Threat and Performance: Do Upward Social Comparisons Bolster Performance?

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


The Ohio State University

Research Projects

Organizational Units

Journal Issue


This investigation examines how upward social comparisons, comparing oneself to another who is perceived as better than oneself, affects performance. The self-evaluation maintenance model states that if a person is threatened by another in a certain domain, he may withdraw effort from that domain and then refocus on a different domain where he can outperform the other person (Tesser 1988). For this investigation, we used Johnson and Stapel’s (2007a, 2007b) procedure. Participants read about a successful student (either a freshman, senior, or a freshman with a disability) in either a verbal or science domain. Participants who read about a freshman, either with or without a disability, felt the freshman’s successes were unattainable on the same timetable. If a person does not believe he can achieve the same things as his comparison target, he feels threatened (Lockwood & Kunda, 1997). Participants then took the Remote Associates Task (RAT), a test of verbal and creative abilities. We found support for Tesser’s SEM model, such that participants who read about the science successful student and took the RAT (mismatched domains of comparison and testing) answered more RAT items correctly than participants who read about the verbal successful student (matched domains). Implications for using social comparisons in a beneficial manner and future directions of research are discussed.



social comparison, self evaluation maintenance model, performance, threat