What leads people to select an upward or a downward social comparison after a threat? This experiment examines a basic interpretation proposed in the literature according to which, in a threatening situation, the choice of direction for a social comparison, upward or downward,
depends on the self-improvement or self-enhancement goals pursued by the subjects. The results provide empirical support for this interpretation and show that diagnostic information about the target can change the direction of social comparison. Indeed, when the diagnostic information allows
subjects to hold out some hope of improvement, they prefer an upward rather than a downward comparison. Conversely, when no improvement is possible, a downward comparison is preferred. This study suggests that the role of diagnostic information should be more closely examined when studying
variations in the choices of direction of comparison as a function of the subjects' comparison goals.