Compared to What? The Importance of Control Groups in Social Comparison Research
Two experiments demonstrate the importance of control groups in social comparison research. When comparing to downward targets leads to more favorable self-evaluations than comparing to upward targets, results are often interpreted as demonstrating bidirectional contrast effects. However, without a no-comparison control group, these claims cannot be supported. The present experiments provided participants with performance feedback; some participants received information about an upward target, a downward target, or a bidirectional target (one upward, one downward). Results suggest that social comparison effects are not always bidirectional: Downward and bidirectional comparisons led to contrast whereas upward comparisons were not different from the control. Experiment 2 assessed the role of lateral targets. Overall, results suggest that existing interpretations of contrast effects should be reexamined.
Bruchmann, K. (2017) Compared to what? The importance of control groups in social comparison research. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 39(2), 91-100.