Warns that comparing oneself or loved ones to high achievers will
not encourage them to perform better. How role models can
By Camille Chatterjee published July 1, 1999 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016
Why aren't you more like your brother?." Mom only meant to motivate you when she compared you to your hotshot sibling. But she may have sealed your fate as an underachiever. Penelope Lockwood, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, asked college students to think about their accomplishments or the day's events. Next, half of the subjects read an article about a superstar student who now had a booming career--a potential mentor. The others read about a zoo. Subjects who'd read about the student and were "primed" with their former success rated themselves less positively and reported being less motivated than those who'd read about the zoo. While it's easy to imagine yourself as the next Michael Jordan or Madonna, Lockwood found, when we set their victories next to our own limited resumes we may realize that we can't reach their heights of success, leaving us feeling inferior.
Role models can motivate, she says, if they are people whose achievements we find realistically attainable. But comparing ourselves or our loved ones to high achievers won't shame us into performing better--it will likely leave us feeling worse.