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Testing four explanations for the better/worse-than-average effect: Single- and multi-item entities as comparison targets and referents

Author

Listed:
  • Suls, Jerry
  • Chambers, John
  • Krizan, Zlatan
  • Mortensen, Chad R.
  • Koestner, Bryan
  • Bruchmann, Kathryn

Abstract

In six experiments, we tested four explanations for the better/worse-than-average effect (B/WTA) by manipulating the number of items comprising the target or referent of direct comparison. A single-item target tended to be rated more extremely than a single-item or a multi-item referent (Experiments 1-3). No B/WTA was obtained, however, when a multi-item target was compared with either a single- or multi-item referent (Experiments 4 and 5). A bias favoring a multi-item target was found only if cohesiveness among the items was increased through instructions (Experiment 6). The Unique-Attributes Hypothesis generally provided the best explanation the findings; the focalism explanation also demonstrated some empirical viability. The results suggest that important preferential decision-making outcomes can be affected by both the number of items and whether items are strategically manipulated to serve as targets or referents of comparison.

Suggested Citation

  • Suls, Jerry & Chambers, John & Krizan, Zlatan & Mortensen, Chad R. & Koestner, Bryan & Bruchmann, Kathryn, 2010. "Testing four explanations for the better/worse-than-average effect: Single- and multi-item entities as comparison targets and referents," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 113(1), pages 62-72, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jobhdp:v:113:y:2010:i:1:p:62-72
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ulrike Malmendier & Geoffrey Tate, 2005. "CEO Overconfidence and Corporate Investment," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 60(6), pages 2661-2700, December.
    2. Klar, Yechiel & Medding, Aviva & Sarel, Dan, 1996. "Nonunique Invulnerability: Singular versus Distributional Probabilities and Unrealistic Optimism in Comparative Risk Judgments," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 67(2), pages 229-245, August.
    3. Moore, Don A., 2007. "Not so above average after all: When people believe they are worse than average and its implications for theories of bias in social comparison," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 102(1), pages 42-58, January.
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