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Social Comparison

In: Psychology

Submitted By annabel
Words 1442
Pages 6
Social Comparison and Temporal Life Satisfaction In his theory of social comparison, Festinger (1954) identified the idea that human beings have the drive to look at others in order to evaluate their own opinions and abilities. Social comparison is categorized into two forms, namely downward and upward. Downward comparison occurs when an individual compares to others who are deemed as socially worse off, while upward social comparison acts in the opposite direction. Over the years, there have been various studies on the directional effects of both upward and downward comparison on an individual’s self evaluation. According to Suls, Martin, & Wheeler (2002), both downward and upward comparison can lead to people viewing their situations in a more positive way. Another research study by Buunk, Collins, Taylor, VanYperen, & Dakof (1990), showed that downward comparison evoked a fear in individuals about ending up in the same situation as their less fortunate comparisons. In return, the fear of “it could also happen to me” made people have a lower level of life satisfaction. Despite the various comprehensive researches done thus far, there is still no clear conclusion on the exact impact and effect of social comparison on an individual’s evaluation of his or her own attributes and attitudes and abilities. This is even more applicable to college students who are constantly evaluating their personal abilities and opinions by making comparisons to their peers. The type of social comparison chosen, namely the upward or downward conditions, might then play a significant role in impacting the level of temporal life satisfaction. Hence, this study aims to investigate the effect of the type of social comparison, downward or upward, on temporal life satisfaction. That is, to determine which type of social comparison, upward or downward, would have a more positive effect on life satisfaction. As such, the problem identified for this research project is:

The result from this study is aimed at raising awareness amongst NTU students about the effects of social comparison on life satisfaction. With better knowledge of the related effects of upward and downward comparison, the students would then know how to better motivate themselves by choosing the more appropriate reference comparison in order to achieve greater temporal life satisfaction. In order to investigate if downward or upward comparison leads to greater life satisfaction, the following hypotheses are tested:

In this report, a one-tailed independent t-test will be conducted to determine if there is significant support for the prediction that downward comparison leads to higher temporal life satisfaction as compared to upward comparison. On top of which, a few terms are first properly defined to prevent any ambiguity and uncertainty throughout the length of the report. As such, downward and upward social comparison are defined as comparing oneself to a target who is deemed socially worse off or better off, respectively. In addition, total life satisfaction refers to the past, present and future life satisfaction, which is measured by the 15-item Temporal Satisfaction with Life Scale (TSWLS) by Pavot, Diener and Suh (1998).
We list down the assumptions that we have made for the study to be as such: 1. The participants of the questionnaire are representative of the NTU student population. 2. The upward and downward comparison treatments done in the study were effective conditions that allow participants to be upwardly and downwardly compared respectively.

The Questionnaire Study
Overview Participants were asked to fill up a computerized questionnaire individually during their respective tutorial timeslots. They were informed that the questionnaire was meant as a form of data collection for one of their curriculum modules. In order to generate upward and downward social comparison respectively, the participants were made to read a short paragraph describing the life of a female individual, to which they were to compare their lives to, at the start of the questionnaire. This was to subject participants to two forms of social comparison without their knowledge. The participants were then given a questionnaire to complete. The questionnaire is meant to measure the level of satisfaction that participants feel about their lives in the past, current and future. They had no knowledge about the purpose of the experiment, other than being informed that the responses would be used for their current research project.

In total, 133 participants took part in the experiment. The sample group was made up of undergraduates who were pursuing different majors in Nanyang Technological University (NTU). They were young adults in the age group between 18 to 24 years old, and consisted of members from both genders. The demographic breakdown of the participants into their gender and majors is shown as Table 1 in the Appendix. As seen from the table, majority of the participants (54.9%) were pursuing a degree in Psychology at the point of the experiment, while the remaining came from a mixture of other faculties. Apart from which, the sample size of female participants also greatly outnumbered that of the male participants, with 89 females and 44 males participating in the study.
The experiment was conducted during the different tutorial lessons. As the participants reported to class during their respective tutorial timeslots, they were ushered to different computers randomly. Upon which, the independent variable, which were the two treatments, were also administered to the participants at random. To subject participants to the two treatments, the experimenters had previously prepared a short write-up on the life of a 18 year old female adult, Kee. In the group that was subjected to upward comparison as the independent variable, they were assigned to read on the life of Kee as an intelligent female undergraduate who graduated from high school with perfect grades. She comes from a wealthy family in New York City and is a current student at Yale University with a full scholarship grant. For the other group which underwent downward comparison, participants were given the short story of Kee, as a girl from a remote farming village in central China with little education. In order to survive, she had to work as a maid away from her home village, earning an equivalent of SG$5 a day. To ensure that social comparison was attained and that participants would give due consideration to the differing lifestyles, both treatment groups were asked to think about the differences between their lives and that of Kee’s. They were then asked to type out their views on the computer in the form of a short-answer question. Immediately after the treatments, participants were provided a series of statements on their individual computers with which they could agree or disagree. The questionnaire was a replication of the Temporal Satisfaction with Life Scale, which measured people’s level of satisfaction with life in the past and present, and also how they perceive their future satisfaction to be. The questionnaire consisted of 15 statements, with 5 statements dedicated to each of the 3 different timeframes. Participants were to make their responses based on a Likert scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing strong disagreement and 7 representing strong agreement to the statements. After filling up the questionnaire, participants were then allowed to leave, while the experimenters went on to consolidate the results in both MS Excel and SPSS for future statistical analyses.
In order to generate the statistical analysis, an independent T-test was generated using the SPSS software. Referring back to the hypothesis, we have to first determine that the downward comparison treatment resulted in a higher temporal life satisfaction mean compared to that from the upward comparison. After which, we need to determine if the difference between the two means are significantly different. As the means for both treatment groups are deemed to be independent of each other, the independent t-test was chosen. If the t-test shows significant results, the null hypothesis would then be rejected and the alternative accepted. Table 2 of the Appendix presents the mean levels of how the effects of upward and downward social comparison had affected the participants’ level of life satisfaction. As seen from the table, participants who were subjected to the downward comparison responded more positively and gave higher ratings of their total life satisfaction (MD=4.6505, SD=0.94638) in the survey. In comparison, participants who were put through the treatment of upward comparison subsequently gave lower ratings (MU = 4.1862, SD=0.83757) when surveyed about their total life satisfaction. Hence, we can conclude that downward comparison will lead to higher total life satisfaction as compared to upward comparison (MD>MU, 4.6505>4.1862), and this difference is significant [t (131) = 2.982 > t-critical), p

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