Social comparison or utility: An experimental examination

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Jacov Rofe
Isaac Lewin
Cite this article:  Rofe, J., & Lewin, I. (1988). Social comparison or utility: An experimental examination. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 16(1), 5-10.


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Emotional comparison theory was contrasted with utility theory (Rote, 1984) in an analysis of effects of stress on affiliation in a laboratory setting. The former theory argues that par-ticipants tend to affiliate with others at a similar level of fear since this permits satisfaction of the emotional comparison need. Utility theory, however, suggests that affiliation tendency should decrease when this is likely to increase feelings of embarrassment and negative emotional contagion. In an attempt to examine this hypothesis, 3 experimental manipulations were designed. The first situation was a replication of the main features of Schachter’s study, while the second and third were intended to decrease the utility value of affiliation, and, at the same time to maintain or even increase the opportunity for social comparison. In these 2 new experimental conditions participants were told that the shocks would be given immediately rather than deferred. In the third condition participants were also told that their physiological reactions would be projected on a screen, so that they could be publicly compared with others. Consistent with the utility theory, results showed that these 2 latter fear conditions resulted in a marked decrease in the affiliation tendency for males but not females.


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