Exploring the association of social comparison with depression and anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Clin Psychol Psychother. 2020 Sep;27(5):640-671. doi: 10.1002/cpp.2452. Epub 2020 Apr 13.


Research has highlighted the role of social comparison processes in varying affect and psychological wellbeing. These processes can provide greater insight into cognitions and behaviours related to depression and anxiety disorders. This review aimed to examine the relationship of social comparison with depression and anxiety in clinically relevant samples, using a process-based approach. Studies of clinical and subclinical populations that utilized observational or experimental social comparison assessment were considered for review. A systematic literature search in Medline and PsycInfo databases produced 54 relevant studies (49 studies on adults and five on child and adolescent populations), 14 of which were suitable for a meta-analysis. A meta-analysis of the association of social comparison evaluation with depression and anxiety in clinical populations revealed weighted correlations of -0.53 and - 0.39, respectively. No subclinical studies were included in a meta-analysis due to a lack of comparable outcomes. Evidence suggests differences between depression and anxiety disorders in information seeking, where frequency and diversity of social comparisons vary; however, studies comparing disorders are lacking. Heterogeneity of experimental studies precluded inclusion in a meta-analysis. A narrative review of experimental data indicated depression and anxiety status is related to reactions to upward comparisons in the domains of affect and behaviour, where individual differences in evaluation can determine affective reactions and how comparison information is further sought. This review suggests social comparison has a significant association with depression and anxiety. However, the limited number of studies with clinical populations necessitates further research on social comparison processes in clinical samples.

Keywords: anxiety; depression; meta-analysis; social comparison; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Social Comparison*