Current and former depression and their relationship to the effects of social comparison processes. Results of an internet based study

J Affect Disord. 2006 Jul;93(1-3):97-103. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2006.02.017. Epub 2006 Mar 6.


Background: According to cognitive vulnerability stress models of depression, negative cognitions are supposed to be stable characteristics of depressed individuals even between depressive episodes. Depressed people also interpret social information more negatively than healthy people, perhaps even between depressive episodes. Frequency of social comparison processes is correlated with low self-esteem and uncertainty, which is common in depression.

Questions: Do people with lifetime depressive episodes engage in social comparisons more often and do they react more negatively to an upward comparison than normal controls? And if they do, is this just due to current depressive symptoms?

Method: A questionnaire including the BDI II was administered as an internet link to all students or employees of a large University. 913 participants responded. After assessing social comparison orientation we used an upward comparison paradigm by asking the participants to compare themselves with a better-off person on several dimensions. Finally lifetime and current depressive symptoms were assessed.

Results: Depressed persons engage in social comparison processes more often than normal controls. Positive affect decreased in the whole sample as a reaction of to social comparison. This effect was stronger among persons with at least one depressive episode in the past, and this was not just due to current depression.

Conclusion: Depressed persons engage more often in social comparison processes and they additionally react more negatively to upward comparisons than healthy controls. The result that even those not currently depressed with lifetime depressive episodes show a similar negative reaction to an upward comparison indicates that social comparisons are situations that interact with a stable cognitive vulnerability leading to negative affect and stronger negative reactions.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease
  • Culture*
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Dominance-Subordination*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Negativism*
  • Personality Inventory
  • Recurrence
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Concept
  • Social Perception*