As social beings, humans can't live solely on their own. They need other people to fulfill not only their physical needs but also emotional and social needs through relationships. The fact that humans are connected through relationships opens up the opportunity for social comparison to existing. The comparisons can be in any aspect of life, including but not limited to achievements, education, wealth, and status.
In the status quo, with the rising use of social media, social comparison within the life of individuals is becoming more real and near. Chou and Edge (2012) found that people tend to compare their realistic offline selves to the idealized online selves of others. This condition makes a lot of research tries to determine the correlation between social media and social comparison to the self-esteem and well-being of individuals.
The idea of social comparison itself was firstly explained by a social psychologist, Leon Festinger. Through the social comparison theory, he created a hypothesis that there is a drive within individuals to evaluate his opinions and abilities by comparison respectively with the opinions and abilities of others (Festinger, 1954). Festinger also stated that people have the desire to know themselves and gain an accurate self-view. Therefore, they seek informative feedback about their characteristics and abilities by comparing themselves to other people.
In terms of comparison, people tend to compare themselves with others that have some similarity attributes (Goethals and Darley, 1977). For example, you are detected as an eighteen years old teen that is talented in singing. Comparing yourself to Mariah Carey won't explain much about your singing ability because of the age and condition differences that exist. However, comparing yourself to your peers with approximately the same age and condition can explain how far is your singing ability.
The motives behind social comparison can be so diverse, including but not limited to seek for self-enhancement and self-evaluation. It is also affected by the types of social comparison. There are two types of social comparison, namely upward and downward comparison. Upward comparison occurs when an individual compare themselves with others who are better or superior to them. On the other side, downward comparison occurs when an individual compare themselves with others that they consider are worse of inferior to them. Depending on personal preferences, the type of comparison chosen by an individual can create adverse effects on his/her life.
Consequences of Social Comparison to The Self
As social comparison can affect well-being, it can be hypothesized that social comparison can affect the performance level of an individual. Therefore, this writing will try to analyze the impact of both upward and downward social comparison to the performance level of individuals. The performance level can be seen from the efforts and productivity given by individuals to the work they are doing.
In terms of academic performance, social comparison does affect the performance of the students. Buunk et al. (2005) found that students tend to compare themselves through upward comparison with their peers. This founding is concerning because research done by Miki Toyama (2009) found that upward comparison can generate a two-sided effect.
On one hand, upward social comparison can lead students to a more inspiring effect. This condition will make them give more effort into studying, hence create a positive effect on their academic performance. However, on the other hand, upward social comparison can create resentment and humiliation in students. This condition would cause avoidant behavior in students that will lead to a significant negative effect on academic performance.
In the workplace, the social comparison also affects the performance of employees. A research done by Francesca Gino and Bradley R. Staats (2011) tries to find the impact of social comparison to employees' performance through 4 types of feedback. Using a field experiment at a Japanese Bank, the results stated that negative feedback does alter the behavior of the employee. Meanwhile, positive feedback does not significantly affect performance. An interesting fact shown by this research is that there is a contrast of result between direct and indirect negative feedback. Direct negative feedback leads to improvement in employees' performance. However, indirect negative feedback worsens the employees' productivity level. Nevertheless, both persistent negative and positive feedback does lead to an improvement in employees' performance.