Comparison (Part II) We all do it. But, Why?


For the second part of my three-part blog series on comparison, I want to explore social comparison on a deeper level.

The main question that I want to answer is . . .


We compare ourselves to others for many reasons.

One reason we compare ourselves to others is to get to know ourselves better. By using social comparison, we are able to gauge our strengths and weaknesses, our likes and dislikes.

We also use social comparison to evaluate ourselves, make decisions, get inspiration, and to regulate our emotions (Vogel, Rose, Roberts, Eckles, 2014).

I know I compare how others run their businesses, and make a decision on whether to use the same technique with my own.

I also gain inspiration from those who have been in business longer. I want to learn how they have done it and implement some of their practices into my own business.

The Social Comparison Theory suggests that we determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against others. As a result, we are constantly making self and other evaluations across a variety of contexts.

This type of evaluation is part of being human.  

When there is an absence of an objective measure, we look to subjective measures in the form of comparing ourselves to others to find out how we are doing.

This is the way we measure success.

But even if there is an objective measure to compare ourselves against, we still need others to gain an understanding of how we measure up.

An example could be found in running. You know that you ran a mile in 8 minutes. That is an objective measure: time. But you don’t know if that means you are a strong runner or just average. You must know others’ times in order to determine your own standing.

Now this is simply an example, I can’t help but put my coaching hat on and think that there is no need to compare yourself to others but we do it without even knowing it.  

If you were to compare your mile time with an Olympic athlete that would be an upwards comparison. With upward comparison, we are comparing ourselves to people that are “better” than we are.

However, if you were to compare yourself to someone who ran a 10-minute mile that would be a downward comparison. Downward comparison is when we compare ourselves to people who are “not as good” as we are.

These two types of comparison affect us very differently.

Research has shown that upward comparisons tend to negatively affect our mood or our state of mind. While downward comparisons tend to make us feel better in terms of our affect and improving our self-evaluation.  

Downward comparison increases pride.  It could also be a way of increasing thankfulness by allowing us to appreciate our lives. But, there is a more direct route of gratitude is available to us rather than comparing to others.  

Downward social comparison has also been found to have a strong relationship with burnout or emotional exhaustion, due to its short-term nature.

Results are a bit more mixed when it comes to upward comparison. Sometimes upward comparison can motivate or inspire us, but more times than not, we tend to feel inadequate and experience negative affect (Vogel, Rose, Roberts, Eckles, 2014).

Social media has shown to be a prime stop for upward comparison.

People who are more often on social media, are more likely to have upward comparisons and in turn feel worse (Vogel, Rose, Roberts, Eckles, 2014). In that same study, self-esteem was negatively affected for people who were exposed to social media (Vogel, Rose, Roberts, Eckles, 2014).  

Using Facebook, people often think that other are happier and more successful than they are, especially when they do not see those people offline.

But how can we stop engaging in this behavior?

It has been suggested that comparison is an unavoidable human trait and that we rely on it for an evaluation of ourselves against social environments. It provides information about our current situation.

If I have learned anything from my studies, awareness is key. Just notice when you start comparing yourself to another. By becoming aware of the social comparison and the negative thoughts that come up you will be ready to take them on.

In the next post, I am going to dive deeper into how to better deal with social comparison and what others say. Hopefully understanding the science behind it will make you feel a bit better. Social comparison–we all do it. But I want to find ways to work with our innate human traits to be happier, healthy human beings.

Just remember, be kind to myself as you build your awareness. 

Megan P^2


Vogel, E. A., Rose, J. P., Roberts, L. R., & Eckles, K. (2014). Social comparison, social media, and self-esteem. Psychology of Popular Media Culture3(4), 206-222.