Dare to Compare: Social, Temporal and Dimensional Comparisons
Posted by Stephane Gaskin PhD on Feb 16, 2014
Dare to Compare: social, temporal and dimensional comparisons was written by Stephane Gaskin PhD.
Social Comparison Theory
In the 1950s psychologist Leon Festinger proposed social-comparison theory to explain how the concept we hold of ourselves is partly dependent on how we compare ourselves to other people. Social comparisons play an important role in motivation and achievement. We often use social comparisons to set goals and to acquire role models. We also use social comparisons to feel better about ourselves in times when we have low self-esteem. You are engaging in an upward social comparison when you attempt to match a model that has qualities that you desire or that is more highly performing than you are. You are engaged in a downward social comparison when you want to feel better about yourself in the face of a shortcoming or a perceived lack of skill.
Both upward and downward social comparisons can be used to help you achieve your goals. You use upward comparisons when you want to improve yourself, by trying to find out how someone else has achieved a goal that is similar to your own goals. In other words, an upward social comparison can give rise to the question: “What am I missing that this person has, that would help me get there? Or “What resource that I presently possess can be used in a more productive way?”
A downward comparison can be used to better be able to put things in perspective. This is the “things can be worse” statement or “I can be grateful for what I have.” This does not imply that you don’t need to keep striving forward but that you may be starting at a level that would be desirable to others. However, as discussed in a previous post, one must be careful at the size of the gap that exists within an upward social comparison. A role model that is too out of reach can have negative effects.
Temporal Comparison Theory
Social comparison theory focuses on external or interpersonal comparisons. However, comparisons also occur internally or at the intrapersonal level across time periods. We compare the way we are now with the way were some time ago and to what we might become in the future. This is what, in the 1970s, psychologist Stuart Albert called temporal comparisons. Temporal comparisons are what permit you to keep track of your progress and where you may be heading. Comparisons across time points are very important in determining whether there is evidence that you are making progress towards your goals. They also permit you to compare your present situation with a vision of your own future, permitting you to adjust your behavior accordingly.
Psychologist Jens Moller draws our attention to the fact that within the realm of intrapersonal comparisons we compare our abilities in one domain to our abilities in another domain. For example, “I am good in math but terrible in languages.” We sometimes use such comparisons to regulate our moods. For example, you make yourself feel better when you say, “I am not good in sports but at least I am good in school, this means I am smart.” How can this information be used to help you reach your goals? Sometimes you can find out what you do to be successful in one domain and apply it to another domain in which you feel inferior.
So here you go. Have fun! Dare to compare. Think of all the comparisons (social temporal and dimensional) you make and how they can be helpful in your quest for achieving your goals.
Dimensional Comparison Theory, Möller J, Marsh HW. Psychol Rev. 2013 Jul;120(3):544-60. doi: 10.1037/a0032459. Pub 2013 Apr 1.
Stephane Gaskin PhD
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Category: Goal Setting