Adult smokers who were members of smoking cessation support groups were asked to report on the seriousness of their smoking problem, their perceptions of the "typical smoker", and their social comparison preferences (e.g., what type of person they would like to have in their group). These perceptions were assessed at three times during the clinic and then at a follow-up. Results indicated that subjects' perceptions of the typical smoker prototype became increasingly negative (a form of "active" downward comparison) and less similar to themselves over the course of the groups. In addition, subjects with more serious smoking problems showed a preference for having others with worse smoking problems as group members (i.e., a form of "passive" downward comparison). As subjects improved, however, their preference for downward comparison targets decreased. The results suggest that psychological distancing from the prototype associated with certain problematic behaviors (a) involves active downward comparison with the prototype, and (b) is engaged in by people trying to stop the behavior.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was funded by Grant ROlDA03950 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Grant BNS-8718691 from the National Science Foundation. Reprint requests should be addressed to Frederick X. Gibbons, Department of Psychology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011.