It's All Relative

How comparisons create self-knowledge, action, and emotions.

Are You a Comparer?

A short quiz to find out if you are a comparer and the potential consequences.

There are some people in this world who find the idea of comparing themselves to others to be repugnant.  In their minds, to admit to being a "comparer" would be to liken oneself to the Star-Belly Sneetches from Dr. Seuss - driven by ego and irrationally tied to the accomplishments of others.  Others, however, embrace the idea of comparison - they embrace the idea that looking to others can provide necessary information about one's own possible outcomes and abilities. Crossing these boundaries are people who would happily call themselves competitive - they compare themselves to others only as a way of showing that they are successful and have bested the rest.  Winning only counts if it is against an opponent.

Which are you?  The following scale, created by Brahm Buunk of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, can help you figure out which you are.  Like many psychological scales, science does not put a value on being high or low.  The scale does not tell if you are a good person or a bad person, but your score can tell you a little about how you approach and deal with the world. And, there are some known differences - people tend to make more comparisons when they are younger (think of your high school years), fewer in middle age, and return to use of comparison information when they are (post-retirement).

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To do that we would like to ask you to indicate how much you agree with each statement below, using the following scale:

1. I disagree strongly
2. I disagree
3. I neither agree nor disagree
4. I agree
5. I agree strongly

Questions

  • I often compare how I am doing socially (e.g., social skills, popularity) with other people.
  • I always pay a lot of attention to how I do things compared with how others do things
  • I often try to find out what others think who face similar problems as I face.
  • I am the type of person who compares often with others
  • I always like to know what others in a similar situation would do.
  • If I want to learn more about something, I try to find out what others think about it.

Interpreting your score

If you scored 28 or above, you are a very high in social comparison orientation. People high in SCO are likely to feel closer to similar others, and prefer people who are in your "in-group" - people who are similar to you and belong the same social and cultural groups as you.  You probably seek out more comparisons, spend more time engaging in comparisons, experience more emotional reactions from comparisons and base your personal risk perceptions on comparisons with others.

If you scored 21-27, you are high in social comparison orientation.  Being high can be highly adaptive, as you move through life changes.  Comparisons to people who are more successful, especially when you feel able to change your circumstances, can lead you to feel better and be more successful yourself.  Research on breast cancer patients has shown that affiliating with healthier others, and making comparisons with less healthy others, can improve outcomes.

If you scored below 21, you are low in social comparison orientation.  You may feel more distant from others, and therefore that their experiences are less relevant to yours.  You may also base friendships more on similarities of attitudes than membership in the same social and cultural groups.  Sometimes low levels of social comparison orientation are associated with reduced sensitivity to inequalities.

 

6.Iamnotthetypeofpersonwhocomparesoftenwithothers7.IfIwanttofindouthowwellIhavedonesomething,IcomparewhatIhavedonewithhowothershavedone8.IoftentrytofindoutwhatothersthinkwhofacesimilarproblemsasIface9.Ioftenliketotalkwithothersaboutmutualopinionsandexperiences10.Ineverconsidermysituationinliferelativetothatofotherpeople11.IoftencomparehowIamdoingsocially(e.g.,socialskills,popularity)withotherpeople

Camille Johnson, Ph.D. is a social psychologist and Associate Professor of Organization and Management at San Jose State University.

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