Social comparisons allow individuals to gain knowledge of their traits and abilities. Individuals frequently have self-enhancement goals when processing self-relevant information. This study provided an initial test of the hypothesis that individuals engaging in social comparisons would manipulate cognitive representations of themselves and comparison targets in ways that allowed them to self-enhance. Participants were presented with upward, downward, or no social comparison information about their intelligence. They then completed a task, designed for this program of research, which assessed how participants altered cognitive representations of social comparison information. Results showed that participants altered cognitive representations in ways associated with greater perceived similarity to upward comparison targets and less similarity to downward comparison targets. This effect was moderated by self-esteem, suggesting that the process of manipulating cognitive representations of self-relevant information may serve self-enhancement motives. Understanding the cognitive processes involved in social comparisons is an important step towards accounting for the interplay of motivation and cognition in determining the outcomes individuals experience from social comparisons.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Preparation of this article was supported by a University of Minnesota Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship to MTK.