What is Social Comparison Theory?

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goreadabook | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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Social Comparison Theory is a hypothesis first proposed by a social psychologist named Leon Festinger in 1954.  It states that individuals compare themselves to others as a means of learning more about their own attitudes and abilities.  This often occurs when people experience uncertainty about some aspect of themselves and wish to know how other people respond or think.  As humans, we tend to compare ourselves to anyone who is around us regardless of whether or not the comparison is accurate or valid; however, this theory states that after an initial comparison, people tend to analyze the results and seek a more accurate comparison or a comparison that is more conducive to their purpose.

According to this theory, there are two forms of social comparison.  Downward Social Comparison occurs when individuals compare themselves to people who are worse than they are in reference to a particular trait or ability.  Upward Social Comparison occurs when individuals compare themselves to people who are better than they are in reference to a particular trait or ability.

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