Factors determining choice of a comparison other

Ladd Wheeler, Kelly G. Shaver, Russell A. Jones, George R. Goethals, Joel Cooper, James E. Robinson, Charles L. Gruder, Kent W. Butzine

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Subjects were tested in groups of nine for the presence of the positively valued trait of intellectual flexibility (Pos conditions) or the negatively valued trait of intellectual rigidity (Neg conditions). The subjects were told the approximate range of the group's test scores (R conditions) or they were not told the range (NR conditions). After the tests were scored, all subjects were told that they ranked fifth in the group of nine and were given their own scores. In the first variation of the experiment, the subjects were then asked to indicate which other score in the group (according to rank) they would most like to see. The subjects were then asked to indicate a second choice. It was predicted that: (1) NR subjects would attempt to determine the range by first choosing the highest numerical score, and (2) among R subjects, those in the Pos condition would choose a higher score for their first choice, while those in the Neg condition would choose a lower score, both groups thus comparing in the positively valued direction, and (3) among R subjects, the most frequent choice in the positively valued direction would be of the most similar other. All predictions were supported. In the second variation, the subjects were asked to indicate which other person in the group they would like as an interaction partner later in the hour. As in the first experiment, a second choice was also obtained. The strongest tendency was for subjects to choose the two most extreme others in the positively valued direction, although there was also a significant tendency to choose the two most similar others, as well as the best and worst others. When choosing a referent person for comparison, an individual's first need is to determine the boundaries of the scale. Given the scale boundaries, he attempts to confirm similarity with those better off and then to confirm dissimilarity with those worse off. The necessity of interacting publicly with the referent person increases choice of the most "attractive" others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-232
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1969
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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