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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Exploring the implications of construal level for social comparison theory
by Bruchmann, Kathryn Irene Gaetz, Ph.D., The University of Iowa, 2013, 130; 3711082
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines the relationship between two social psychological theories: Social Comparison Theory (Festinger, 1954) and Construal Level Theory (Liberman & Trope, 1998). More specifically, this research assesses how a person's level of mental abstraction (i.e., construal level) might influence the way social comparison information from individuals or aggregates is used to form self-evaluations. Typically, comparison information from individuals (versus information about aggregates) is given disproportionate weight when forming self-evaluations; in other words, there is a "local" (i.e., individual) dominance effect in the utilization of social comparison information (e.g., Zell & Alicke, 2010). It is predicted that with greater mental abstraction (i.e., higher construal level), this tendency will be reversed, and instead comparison information from aggregates will be relied upon more when evaluating the self. In other words, abstract mindsets (versus concrete mindsets) should result in a "global" (i.e., aggregate) dominance effect in the weighting of social comparison information.

Six studies examine the influence of construal level on the use of aggregate versus individual social comparison information. Two pilot studies provide initial evidence that abstract mindsets lead to a global dominance effect. The generalizability of these effects is tested by providing comparison feedback on different tasks (Study 1 and Study 4), testing the influence of different construal mindset manipulations (Study 2), as well as manipulating the psychological distance (an antecedent of construal level; e.g., Trope and Liberman, 2003) of social comparison targets (Studies 3 - 4). Additionally, the relative weighting of individual versus aggregate comparison targets is directly tested by comparing self-evaluations with only aggregate comparison information, and with both aggregate and individual comparison information (Study 2 and Study 4).

Results across all studies indicate that while social comparisons with better off or worse off targets typically result in robust effects, evidence of local dominance and effects of construal manipulations are much more subtle. Theoretical implications for Social Comparison Theory and Construal Level Theory and practical implications are discussed.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Suls, Jerry
Commitee: Clark, Jason, Lovaglia, Michael, Todd, Andrew, Windschitl, Paul
School: The University of Iowa
Department: Psychology
School Location: United States -- Iowa
Source: DAI-B 76/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Psychology
Keywords: Construal level, Local dominance, Psychological distance, Self-evaluations, Social comparison
Publication Number: 3711082
ISBN: 978-1-321-87141-8
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