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Social Comparison Theory Research Paper

With regards to questions about identity, the average person responds by comparing himself to others. However, it is important to point out that the person compares himself to people that are in his immediate vicinity. Comparisons are made based on unique attributes, such as, age, gender, eye color, and height.

Thus, the average person relies on distinguishing features in self-description (Kassin, Fein, & Markus, 2014). Interestingly, the answer to the question does not remain constant. If the interviewer has the power to change the person’s social surroundings, then, he must also expect a different set of answers based on the same questions.

Therefore, the self is a “relative” social construct (Kassin, Fein, & Markus, 2014). The significance of social comparison theory is in the idea that an individual has the capability to change his behavior, and how he perceives himself.

Defining Social Comparison Theory

The core concept of social comparison theory is the brainchild of Leon Festinger. He pointed out that a person belongs to a particular social group. Festinger added that the said social group influences a person’s opinion and abilities.

Social comparison theory asserts that a person’s self-description is dependent on information gleaned from observing family members, friends, acquaintances, and other important person in the lives of the interviewee. Festinger asserted that, “individuals adopted a group’s standards by comparing their own opinions, and abilities with the consensus in the group, and modifying their views so that they were in accordance with the group’s norms” (Krizan & Gibbons, 2014, p.39).

Festinger emphasized the idea that “individuals compare themselves to others in order to seek information about the world and their place in it” (Krizan & Gibbons, 2014, p.39). It is important to point out, that to some extent self-description is even influenced by the “fleeting, everyday exposure to strangers” (Kassin, Fein, & Markus, 2014, p.64).

Nevertheless, the average person compares himself to those who are similar to him in relevant ways. For example, a college student will determine his reading ability based on how he sees himself in comparison to other college students. He will not compare himself to high school students.

Significance of Social Comparison Theory

Social comparison theory’s biggest contribution is the discovery that “the more uncertain people are, the more they will rely on those comparison for definition and validation” (Gerber, 1999, p.173). As a consequence, “individuals resolve their uncertainties by reference to groups, and that group definition often comes from comparison with other groups (Gerber, 1999, p.173).

One of the problematic stages in personal development occurs during the teenage years when an individual is least uncertain and more vulnerable. Teenagers are prone to make choices that will negatively affect their future. It is therefore interesting to apply social comparison theory in crafting strategies that will help solve social problems involving teenagers.

There are a variety of ways that social scientists can apply insights gleaned from the study of social comparison theory. Two of the most exciting areas are in the study of gang-related violence, and the creation of more effective intervention strategies in cases involving alcoholism or drug addiction.

In this regard it is important to point out that the family is the “primary and most influential group for comparison, and for establishment of lifestyle” (Gerber, 1999, p.173). The focus must be on the family. It is imperative to support parents. It is imperative to focus resources to families in order to help parents build a strong family structure. Community resources must be redirected to the family.

When it comes to gang-related problems, it is imperative to consider the impact of the group when it comes to validation, and the establishment of the person’s lifestyle. It is therefore foolish to attempt reforming behavior without creating a mechanism that can help the individual receive positive validation and develop a different kind of lifestyle.

This is perhaps the reason why Alcoholics Anonymous is successful in helping people change their behavior towards the consumption of liquor. Alcoholics Anonymous created a new group or an environment filled with new social interconnections that help the individual create new social norms.


Social comparison theory has many applications. This theory offers insights when it comes to personal development and human behavior. However, one of the key aspects of social comparison theory is the way it explains how an individual’s self-description is influenced by social factors that surround him.

According to this theory, “self” is a relative construct. This is an interesting insight into human behavior and personal development. This theory can be utilized to solve social issues, such as, gang-related violence and drug addiction. It means that a person is dependent on social factors when it comes to altering behavior.

It is therefore important to strengthen family structures. In the struggle against gang-related violence and drug addiction, half the battle is already won if a child belongs to a family that can help him establish a positive lifestyle.

With regards to individuals that needed a way out of their troubled past, counselors and intervention specialists must develop a mechanism that will enable patients to generate positive validation. They need a mechanism that will help them establish a new kind of lifestyle.

It can be argued that Alcoholics Anonymous is successful in helping people overcome destructive behavior, because they create a new environment that helps patients alter their “self” construct in a positive way.


Gerber, S. (1999). Enhancing counselor intervention strategies: An integrational viewpoint. PA: Taylor & Francis Group.

Kassin, S., Fein, S., & Markus, H. (2014). Social psychology. CA: Cengage Learning.

Krizan, Z. & Gibbons, F. (2014). Communal functions of social comparison. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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"Social Comparison Theory." IvyPanda, 22 June 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/social-comparison-theory/.

1. IvyPanda. "Social Comparison Theory." June 22, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/social-comparison-theory/.


IvyPanda. "Social Comparison Theory." June 22, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/social-comparison-theory/.


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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Social Comparison Theory'. 22 June.

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