Sunday, February 17, 2013

Experiment About Social Comparison

This article discusses experiments done to either prove or disprove prior research that people use local social comparison information more than general social comparison information when both are given. In the first study, students received their exam grades and were either told or not told the average score. In the second study, laboratory participants received feedback indicating favorable, unfavorable, or no information about general standing.

In class we discussed the various research methods used in psychology. An experiment allows the researcher to control the situation and identify cause and effect. However, the situation is artificial, and results may not generalize well to the real world. I think in this experiment though, the effects are very true to real life.

The experiment focused on how we evaluate our attributes, opinions and abilities by comparing ourselves to others. These comparisons have varying consequences on cognition and behavior, and according to recent studies, local social comparisons with a few immediate peers overshadow general comparisons. This can be seen in students who compare their exam scores with those of their classmates even when they know the average score on a test or with employees who compare their salaries with their co-workers' even if they are provided with information about the typical compensation of employees at the company.

However, the experiment proved that although people continue to seek local comparison with peers, they are substantially less likely to do so when they already knew the average. This is important for teachers who want to keep students from being uncertain and anxious about test scores. By simply providing the average score, they allow students to find out where they stand without having to consult their peers.

As a student for the past sixteen years, I've felt anxious when receiving back a grade because I don't know where I stand. When it is a test, often the teacher will often provide the average, especially when the class did poorly overall. But when it comes to critiques and more subjective grading, there is really no way for them to do that so often I'll ask other students how they did to see if I did poorly. For example, I had a professor who gave everyone in the class a B. At first, I thought I had done poorly because I'd always gotten A's before then until I consulted my peers and realized that I did just as well, if not better, than everyone else. I think providing some type of way to measure yourself against the class quells anxiety and keeps students motivated to continue doing well or work harder and do better next time.

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