Social and Cultural Psychology

Introduction to Social Comparison Theory

Social comparison theory is derived from a study conducted by Leon Festinger, which mentions the consequences of comparison, by individuals among themselves and the reason behind such comparison. This essay tends to build an understanding of the psychological outcomes that are associated with social comparison to others via social networking sites. The increase in use of social networking sites in recent years have prompted researchers to apply social comparison theory to better understand the psychological outcomes of the drastic increase in use of social networking sites. Readers will find critical evaluation of research done by researchers investigating social comparison theory and social networking sites. There can be a positive as well as negative impact on one’s social well-being through such comparisons it might depend on various factors such as how they use the social networking sites and for what purposes.

Social Networking Sites and Their Impact on Social Well-Being

Social comparison theory is a theory proposed by Leon Festinger in they 1945 after conducting a thorough research. Humans tend to evaluate their personal growth by comparing their traits, abilities and attitudes to that of others. Usually and in most cases try to compare ourselves who have something in similar to us or are in our peer groups. Broadly, the social comparisons are of two types; when people compare their status to others who are better than them it is called upward comparison and while comparing with someone who are worse off than themselves in social hierarchy is called downward comparison. For example- upward comparison- one might feel better about themselves knowing that their basketball techniques are better than their friend. Downward comparison- one might feel that they are not doing well enough seeing their peers start earning better income than them

The desire to improve one’s current abilities and traits comes from upward comparison and downward comparisons tend to boost one’s confidence as they think at least they are better than someone else (Kesici, 2010). Alternatively, upward comparison may have a negative effect on the self-evaluation and downward comparison may have a positive effect on the same. The consequences of upward comparisons usually results in negative social well-being this includes depression, self-doubt, lower self-esteem, etc. There are a variety of criteria on which social comparisons are based, some of which are; intelligence, looks and economic status. Due to an increase in use of Social networking sites, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. there has been an unprecedented growth in the rate and scale at which social comparisons take place currently. The increase in comparison of one’s life or ability has negatively impacted people’s subjective well-being. Social networking sites provide huge database about a person’s life and provides an easy access for social comparisons to take place in day- to-day basis and there is a constant need to communicate with peers which results in people using these social networking sites 70% more throughout their day. The database provides with information about one’s social standing, intelligence, performance, abilities allowing the navigation of the social world smoothly. Social comparison is prominent across cultures and is one of the core features of human social evolution (Steinbeis & Singer, 2013)) and is clearly evident in youngsters (Baldwin & Mussweiler, 2018).

 Comparison Dimension play a significant role where non-diagnostic comparisons are made with different targets that relate to other categories. However, social comparisons are more likely to occur when the comparison target is broadly similar to self. According to a research analysis, people in offline mode usually compare themselves with a person who has performed better than him or her. This leads to low motivation, less dedication, degradation of will power and bad mood (Gerber & Wheeler, 2018). Social Networking Sites enable people to confront with more success happening around rather than failures. Hence, upward comparisons are likely to occur as it is comparatively easy and convenient to portray a nice, happening image of one. The communication between people further enhances the success that one tries to portray through their clever selection of information that they choose to share to the online platform. There are two ways in which Social Networking Sites are used; one being active use which pertains to activities such as sending private messages or posting pictures which enable direct exchange and contacts with others; the other being passive usage which means that the user does not necessarily engage with others on one-on-one exchanges, this is where a user monitors other’s life from a distance. Studies show that upward comparisons and associated feeling of envy happen when a user passively uses Social Networking Sites (Verdyun, Lee, Park, Shablack, Overall & Bayer, et al, 2015; Verdyum, Ybarra, Resibois, Jonides & Kross, 2017; Krause, Baum, Baumann & Krasnova 2019). Kramer and colleagues (Kramer, Guillory & Hancock, 2014) conducted a well-known study that depicted how one posts less positive/negative (Sun, Schwartz, Son, Kern & Vazire, 2020) content if they see the same content through online connections. These emotions are likely to get transferred from one person to that person who is engaging in this behavior. Moreover, self-enhancement strategies are reflected on others when they expose themselves to positive news of others and this helps fight with one’s feeling of inferiority or envy (Krasnove, Widjaja, Buxmann, Wenninger & Benbasat, 2015; Rozgonjuk, Ryan, Kuljus, Tat & Scott, 2019).

Cross-sectional (Sherlock & Wagstaff, 2018), longitudinal (Yang, Holden & Carter, 2018)) and experimental(Tiggemann, Hayden, Brown & Veldhuis, 2018) studies on social comparison on Social Networking Sites demonstrate that these comparisons typically result in decreases in Social Well-being Behavior. Recent meta-analysis reveals that upward comparisons through Social Networking Sites tends more towards decreased social well-being in relation to downward comparison (Liu, Baumeister, Yang & Hu, 2019), however, this is always not the end-result. It is of utmost importance to consider that people are not imbibing a feeling of jealousy as is significant from the conclusions one sees while basing his opinions on positive and negative emotions which one gets from direct and indirect methods of relative frequency available on Social Networking Sites. All these things must be considered while research is being done. There have been several extensive studies to explain the relationship between Social well-being and Social networking Sites through social comparisons. It is clear that upward (Rozgonjuk, Ryan, Kuljus, That & Scott, 2019) online social comparison negatively impacts well-being while using such networks passively (Hu & Liu, 2020; Ozimek & Bierhoff, 2019). Studies show that through social comparison one becomes vulnerable (Appel, Crusius & Gerlach, 2015; Jang, Park & Song, 2016) and can experience an increase in depression and decrease in self-esteem along with the need to use these sites to view other user’s profile. There is a pattern of addictive use of Social Networking Sites which in turn changes the mood of the person, for this intervention steps must be taken such as Cognitive reconstruction which drastically reduce the social media usage further, certain apps can be used like reminder card which enforces awareness of mental impact on people who use Social Networking Sites abundantly. Psychological interventions help a person in over-all betterment of their mental and physical health, self-esteem exercises positively changes their psychological behavior among adults along with better academic outcome. Studies have shown that when a person is satisfied with one self, not only their overall mental health positively enhances but their academic ad physical performance enhances too. Studies suggest self- affirmation exercises forms bundles of positive thought and they become mindfull and very aware of their surroundings. A group intervention also improves self-esteem among others. Interact with different groups going through the same process imspires them to do better.This further suggests that exposure to content on these sites may result in downfall of a person’s social well-being. However, the studies also point that when a person is exposed to positive content of these sites they may experience a positive change in their overall well-being and there need to get better and reach their desired goals.

Conclusion on Social Comparison Theory

Through this research it can be demonstrated that while explaining the relationship between social networking sites and social well-being of a person, social comparison is a must consideration. The usage of Social networking sites and inbuilt behavior of humans to compare themselves others in the process of evaluating themselves may stimulate self-improvement, self-enhancement or motivation resulting in positively impacting social well-being. However, the evaluation done by comparing their abilities and traits to others on social networking sites may typically negatively impact Social well-being due to the partial story or rather selected positive stories or content that people choose to portray to others on social networking sites. Ironically as a person’s negative or positive feeling that they share might affect their fellow peers on these sites with a rather similar positive or negative feeling which further negatively impacts their social well-being and might and creates a vicious downward cycle. Moreover, as feelings of inferiority or envy are often dealt with an approach to self- enhance one-self, self-enhancing information may also be shared on social networking sites by any person who feels envious or inferior to others. All this material of research is usually used by online users and they spread it on Social Networking Sites as jealousy cycles. These cycles pose a key challenge for future researchers and to develop interventions to protect people from the damaging consequences of social comparisons on Social networking sites. Future studies may emphasize on further uses of these social networking sites and their relationship to social well being. People excessively using social networking sites tend to believe that others have a far better life that they enjoy in every aspect as compared to their own lives.

References for Social Comparison Theory

Festinger, L. (1954). ÷. Human Relations, 7(2), 117-140

Kesici S, Erdogan A. Mathematics anxiety according to the middle school students achievement motivation and social comparison2010;131(1):54-63.

Baldwin, T. Mussweiler The culture of social comparison Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 115 (2018), pp. E9067-74,

T. Gilbert, R.B. Giesler, K.A. Morris When comparisons arise J Pers Soc Psychol, 69 (1995), pp. 227-236

P. Gerber, L. Wheeler, J. Suls A social comparison theory meta-analysis 60+ years on Psychol Bull, 144 (2018), pp. 177-197

Verduyn, D.S. Lee, J. Park, H. Shablack, A. Orvell, J. Bayer, et al. Passive Facebook usage undermines affective well-being: experimental and longitudinal evidence J Exp Psychol Gen, 144 (2015), pp. 480-488

D.I. Kramer, J.E. Guillory, J.T. Hancock Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 111 (2014), pp. 8788-8790,

Krasnova, T. Widjaja, P. Buxmann, H. Wenninger, I. Benbasat Research note - why following friends can hurt you: an exploratory investigation of the effects of envy on social networking sites among college-age users Inf Syst Res, 26 (2015), pp. 585-605

Sherlock, D.L. Wagstaff Exploring the relationship between frequency of Instagram use, exposure to idealized images, and psychological well-being in women Psychol Pop Media Cult, 8 (2018), pp. 482-490

Yang, S.M. Holden, M.D.K. Carter Social media social comparison of ability (but not opinion) predicts lower identity clarity: identity processing style as a mediator J Youth Adolesc, 47 (2018), pp. 2114-2128

Tiggemann, S. Hayden, Z. Brown, J. Veldhuis The effect of Instagram “likes” on women’s social comparison and body dissatisfaction Body Image, 26 (2018), pp. 90-97

Lin, S. Utz The emotional responses of browsing Facebook: happiness, envy, and the role of tie strength Comput Human Behav, 52 (2015), pp. 29-38

Appel, J. Crusius, A.L. GerlachSocial comparison, envy, and depression on Facebook: a study looking at the effects of high comparison standards on depressed individuals, J Soc Clin Psychol, 34 (2015), pp. 277-289

Verduyn, O. Ybarra, M. Résibois, J. Jonides, E. KrossDo social network sites enhance or undermine subjective well-being? A critical review, Soc Issues Policy Rev, 11 (2017), pp. 274-302

V. Krause, K. Baum, A. Baumann, H. KrasnovaUnifying the detrimental and beneficial effects of social network site use on self-esteem: a systematic literature review, Media Psychol (2019), pp. 1-38

Rozgonjuk, T. Ryan, J.-K. Kuljus, K. Täht, G.G. ScottSocial comparison orientation mediates the relationship between neuroticism and passive Facebook use Cyberpsychol J Psychosoc Res Cybersp, 13 (2019)

Jang, N. Park, H. SongSocial comparison on Facebook: its antecedents and psychological outcomes, Comput Human Behav, 62 (2016), pp. 147-154

Liu, R.F. Baumeister, C.C. Yang, B. HuDigital communication media use and psychological well-being: a meta-analysis, J Comput Commun, 24 (2019), pp. 259-274

-T. Hu, Q.-Q. LiuPassive social network site use and adolescent materialism: upward social comparison as a mediator, Soc Behav Personal Int J, 48 (2020), pp. 1-8

Ozimek, H.W. BierhoffAll my online-friends are better than me–three studies about ability-based comparative social media use, self-esteem, and depressive tendencies Behav Inf Technol, 0 (2019), pp. 1-14

Sun, H.A. Schwartz, Y. Son, M.L. Kern, S. VazireThe language of well-being: tracking fluctuations in emotion experience through everyday speech J Pers Soc Psychol, 118 (2020), pp. 364-387

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