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Psychol Rev. 1989 Oct;96(4):569-75.

Social comparison activity under threat: downward evaluation and upward contacts.


Social comparison processes include the desire to affiliate with others, the desire for information about others, and explicit self-evaluation against others. Previously these types of comparison activity and their corresponding measures have been treated as interchangeable. We present evidence that in certain groups under threat, these comparison activities diverge, with explicit self-evaluation made against a less fortunate target (downward evaluation), but information and affiliation sought out from more fortunate others (upward contacts). These effects occur because downward evaluation and upward contacts appear to serve different needs, the former ameliorating self-esteem and the latter enabling a person to improve his or her situation and simultaneously increase motivation and hope. Implications for the concept, measurement, and theory of social comparison are discussed.

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