Strategies of social comparison among people with low self-esteem: self-protection and self-enhancement

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1994 Oct;67(4):713-31. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.67.4.713.


People with low self-esteem (LSE) seem to focus on self-protection; rather than trying to achieve gains for their self-esteem, they try to avoid losses. This research examined, in a social comparison context, the hypothesis that LSEs seek self-enhancement when they have an opportunity that is "safe," that is, carrying little risk of humiliation. Experiments 1 and 2 indicated that LSEs sought the most social comparisons after receiving success feedback, whereas high-self-esteem Ss (HSEs) sought the most comparisons after failure. Further results suggested that LSEs who succeeded were seizing a safe means of self-enhancement and that HSEs who failed were seeking to compensate for the failure. Also supporting this interpretation for LSEs was Experiment 3, in which LSEs who succeeded sought the most comparisons when such comparisons promised to be favorable. All three studies illustrate the value of a new measure of social comparison selection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Choice Behavior
  • Defense Mechanisms*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Risk-Taking
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Perception*