ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2012, Vol. 44 ›› Issue (12): 1628-1640.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2012.01628

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The Self-Threat of Unsolicited Social Comparison and Its Balance

HAN Xiao-Yan;CHI Yu-Kai   

  1. (1 Sun Yat-Sen Business School, Guangzhou 510275, China) (2 Department of Psychology, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China)
  • Received:2012-02-07 Published:2012-12-25 Online:2012-12-25
  • Contact: CHI Yu-Kai

Abstract: People often encounter comparative information, actively or passively, to judge one’s self-worth. The Selective Accessible Theory (SAT) (Mussweiler, 2003) proposed that the similarity and dissimilarity test are the core mechanisms to determine the consequences of comparison on the basis of informational foci. This suggests that the information activated by the social context can actually determine the self-evaluation outcomes, displacing toward or away from the comparison target. However, little has done to explore the individual spontaneous choice toward different comparison target based on SAT and its influence on the self, especially in Chinese cultural context. Chinese people prefer upward comparison, i.e., comparing with more capable target to find their competency gap. Downward comparison would be used only if they cannot find effective ways to eliminate the negative feelings accompanied with upward comparison. Such dissimilarity hypothesis has been found to result in lower self-evaluation, according to SAT. Thus, the self-threat of comparison appears. The present study explores the source of such threat of comparison and its balance through 3 experiments. In experiment 1, participants were required to write down the names of three potential comparison targets. Control group is also used as a basic level to examine the effect after comparison. As expected, the information of routine upward comparison target was activated and the threat of comparison to self has emerged. Experiment 2 extends this finding by introducing the task relevance (high/low) to explore its influencing factor. Performance feedback (contrastive/non-contrastive) was provided to simulate an implicit upward comparison target, which would increase the information intensity of upward comparison target. Results suggest that the interaction between task relevance and performance feedback significantly influenced self-evaluation. Specifically, regardless of the level of task relevance, the contrastive and the non-contrastive performance feedback both led to lowered self-evaluation, suggesting the generalized trend of the threat of comparison among Chinese people. However, the generalization of self-threat of comparison doesn’t emerge in the emotional variable. Experiment 3 further explores the balancing strategy used by Chinese people to alleviate the threat of comparison. Results show that if people have the opportunity to affirm themselves, the threat of comparison would be attenuated, and knowledge foundation of the threat from upward comparison target would be inaccessible, yet the negative emotion was still there and exhibited a trend of generalization. Based on the results of these experiments, selective accessibility of dissimilar information exerts significant influence on the social comparison effect, and the Chinese people indeed show something different in this process. The implication and suggestions for future researches are discussed.

Key words: selective accessible theory, upward comparison, threat, self-affirmation