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Noelle Cordeaux
Certified Professional Coach. Graduate Student. Kindness Always.
Certified Professional Coach. Graduate Student. Kindness Always.

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The urge to compare can lead to despair

People who are prone to make social comparisons use social media more heavily - to their own detriment

People love to draw parallels to other people, be it in order to flatter themselves, to make themselves smaller or to learn a thing or two from somebody else. Social media such as Facebook nowadays offer a particularly attractive platform for making social comparisons, but they tend to draw visitors who suffer from the exercise.

Even though making social comparisons can be soothing and comforting temporarily, practicing this kind of mood management too excessively can undermine happiness in the long run, says psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky from the University of California in Riverside Lyubomirsky and her colleagues have studied the tendency to make social comparisons in various laboratory experiments with cheerful personalities their and rather gloomy opposites.

The result of their studies: Unlike sad people, happy individuals  are extremely reluctant to make comparisons, and when they do it, then only to protect their well-being and self-respect. The renowned happiness researcher Ed Diener from the University of Illinois in a recent overview came to a similar assessment: “Neurotic and depressed people are characterized by a strikingly strong interest in making social comparisons.” 

The question remains whether unhappiness provokes people to make comparisons, or if the comparison with others leads unhappiness. Lyubomirsky thinks this is a spiral-shaped process, in which cause and effect work in both directions: People in bad mood tend to make more social comparisons, which then potentiates the original mood.

Social network sites such as offer an ideal platform for social comparison to take place because they allow people to construct their own personal profiles and present a rich set of information about themselves. Moreover, in surveys respondents  have indicated that they use these sites for the purpose of making social comparisons, specifically while viewing others' posts and photos. But a strong urge to assess others' profiles may tempt people into a trap: Facebook profiles tend to present the self in a favorable light, and social comparisons that are based on such biased information could prompt visitors to make upward social comparisons to those who (seemingly) are better off  than themselves - which are known to impair life-satisfaction.

Starting from these observations, a team of psychologists led by Erin A. Vogel from the University of Toledo, Toledo, attempted to test two hypotheses: 1) that people high in social comparison orientation are more drawn to using social media, and 2) are more negatively affected by the upward social comparisons made on social media.

In the first study,145 participants were asked about their social comparison orientation and general social media use. In the second study, 120 participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions in which they either browsed an acquaintance's social media profile (presumably engaging in social comparison) or performed control tasks. Afterwards, participants provided self-evaluations and rated their momentary self-esteem and affect.

The results of the first study leave no doubt that habitual "comparators" are drawn to social media:  Individuals who report being more likely to habitually compare themselves to others in everyday life also tend to engage in heavier Facebook use. But the results of the second study indicate that they tend to shoot themselves in the foot: "When examining an acquaintance's profile on Facebook, participants high in social comparison orientation (SCO) had lower trait self-perceptions, lower state self-esteem, and more negative affect balance than did their low-SCO counterparts."

On a more positive note, high-SCO individuals may use Facebook for self-improvement. "Due to their general sensitivity to social comparison and its effects, people high in SCO may expect that, despite their negative emotions, seeing other people doing well will make them better."

"Who compares and despairs? The effect of social comparison orientation on social media use and its outcomes"

Will be hosting an online hangout this week: ”ANXIETY”. Facilitated by Team Angry member, Noelle. Weds at 6pm PST. Must email for a seat @ has a 14 Day Free Trial just added. Tell a friend.
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