Social Comparison Processes: Implications for Physical Health

Jerry Suls

in The Oxford Handbook of Health Psychology

Published in print August 2011 | ISBN: 9780195342819
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Social Comparison Processes: Implications for Physical Health


Social comparisons in the physical health domain can serve several motives, including self-evaluation, self-enhancement, and the finding of common bonds. Comparisons may be made with actual people, media role models, or with implicit “created-in-the-head” norms. Such norms, including the false consensus effect and unrealistic optimism, can undermine health-promotive practices. Comparisons also affect the interpretation of ambiguous somatic changes that might be indicative of physical illness. Symptom appraisal via comparison is discussed in the context of the lay referral network and mass psychogenic illness. Experiencing acute or chronic illness produces uncertainty and threat, which elicit both self-evaluation and self-enhancement motives. These instigate comparisons, leading to assimilation or contrast with better- or worse-off or more knowledgeable targets. Implications of social comparison research and theory for public health campaigns and medical practice are discussed.

Keywords: Social comparison; unrealistic optimism; false consensus effect; upward comparison; downward comparison; social support groups; self-enhancement; self-evaluation

Article.  8786 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Health Psychology

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