Biases in social comparisons: Optimism or pessimism?
Social comparisons typically lead to two kinds of biases: A comparative optimism bias (i.e., a tendency for people to view themselves as more likely than others to be the beneficiaries of positive outcomes) or a comparative pessimism bias (i.e., a tendency for people to view themselves as less likely than others to be such beneficiaries); rarely are people fully calibrated in terms of how they compare to others. However, there is little systematic research on the factors that determine when a comparative optimism versus pessimism bias will occur, how they can be attenuated and whether such attenuation is always desirable. In this paper, we report four studies which demonstrate the following key results: First, we show that perceived level of control over the outcome drives whether a comparative optimism or pessimism bias will occur (Study 1). Second, an increase in perceived similarity between self and a comparison target person attenuates the comparative optimism bias in domains that people view as highly controllable (Study 2a) and attenuates the comparative pessimism bias in domains that people view as less controllable (Study 2b). Finally, we show that people are willing to work harder when they experience more comparative optimism in higher control scenarios and when they experience less comparative pessimism in lower control scenarios, illustrating that motivating people to strive harder for positive outcomes can result from exacerbated or attenuated bias, depending on the context (Study 3).
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Volume (Year): 108 (2009)
Issue (Month): 1 (January)
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