You never compare alone: How social consensus and comparative context affect self-evaluation

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Abstract

Three studies address the role of social consensus on evaluative standards in different comparative contexts. Previous research has documented that self-categorisation at the individual or group level changes social comparison effects in terms of assimilation and contrast. With regard to self-ratings of physical attractiveness, the present studies show that people who focus on group membership can benefit from including outstanding others in their reference group, whereas people who focus on their individual attributes run the risk of self-devaluation. It is argued that high consensus strengthens the association between evaluative standards and group membership and renders the inclusion of outstanding others more likely. Study 3 shows that the need to protect self-esteem moderates the influence of perceived consensus. Stressing the individual self led participants who received negative feedback to exclude outstanding others when consensus was low. Stressing the social self, however, led participants to include outstanding others when consensus was high.

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