SOCIAL COMPARISON OR UTILITY: AN EXPERIMENTAL EXAMINATION

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Abstract:

Emotional comparison theory was contrasted with the utility theory (Rote, 1984) in an analysis of effects of stress on affiliation in a laboratory setting. The former theory argues that subjects tend to affiliate with others at a similar level of fear since this permits satisfaction of the emotional comparison need. Utility theory, however, suggests that affiliation tendency should decrease when this is likely to increase feelings of embarrassment and negative emotional contagion. In an attempt to examine this hypothesis, three experimental manipulations were designed. The first situation was a replication of the main features of Schachter's study, while the second and third were intended to decrease the utility value of affiliation, and, at the same time to maintain or even increase the opportunity for social comparison. In these two new experimental conditions subjects were told that the shocks would be given immediately rather than deferred. In the third condition subjects were also told that their physiological reactions would be projected on a screen, so that they could be publicly compared with others. Consistent with the utility theory, results showed that these two latter fear conditions resulted in a marked decrease in the affiliation tendency for males but not females.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2224/sbp.1988.16.1.5

Publication date: January 1, 1988

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