Social Comparison with Groups Portrayed in Online News

By Kósa, István; Zsigmond, Csilla et al. | Journal of Media Research, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Social Comparison with Groups Portrayed in Online News


Kósa, István, Zsigmond, Csilla, Ambrus, Zoltán, Journal of Media Research


Abstract:

The current investigation1 differs from earlier researches in at least two points. It aims to test the effects of selective exposure to headlines depicting groups on the internet users. In formulating news, our investigation takes into account Lockwood's finding (2000), that people make more often use of downward social comparison when they cannot imagine to get into a situation like their selection target. Participants (N = 161) of a single age group were exposed to selective exposure to manipulated online headlines focused on groups living in poverty or luxury. Results indicate that the level of self-esteem did not influence the direction of social comparisons. Selective exposure to news by gender shows that while women chose significantly frequent news on worse-off others, men preferred negatively valenced ones on groups living in luxury. Downward comparison is most significant when both the news depicting groups in poverty and news on groups living in luxury are positive. Contrary to our hypothesis based on Wheeler and Miyake's findings (1992), participants in a bad mood favoured mostly (weak tendency) downward comparison, meanwhile those in good mood preferred news about better-off others to news about worse-off others significantly frequent.

Keywords: social comparison, selective exposure to online news, high perceived control, groups living in very bad or very good social condition.

Theoretical background

By definition "Social comparison involves thinking about one or more other people in relation to the self' (Wood, Choi & Gaucher, 2007). However, social comparison - in a wider sense - as a reference to physically or virtually present other is decisive factor in constructing, restructuring and developing of the self (Hut, 2009). This is the case with the media consumption as well. Through media consumption social comparisons often take place. Even if it does not involve interactions, a large portion of the daily social encounters occurs through media consumption (KnoblochWesterwick & Hastall, 2006).

In social psychology the term of social comparison has been used in an increasingly broader sense for the last decades (Buunk & Gibbons, 2007). Festinger (1954) originally envisaged it focusing especially on abilities and opinions but nowdays it is even assumed, "that impression formation (or person perception) necessarily involves some social comparison" (Dunning, 2000). Forsyth goes further and in a recent chapter on social comparison in groups (2000, apud Buunk, A. P. and Gibbons, F. X., 2007, 16) states that a wide range of classical social psychological phenomena now can be considered as social comparison phenomena. The broadening of mainstream research can be properly exemplified by the inclusion of social identity theory. Traditionally in its original form developed - by Tajfel (1978) & Turner (1975) - before 2000's it was classified outside the social comparison mainstream, now it seems to take its well-deserved place in framework of social comparison theory, having been included in every important related volume (Buunk & Gibbons, 2007, 16).

From our point of view, all the social psychological theories concerning media choice can not get around the question of the number of personae represented by media that preoccupies the user. From our point of view the number of the portrayed persons by the media is an inevitable question. The theories in question, namely social cognitive-, social identity and social comparison theories not only use different terminology, but they also differ in their interpretation on media content whether it refers to individuals or groups of persons. Albeit, at first sight, this categorization seems to be sufficient to describe the concerned phenomena, we encounter a dilemma properly formulated by Hut in his book (2009, 366). In explaining upward comparison he attracts our attention to the insolvable problem we face in deciding whether we have to do with social comparison with an individual or a group when one compares himself or herself with a reference group. …

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