ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

心理学报 ›› 2023, Vol. 55 ›› Issue (4): 658-670.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2023.00658

• 研究报告 • 上一篇    


宋琪, 张璐, 高莉芳, 程豹, 陈扬()   

  1. 西南财经大学工商管理学院, 成都 611130
  • 收稿日期:2021-12-07 发布日期:2022-12-30 出版日期:2023-04-25
  • 通讯作者: 陈扬
  • 基金资助:

Learn from others or put them down? The double-edged effect of upward social comparison in the workplace

SONG Qi, ZHANG Lu, GAO Lifang, CHENG Bao, CHEN Yang()   

  1. School of Business Administration, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, Chengdu 611130, China
  • Received:2021-12-07 Online:2022-12-30 Published:2023-04-25
  • Contact: CHEN Yang


本研究基于压力认知评估理论, 从理性认知视角探讨了职场上行比较存在的提升自我和贬损他人效应, 以及驱动不同路径效应生效的边界条件和传导机制。本研究通过轮询设计, 在3个时间点收集了来自60个团队240位成员的720份人际配对样本, 并采用社会关系模型分析数据得出以下结论: 在低水平绩效证明目标导向情况下, 员工倾向于将上行比较对象评估为挑战, 进而激发员工向上行比较对象的学习行为; 相反, 在高水平绩效证明目标导向情况下, 员工倾向于将上行比较对象评估为威胁, 进而驱使员工采取针对上行比较对象的社会阻抑。

关键词: 职场上行比较, 压力认知评估理论, 绩效证明目标导向, 挑战性评估, 威胁性评估


Upward social comparison is common in workplaces, and many studies have identified its downsides, such as negative emotions and dysfunctional behaviors. However, a few studies have revealed positive effects, such as learning from comparison targets. These conflicting results suggest that the mechanism underlying the effect of upward social comparison in workplaces remains unclear. Furthermore, most research is based on social comparison theory, whereas few studies have explored upward social comparison through a cognitive lens. To fill these research gaps, we drew on the cognitive appraisal theory of stress to investigate upward social comparison in the workplace and determine how and when it yields (mal) adaptive behavioral outcomes.

We used a multi-wave, round-robin design to collect data. 270 employees from 65 teams agreed to participate. At Time 1, 270 employees were invited to assess their workplace upward social comparison, performance-prove goal orientation, social comparison orientation, learning goal orientation, and demographics. 251 employees provided valid responses (response rate=93%). Two weeks after Time 1, 251 employees were invited to evaluate their challenge and threat appraisals, and 240 employees provided valid responses (response rate=95.6%). Two weeks after Time 2, 240 employees were invited to report their learning behaviors towards their coworkers, and meanwhile, employees were invited their received social undermining from coworkers. 240 valid responses were received (response rate=100%). Finally, 720 dyads from 240 employees from 60 teams were used to test our proposed model.

Given that the dyads nested in employees and then employees nested within teams, we tested our hypothesis by multilevel social relations model. To test the conditional indirect effects, a Monte Carlo simulation with 20, 000 replications was used to generate the 95% Monte Carlo confidence intervals in R 3.5. The results showed that employees with low levels of performance-prove goal orientation tended to appraise upward social comparison as a challenge, which prompts learning from the comparison targets. However, employees with high levels of performance-prove goal orientation tended to appraise upward social comparison as a threat, motivating them to socially undermine the comparison targets.

Our study provides theoretical and practical implications. We reveal the double-edged effects of workplace upward social comparison on subsequent learning behaviors and social undermining through a cognitive rather than emotional lens. Our findings demonstrate how and why workplace upward social comparison drives employees to develop two distinct behavioral responses, from a novel theoretical perspective—the cognitive appraisal theory of stress. Finally, the performance-prove goal orientation determines the effects of workplace upward social comparison. Furthermore, our findings offer important practical implications to managers and policymakers.

Key words: workplace upward social comparison, the cognitive appraisal theory of stress, performance-prove goal orientation, challenge appraisals, threat appraisals