published:2020-05-25 Online:2020-03-26
  • Contact: Honghong ZHANG


Uniqueness-seeking behavior can be driven by various factors. Despite the common phenomenon that better-off individuals seem to seek more uniqueness and express individuality more frequently, no researcher has investigated whether and how social comparison influences uniqueness-seeking behavior. According to the better-than-average effect, people tend to perceive themselves better off than the average on many important dimensions and are inclined to see themselves as unique when there are no social comparisons. Building on the compensatory consumption model, we aim to investigate the impact of social comparison on uniqueness-seeking behavior, and further examine why this effect occurs as well as when it will be attenuated or intensified.
In social comparisons, comparing upwardly (vs. downwardly) may threaten individuals’ pervasively held better-than-average self-evaluation bias, which motivates them to adjust their self-evaluations downwardly to the average. Prior research suggests that the average is mostly seen as ordinary, mediocre and unexceptional. Therefore, we infer that people comparing upwardly may experience a decreased sense of uniqueness, which drives them to seek unique options in subsequent unrelated contexts. This effect holds for many dimensions, such as economic status. In that case, perceived economic mobility acts as an important moderator. We predict that when perceived economic mobility is high, threats induced by upward comparisons will be mitigated, as are individuals’ psychological and behavioral responses. However, when perceived economic mobility is low, the responses will be intensified.
Across five experiments, we demonstrate that upward comparisons increase consumer preference for less popular scenic spots (Study 1). The psychological mechanism underlying this effect is that upward comparisons lower perceived uniqueness, leading individuals to choose minority-endorsed products to compensate for the negative self-discrepancy (studies 2a and 2c). The fundamental driving force of the main effect is that upward comparisons increase consumers’ uniqueness-seeking tendency (Study 2b). Furthermore, when comparing upwardly on economic status, consumers still show stronger preference for niche book clubs, and the effect of social comparison on perceived uniqueness and uniqueness seeking will be mitigated when perceived economic mobility is high but is strengthened when perceived economic mobility is low (Study 3).
The present research provides evidence that upward comparisons can lead to uniqueness-seeking behavior by examining the mediating role of perceived uniqueness, supporting our basic premise that individuals perceive themselves as unique when making no comparisons. In doing this, we make theoretical contributions to research on both uniqueness seeking and the strategies for coping with upward comparisons. This also sheds light on marketing strategies that enterprises can employ to increase sales of unpopular or customized products as well as coping strategies that consumers can use to alleviate threats of upward comparisons on different dimensions.

Key words: social comparison, uniqueness-seeking behavior, better-than-average effect, compensatory consumption, perceived economic mobility

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