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Social Comparison, Aspirations and Priming: When Fiction is as Powerful as Fact

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  • Guillen, Pablo
  • Wu, Kevin

Abstract

This study uses a novel application of priming to provide experimental evidence that aspirations and social comparisons may be influenced by non factual sources. A textual narrative eliciting social comparison is shown to dramatically alter material aspirations. This is despite the narrative not presenting any new information, relying instead on participants' existing knowledge. However the effect of the priming rapidly dissipates when attention is redirected to unrelated tasks. These findings build on literature examining the influence of media, social comparison and aspirations on well-being. The findings build support for the claim that media exposure may distort perceptions of status with implications for satisfaction, education attainment and risk preferences. It also demonstrates that at least in the short run, preferences in general and aspirations in particular are highly suggestible.

Suggested Citation

  • Guillen, Pablo & Wu, Kevin, 2012. "Social Comparison, Aspirations and Priming: When Fiction is as Powerful as Fact," Working Papers 2012-02, University of Sydney, School of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:syd:wpaper:2123/8091
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    1. Stutzer, Alois, 2004. "The role of income aspirations in individual happiness," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 54(1), pages 89-109, May.
    2. Michael Shields & Stephen Wheatley Price & Mark Wooden, 2009. "Life satisfaction and the economic and social characteristics of neighbourhoods," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 22(2), pages 421-443, April.
    3. Daniel Zizzo, 2010. "Experimenter demand effects in economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 13(1), pages 75-98, March.
    4. Carmit Segal, 2006. "Motivation, test scores and economic success," Economics Working Papers 1124, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Oct 2008.
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