Do the Right Thing

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Think Twice Before Watching the Academy Awards

Social comparison theory warns us to be mindful of observing the famous.

The Academy Awards seems to be something like the Super Bowl and World Series all rolled into one: A major TV event for sure!  I'm not much of a movie buff and haven't seen any of the nominated films but even I'm going to a neighborhood Oscar party. However, I won't watch the whole thing and perhaps you shouldn't either. Here's why:

Social comparison theory suggests that we can't help but compare ourselves and our life circumstances to those around us. When getting lost in all of the hype and glamour of Oscar night it is pretty easy to reflect on our own life and feel saddened that you and your loved ones don't seem to have the same beauty, money, glamour, and fabulous carefree life that the Hollywood celebrities appear to enjoy. Be honest, do you usually feel better or worse after watching shows like the Academy Awards? Watching these spectacles are a bit like eating a hot fudge sundae... delicious while eating it but you might feel a bit sick afterwards.

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Social comparison theory is also one of the reasons why we can't seem to get enough of the countless reports about the terrible life troubles of certain Hollywood celebrities. So many people can't seem to read enough about the recent exploits and self-destructive behaviors of stars such as Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Mel Gibson, Paris Hilton, and so forth. We may quietly enjoy the problems of the Hollywood stars (and sports celebrities such as Tiger Woods) since it helps to confirm for us that our lives aren't so bad in comparison. Thus, the illusion of the fabulous lives of the rich and famous aren't so fabulous after all.

So, enjoy the Academy Awards but maybe you might have more fun socializing with your friends at your own Oscar parties than paying too much attention to what's on the screen or who is walking down the red carpet.

Of course it can be fun watching the whole outrageous spectacle of the Academy Awards but be mindful of the role that social comparison theory might play in how you judge the quality of life that you have. Yes, sometimes it is fun to eat the hot fudge sundae but do so with caution.

What do you think? 

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.


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