Social Comparison Theory

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Alternate name(s)


Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)


Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)

Upward and downward comparisons

Concise description of theory

As per social comparison theory, an individual determines his/her social and personal worth by constantly comparing with others. According to Festinger, comparison with others who are more similar gives more accurate appraisals of one’s capabilities and beliefs.

This comparison will result in either assimilation or contrast. An assimilation happens when the conclusion is made that one’s characteristics are similar to the other. When the conclusion of comparison is that one’s characteristics do not match with the other, there is a contrast position. Comparisons can be of two types: upward and downward comparisons. The upward comparison is when a person compares with a person who is better than himself/herself. On the other hand, the downward comparison is when a person compares with a person who is worse than himself/herself.

Upward comparisons with a person slightly better than oneself are associated with self-improvement motivations. On the contrary, downward comparisons with a person slightly worse than oneself are associated with self-enhancement (self-esteem). As per Buunk and Gibbons (2007), autonomy in a situation increases the probability of assimilating with an upward reference point (self-improvement) while lack of autonomy increases the probability of downward comparison (avoiding failure).

Diagram/schematic of theory


Originating author(s)

Leon Festinger

Seminal articles

Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human relations, 7(2), 117-140.

Goethals, G. R. (1986). Social comparison theory: Psychology from the lost and found. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 12(3), 261-278.

Originating area


Level of analysis


IS articles that use the theory

Krasnova, H., Widjaja, T., Buxmann, P., Wenninger, H., & Benbasat, I. (2015). Research note—why following friends can hurt you: an exploratory investigation of the effects of envy on social networking sites among college-age users. Information systems research, 26(3), 585-605.

Heo, M., & Toomey, N. (2016). Supporting sustained willingness to share knowledge with visual feedback. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 388-396.

Matthews, N. L., Lynch, T., & Martins, N. (2016). Real ideal: Investigating how ideal and hyper-ideal video game bodies affect men and women. Computers in Human Behavior, 59, 155-164.

Hendrickse, J., Arpan, L. M., Clayton, R. B., & Ridgway, J. L. (2017). Instagram and college women's body image: investigating the roles of appearance-related comparisons and intrasexual competition. Computers in Human Behavior, 74, 92-100.

Kim, J. W., & Chock, T. M. (2015). Body image 2.0: Associations between social grooming on Facebook and body image concerns. Computers in Human Behavior, 48, 331-339.

Chae, J. (2017). Virtual makeover: Selfie-taking and social media use increase selfie-editing frequency through social comparison. Computers in Human Behavior, 66, 370-376.

Lee, S. Y. (2014). How do people compare themselves with others on social network sites?: The case of Facebook. Computers in Human Behavior, 32, 253-260.

Haferkamp, N., & Krämer, N. C. (2011). Social comparison 2.0: Examining the effects of online profiles on social-networking sites. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(5), 309-314.

Links from this theory to other theorie

Cognitive Dissonance Theory

External links

Original Contributor(s)

Jithesh A

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