Understanding the Mechanics of Comparisons

Understanding the mechanics of comparisons provides valuable insights into human behavior. By recognizing the inevitability of comparisons, their directional nature, and the factors that intensify their impact, we can navigate the complexities of social interactions and self-evaluation more effectively. Being aware of the role comparisons play in collaboration, competition, and emotional well-being empowers us to engage in healthier comparisons and make choices that support our personal growth and fulfillment.

Josh Ether

2/8/20192 min read

Comparisons play a vital role in helping us make sense of the world around us. They assist us in evaluating our experiences, such as determining whether we had a fulfilling vacation, if our salary is satisfactory, or if we need to make changes in our lives, such as renovating our kitchen or purchasing a new car. Comparisons provide a framework for attributing meaning to the various outcomes we encounter.

Key Characteristics of Comparisons:

  1. Inevitability: All individuals engage in comparisons to some extent. While the frequency may vary, comparing ourselves to others or to our past selves is a natural tendency. These comparisons aid in understanding our circumstances and can evoke a range of emotions, motivating or disheartening us.

  2. Directionality: Comparisons can be upward or downward. Upward comparisons involve looking at individuals who have achieved more or possess more desirable attributes, which can inspire us or create feelings of inadequacy. Downward comparisons, on the other hand, involve evaluating ourselves favorably compared to those who are less accomplished, providing contentment but lacking motivation.

  3. External and Internal Comparisons: We often compare ourselves to others in our social circles, such as neighbors, relatives, or colleagues. Additionally, we engage in internal comparisons, reflecting on our personal growth or evaluating our own potential. Both external and internal comparisons contribute to our self-perception and drive our behaviors.

Intensifying Comparisons: The impact of comparisons can vary based on three dimensions: similarity, proximity, and self-relevance.

  1. Similarity: Comparisons are most influential when we perceive a strong resemblance between ourselves and the individuals we compare ourselves to. This similarity can be observed in close friends, siblings, or individuals from the same cohort. The more alike we feel, the more impactful the comparison becomes.

  2. Proximity: Comparisons intensify when they involve individuals in close physical proximity, such as neighbors or classmates. Proximity fosters rivalries and amplifies the impact of comparisons.

  3. Self-Relevance: Comparisons that are relevant to our own goals, aspirations, or interests have a more significant impact. When a comparison aligns with something we genuinely care about, such as career advancement or a personal passion, its effects become more pronounced.

Behavioral Implications of Comparisons: Comparisons influence various aspects of our behavior:

  1. Collaboration and Competition: Comparisons can shape our collaborative or competitive tendencies when interacting with others. They can either foster cooperation or hinder collaboration, depending on the outcomes of the comparisons. For example, discovering that someone else is more successful financially might hinder collaboration, while finding similarities can enhance collaboration.

  2. Retreat or Withdrawal: Comparisons that evoke negative emotions or lead to feelings of inferiority can prompt individuals to withdraw from certain situations or relationships to escape the distress caused by invidious comparisons.