Social comparison theory
||It has been suggested that social comparison bias be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since April 2013.|
Social comparison theory was initially proposed by social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954. Social comparison theory is centered on the belief that there is a drive within individuals to gain accurate self-evaluations. The theory explains how individuals evaluate their own opinions and abilities by comparing themselves to others in order to reduce uncertainty in these domains, and learn how to define the self.
Following the initial theory, research began to focus on social comparison as a way of self-enhancement, introducing the concepts of downward an upward comparisons and expanding the motivations of social comparisons.
Initial framework 
In the initial theory, Festinger hypothesized several things. First, he stated that individuals are motivated to gain accurate evaluations of themselves by examining their opinions and abilities in comparison to others. Such comparisons provide an objective benchmark against which an individual can compare themselves in relevant domains, providing a sense of validity and cognitive clarity. He hypothesized that people who are similar to an individual are especially good in generating accurate evaluations of abilities and opinions. To this, he added that the tendency to compare oneself with some other specific person decreases as the difference between their opinions and abilities become more divergent. He also hypothesized that there is an upward drive towards achieving greater abilities.
He further theorized that comparing the self with others leads to pressures of uniformity. If discrepancies arise between the evaluator and comparison group there is a tendency to reduce the divergence by either attempting to persuade others, or changing their personal views to attain uniformity. However, the importance, relevance and attraction to a comparison group that affects the original motivation for comparison, mediates the pressures towards uniformity.
Theoretical advances 
Since its inception, the initial framework has undergone several advances. Key among these are developments in understanding the motivations that underlie social comparisons, and the particular types of social comparisons that are made. Motives that are relevant to comparison include self-enhancement  maintenance of a positive self-evaluation, components of attributions and validation and the avoidance of closure. While there have been changes in Festinger's original concept, many fundamental aspects remain, including similarity, the tendency towards social comparison and the general process that is social comparison.
Wills introduced the concept of downward comparison in 1981. Downward social comparison is a defensive tendency that people use as a means of self-evaluation. These individuals will look to another individual or comparison group who are considered to be worse off in order to dissociate themselves from perceived similarities and to make themselves feel better about their self or personal situation. Social comparison research has suggested that comparisons with others who are better off or superior on an upward comparison can lower self-regard whereas downward comparisons can elevate self-regard. Downward comparison theory emphasizes the positive effects of comparisons in increasing one’s subjective well-being. For example, it has been found that breast cancer patients made the majority of comparisons with patients less fortunate than themselves.
People make upward comparisons, both consciously and subconsciously, with other individuals they perceive to be better than themselves in order to improve their views of self or to create a more positive perception of their personal reality. In an upward social comparison, people want to believe themselves to be part of the elite or superior, and make comparisons showing the similarities in themselves and the comparison group. It has also been suggested that upward comparisons may provide an inspiration to improve, and in one study it was found that while breast cancer patients made more downward comparisons, they showed a preference for information about more fortunate others.
Because individuals are driven upwards in the case of abilities, social comparisons can drive competition among peers. In this regard, the psychological significance of a comparison depends on the social status of an individual, and the context in which their abilities are being evaluated.
Social status 
Competitiveness resulting from social comparisons may be greater in relation to higher social status because individuals with more status have more to lose. In one study, students in a classroom were presented with a bonus point program where, based on chance, the grades for some students would increase and the grades for others would remain the same. Despite the fact that students could not lose by this program, higher-status individuals were more likely to object to the program, and more likely to report a perceived distributive injustice. It was suggested that this was a cognitive manifestation of an aversion to downward mobility, which has more psychological significance when an individual has more status.
Proximity to a standard 
When individuals are evaluated where meaningful standards exist, such as in an academic classroom where students are ranked, then competitiveness increases as proximity to a standard of performance increases. When the only meaningful standard is the top, then high-ranking individuals are most competitive with their peers, and individuals at low and intermediate ranks are equally competitive. However, when both high and low rankings hold significance, then individuals at high and low ranks are equally competitive, and are both more competitive than individuals at intermediate ranks.
Self-Evaluation Maintenance Model 
The SEM model proposes that we make comparisons to maintain or enhance our self-evaluations, focusing on the antagonistic processes of comparison and reflection.
Proxy Model 
The Proxy Model anticipates the success of something that is unfamiliar. The model proposes that if a person is successful or familiar with a task, then he or she would also be successful at a new similar task. The proxy is evaluated based on ability and is concerned with the question "Can I do X?" A proxy's comparison is based previous attributes. The opinion of the comparer and whether the proxy exerted maximum effort on a preliminary task are variables influencing his or her opinion.
Triadic Model 
The Triadic Model builds on the attribution elements of social comparison, proposing that opinions of social comparison are best considered in terms of 3 different evaluative questions: preference assessment (i.e., “Do I like X?”), belief assessment (i.e., “Is X correct?”), and preference prediction (i.e., “Will I like X?”). In the Triadic Model the most meaningful comparisons are with a person who has already experienced a proxy and exhibits consistency in related attributes or past preferences.
Three-Selves Model 
The Three-Selves Model proposes that social comparison theory is a combination of two different theories. One theory is developed around motivation and the factors that influence the type of social comparison information people seek from their environment and the second is about self-evaluation and the factors that influence the effects of social comparisons on the judgments of self. While there has been much research in the area of comparison motives, there has been little in the area of comparative evaluation. Explaining that the self is conceived as interrelated conceptions accessible depending upon current judgment context and taking a cue from Social Cognitive Theory, this model examines the Assimilation effect and distinguishes three classes of working Self-concept ideas: individual selves, possible selves and collective selves.
Media influence 
The media has been found to play a large role in social comparisons. Researchers examining the social effects of the media have used social comparison theory have found that in most cases women tend to engage in upward social comparisons with a target other, which results in more negative feelings about the self. The majority of women have a daily opportunity to make upward comparison by measuring themselves against some form of societal ideal. Social comparisons have become a relevant mechanism for learning about the appearance-related social expectations among peers and for evaluating the self in terms of those standards” (Jones, 2001, P. 647).
Although men do make upward comparisons, research finds that more women make upward comparisons and are comparing themselves with unrealistically high standards presented in the media. As women are shown more mainstream media images of powerful, successful and thin women, they perceive the “ideal” to be the norm for societal views of attractive. Some women have reported making upward comparisons in a positive manner for the purposes of self-motivation, but the majority of upward comparisons are made when the individual is feeling lesser and therefore evoke a negative connotation.
Many criticisms arose regarding Festinger’s similarity hypothesis. Deutsch and Krauss argued that people actually seek out dissimilar others in their comparisons maintaining that this is important for providing valuable self-knowledge, as demonstrated in research. Ambiguity also circulated about the important dimensions for similarity. Goethals and Darley clarified the role of similarity suggesting that people prefer to compare those who are similar on related attributes such as opinions, characteristics or abilities to increase confidence for value judgments, however those dissimilar in related attributes are preferred when validating one’s beliefs.
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Further reading 
- Miller, K. (2005). Communication theories: Perspectives, processes, and contexts. New York: McGraw Hill.