Social Comparison Theory

What Is Social Comparison Theory?

Social comparison theory states that individuals determine their own social and personal worth based on how they stack up against others they perceive as somehow faring better or worse. People sometimes compare themselves to others as a way of fostering self-improvement, self-motivation, and a positive self-image. As a result, humans are constantly evaluating themselves and others across a variety of domains, such as attractiveness, wealth, intelligence, and success. These evaluations can also promote judgmental, biased, and overly competitive or superior attitudes. Most people have the social skills and impulse control to keep envy and standards for social comparison quiet, but someone's true feelings may come out in other ways. Some research shows that people who regularly compare themselves to others often experience negative feelings of deep dissatisfaction, guilt, and remorse, and engage in destructive behaviors, like lying and disordered eating.

Comparing Yourself to Others

People often compare themselves to others who share similar attributes (e.g., age, gender, background, etc.). These comparisons can sometimes be healthy measures of development, such as a child reaching certain growth milestones at the same time as their peers. However, many people make unreasonable comparisons to others who have achieved at unusually high levels, causing them a great deal of pain and anxiety about their own progress in life. The fascination with celebrity culture and prevalence of social media has only exacerbated the problem of social comparison, exposing people to endless potential comparisons, many of whom appear perfect online.  

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