5 years ago

The man who wasn't there: Subliminal social comparison standards influence self-evaluation

Life provides an endless stream of social comparison information. Because opportunities to compare with others are so abundant, social comparison theory traditionally assumes that people are selective in their comparison activities and primarily compare with deliberately selected standards. Recent research, however, demonstrates that social comparisons often occur spontaneously, even if no standard is explicitly provided or deliberately selected. We examined whether comparisons are so spontaneous that they are even engaged if people are fleetingly exposed to a potential standard—so fleetingly that they remain unaware of the standard. In three studies, participants were subliminally primed with moderate versus extreme, high versus low standards during self-evaluation. Results demonstrate that self-evaluations are influenced by subliminally presented standards. Specifically, self-evaluations are assimilated towards moderate standards and contrasted away from extreme standards. These self-evaluative consequences of subliminal standards, however, were only obtained if participants engaged in self-reflection during standard exposure. These findings emphasize that social comparisons are truly ubiquitous processes that are engaged even for fleeting exposure to standard information.

Publisher URL: www.sciencedirect.com/science

DOI: S0022103104000228

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