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J Pers Soc Psychol. 1990 Dec;59(6):1238-49.

The affective consequences of social comparison: either direction has its ups and downs.

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University of Nijmegen, Gelderland, The Netherlands.


Research on social comparison processes has assumed that a comparison in a given direction (upward or downward) will lead to a particular affective reaction. In contrast, the present two studies proposed and found that a comparison can produce either positive or negative feelings about oneself, independent of its direction. Several factors moderated the tendency to derive positive or negative affect from upward and downward comparisons. In Study 1, cancer patients low in self-esteem and with low perceived control over their symptoms and illness were more likely to see downward comparisons as having negative implications for themselves. Those low in self-esteem were also more likely to perceive upward comparisons as negative. In Study 2, individuals with high marital dissatisfaction and those who felt uncertain about their marital relationship were more likely to experience negative affect from upward and downward comparisons. The implications of these findings for social comparison theory and for the coping and adaptation literature are discussed.

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