We all like to believe that our self-worth is something we determine on our own. It is after all called self-worth.
Then why do we so often feel compelled to compare ourselves to others? We do it with our looks, our grades, our performance, our income and raises. And we do it between neighbors or friends (e.g. keeping up with the Joneses) and within our families (e.g. will we do better than our parents?)
The sociological term for this is social comparison theory. Initially it was believed that the primary reason people do this is to gain an accurate self-evaluation. The more we compare ourselves to others, the more sure we can be about our own sense of self.
More recently, there has been focus on the types of social comparison; upward vs. downward. The idea being that we compare ourselves downward to feel better about our selves and we compare upward to motivate us to do better.
The power and implications of social comparison are significant. Some have theorized that the recent election was swayed by a large percentage of the population whose frustration is not just because their own situation hasn’t improved but that compared to their parents or others they once considered beneath them it now feels worse.
Recently, I had my own lesson is social comparison at work.
Last week we launched, Your American Dream Score, a simple quiz to assess what you had working for or against you in life. As part of our online efforts to spread the word, several messages were tested. Most were about self-exploration – “find your score”, “see what was working for you”, etc. But one utilized social comparison. It said, “Abraham Lincoln’s score was 81 and George Washington’s was 54. Find yours.”
The result was the Social Comparison message outperformed all others by more than 300%, regardless of the audience being targeted. People were interested in learning about themselves but significantly more interested in how they compared to George and Abe.
If you’d like to conduct a little experiment of your own, try this:
- Take 5 minutes and find Your American Dream Score.
- Share it on Facebook (your score will automatically pop up but all other information is hidden from others).
- In your post, either tag friends or include a message suggesting others find their score.
What happens next? If previous experience holds true, your friends will start to post their scores in your feed, essentially comparing themselves to your score.
The good news, depending upon how they compare to you, you will have helped them either feel better about themselves or motivated them to do better moving forward.
Either way, consider it your good deed for the day.