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J Pers Soc Psychol. 1997 Oct;73(4):781-9.

The person who outperforms me is a genius: maintaining perceived competence in upward social comparison.

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Department of Psychology, Ohio University, Athens 45701, USA.


People have many ways of protecting themselves against unfavorable social comparisons. Sometimes, however, the unfavorableness of a comparison is too unambiguous to deny. In such circumstances, people may indirectly protect their self-images by exaggerating the ability of those who outperform them. Aggrandizing the outperformer is conceived to be a construal mechanism that permits inferior performers to deflect the self-esteem threat of being outperformed while maintaining believability. The tendency to exaggerate an outperformer's ability was demonstrated in a context in which subjects learned they had been outperformed by a confederate on a perceptual intelligence test. Subjects' and observers' ratings of the confederate's intelligence showed that subjects consistently rated the confederate more favorably than did observers. Using a similar methodology in which subjects outperformed confederates, another study showed that subjects exaggerated the ability of the people they outperformed. The conditions in which these effects are most likely to be obtained are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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