Theoretically informed models are estimated that specify the direction of the relationship between social comparisons and negative self-feelings. The data are from three waves of an ongoing longitudinal study of adaptations to stress. Subjects are individuals who were tested in their middle teens (T3), mid-twenties (Time 4) and in their mid-thirties (Time 5). The models were estimated using both logistic regression and ordinary least squares regression. In general, the results suggest that negative self-feelings are an antecedent of social comparison processes as negative self-feelings are significantly related to all five measures of social comparison. Findings suggest that negative self-feelings are sometimes a consequence of social comparison processes as negative self-feelings are significantly related to three of the five measures of social comparison.
The empirical and theoretical literature suggest two alternative possible models for the relationship between social comparisons and negative self-feelings. The present analysis employs longitudinal data to specify the direction of the relationship between social comparisons and negative self-feelings. Specifically, the present analysis examines negative self-feelings as an antecedent of social comparisons versus negative self-feelings as a consequence of social comparisons. The present analysis also permits the assessment of the direction of social comparisons (downward or upward) when examining the relationship between negative self-feelings as an antecedent of social comparisons. In addition, this analysis allows for the assessment of the sources of comparison that serve as meaningful frames of reference for individuals.
THEORY OF SOCIAL COMPARISON PROCESSES
According to Kruglanski and Mayseless (1990) social comparisons are defined as comparative judgments of social stimuli on particular content dimensions (1990, p. 196). Festinger (1954) proposed a theory of social comparison processes to explain comparative judgments concerning one's opinions and abilities. Festinger suggests that individuals are motivated to compare themselves to specific or general others to assess their own social situation. Individuals possess a "drive" to evaluate their situation. When objective measures for evaluating one-self are unavailable, individuals will compare themselves to other people. Furthermore, individuals prefer to compare themselves to individuals who are similar as this provides a more precise evaluation of one's opinions or abilities (Festinger, 1954). Festinger's theory of social comparison processes has undergone many revisions, especially in terms of the diversity of types of comparisons that individuals make (e.g., opinions, abilities, emotions, illness, and outcomes), the reasons for making social comparisons (e.g., accuracy, self-enhancement, and self-improvement), and related to this is the issue of to whom one compares oneself (Crosby, 1982; Festinger, 1954; Goethals & Darley, 1977; Grienberger, Rutte, & van Knippenberg, 1997; Cruder, 1971; Levine & Moreland, 1986, 1987; Olson, Herman, & Zanna, 1986; Schachter, 1959; Strauman & Higgins, 1987; Tesser & Campbell, 1982; Wayment & Taylor, 1995).
Conceptual developments have also exposed the limitations of Festinger's classical social comparison theory:
Essentially, classical comparison theory seems both too fixed and too narrow to readily accommodate contemporary research on the topic. The theory seems too fixed in its portrayal of people as nearly always driven to self-evaluate through social comparison, doing so mostly with similar others, and nearly always striving to attain evaluative accuracy (Kruglanski & Mayseless 1990, p. 205).
"Festinger implicitly suggested that social comparison is prompted by concern over one's standing on a dimension, which then leads to the choice of an appropriate target and consequent self-evaluation" (Taylor, Buunk, & Aspinwall, 1990, p. …