Several themes characterize Stephen's research program: competition, social comparison, and judgment and decision making.Stephen's research has also uncovered various behavioral phenomena including the N-effect, the status signals paradox, the presenter's paradox, the implicit bystander effect, ranks and rivals, the social comparison bias, people accounting, the aversion to winner-take-all solutions, the hierarchical face, and how a repeated voice can sound like a chorus.
Making friends is critical to well-being. We also live in a society where the display of status is ubiquitous and billions of dollars are spent on high-status consumer goods. In the present analysis, we introduce the Status Signals Paradox: When making new friends, people tend to think that displaying high-status markers of themselves (e.g., a BMW, a Tag Heuer watch) will make them more attractive to others than neutral markers (e.g., a Honda, a generic brand watch); however, from the perspective of would-be friends, individuals who display high-status markers are found to be less attractive as new friends than those with neutral status markers. Six studies provide converging evidence of the status signals paradox.
This chapter provides an overview of the interplay between social comparison and competition before, during, and after the competition. We define competition broadly to include an act or process of competition, explicit or implicit, and link it to basic social comparison processes. Before the competition, we consider the lessons of the social comparison literature on motives, individual differences, cultural and social norms, and competition entry decisions. We then review relevant findings on the role of individual factors (personal and relational) as well as situational factors that affect motivation and competitive behavior during the competition. Finally, the chapter examines the social comparison literature on downward comparison, upward comparison, and competition re-entry decisions after the competition.
When does adding mildly favorable information (e.g., job experience at the Railway Credit Union) alongside highly favorable (e.g., job experience at Goldman Sachs) increase versus decrease the impressiveness of one’s achievement? We posit that whether a package of information (e.g., a resume) is evaluated by itself—in separate evaluation—or side-by-side with another package—in joint evaluation—matters. Across a variety of organizational contexts, four studies show that people “average” in separate evaluation and “add” in joint evaluation. Consequently, mildly favorable information hurts in separate evaluation but helps in joint evaluation. Studies 1 and 2 demonstrated these effects among persons with expertise (e.g., law professors judging law faculty candidates) and hiring experience. Study 3 examined a linear pattern prediction and showed that each piece of mildly favorable information included in a package linearly added to the overall impression in joint evaluation but linearly detracted from judgments of the same target in separate evaluation. Finally, Study 4 traced these differences in evaluative judgments to a shift in reference points brought about by evaluation mode. Implications for the organization specifically and our understanding of judgment and decision making processes more generally are considered.
We explore whether employees compare their pay to the pay of others in a similarly prestigious occupation and, if so, whether this comparison has a negative impact on pay satisfaction. Using an experimental vignette methodology, Study 1 found that people are more inclined to compare with others from a similar or identical occupation and that comparison negatively impacts pay satisfaction. This comparison and its negative effect is particularly strong in high-prestige occupations. Based on survey data, Study 2 also showed that the average pay of others in occupations of similar prestige is negatively correlated with employees’ pay satisfaction. This negative correlation was also stronger in higherprestige occupations. Our analysis highlights the importance of occupational prestige as a main factor influencing pay comparison.
Would you rather be the Big Frog in a Small Pond or the Small Frog in a Big Pond? In three studies, we demonstrate that the entry preference depends on culture. Study 1 found a higher Big Pond preference for East Asian, versus European American, students. Study 2A and 2B replicated this Big Pond preference in behavioral intent across educational and organizational settings for Chinese, as compared to U.S., working adults. Study 3 demonstrated cultural variation in Frog-Pond decisions was not explained by comparison processes that characterize post-entry decisions, but rather by concerns for prestige. Together, findings highlight how a cultural lens informs psychological processes that shape entry decision-making.
In a series of eight studies, we examine whether gender differences in competition entry preferences are moderated by the size of the competition. Drawing on theories of gender roles and stereotypes, we show that women, relative to men, prefer to enter smaller compared to larger competitions. Studies 1a and 1b demonstrate this effect in observational data on preferences for working in differently-sized firms and applying to differently-sized colleges. Studies 2a and 2b replicate the effect with real behavioral decisions in different domains. We also find empirical evidence that prescriptive gender norms and stereotypes underlie this effect. In Study 3, we find experimental evidence that women and men differ in their preferences for differently-sized groups under competition, but not in non-competitive settings. Three additional experimental studies (Studies 4, 5a, and 5b) show that perceptions of comfort in small versus larger competitions underlie women’s preferences. These findings suggest that women’s preferences for smaller competitions may be driven by an adherence to prescriptive gender norms. We discuss the implications of the current findings for gender inequalities in organizations.
Three studies showed that the way that options are presented in a choice set—as combinations of intersecting attributes or in a more sequential “a la carte” choice format—affects the degree to which consumers adhere to their goals in the consumption setting. Specifically, using the context of food consumption and healthy eating, results showed that consumers were more likely to make double indulgent choices, the choice of both an indulgent entrée and an indulgent side item, when choosing from a menu consisting of predetermined “combination meals” than when selecting among the same entrée and side options in an a la carte fashion. Studies 2 and 3 implicated a goal distraction mechanism in driving the effect; the combination format, with its cross cutting of product choices into various combinations, reduces the salience of goal-related constructs on implicit measures. In showing that different product presentation formats can affect the degree to which consumers make goal-consistent choices, the current work adds to work on the effects of environmental influences on goal progress and goal achievement. Implications for encouraging goal-consistent behavior in the context of healthy eating as well as other important consumer goal contexts are discussed.
Across four studies, we show that experts’ efforts to strengthen the persuasiveness of health and civic duty-related appeals actually weakened them. When design- ing “Top 10” reasons lists to get people to quit smoking, encourage young people to vote, and persuade individuals to engage in fitness, governmental (studies 1–2) and non-profit (study 3) agencies chose to include mildly strong reasons alongside strong ones in their effort to be as persuasive as possible. However, from the target audience’s perspective, those mildly favorable reasons actually decreased the persuasiveness of the message compared to a condition in which fewer but only highly persuasive reasons were used. Building upon the Presenter’s Paradox by Weaver, Garcia & Schwarz (Journal of Consumer Research 39 (3):445–460, 2012), these results demonstrate that averaging in impression formation occurs not only in targets commonly thought of as unified entities such as consumer products and people but also occurs in persuasion contexts where the individual arguments comprising a message are independent of each other.
The letter of the law is its literal meaning. Here, the spirit of the law is its perceived intention. We tested the hypothesis that violating the spirit of the law accounts for culpability above and beyond breaking the mere letter. We find that one can incur culpability even when the letter of the law is not technically broken. We examine this effect across various legal contexts and discuss the implications for future research directions.
Social comparison—the tendency to self-evaluate by comparing ourselves to others—is an important source of competitive behavior. We propose a new model that distinguishes between individual and situational factors that increase social comparison and thus lead to a range of competitive attitudes and behavior. Individual factors are those that vary from person to person: the relevance of the performance dimension, the similarity of rivals, and their relationship closeness to the individual, as well as the various individual differences variables relating to social comparison more generally. Situational factors, conversely, are those factors on the social comparison landscape that affect similarly situated individuals: proximity to a standard (i.e., near the number 1 ranking vs. far away), the number of competitors (i.e., few vs. many), social category fault lines (i.e., disputes across vs. within social categories), and more. The distinction between individual and situational factors also helps chart future directions for social comparison research and generates new vistas across psychology and related disciplines.
This analysis introduces the Presenter’s Paradox. Robust findings in impression formation demonstrate that perceivers’ judgments show a weighted averaging pattern, which results in less favorable evaluations when mildly favorable information is added to highly favorable information. Across seven studies, we show that presenters do not anticipate this averaging pattern on the part of evaluators and instead design presentations that include all of the favorable information available. This additive strategy (“more is better”) hurts presenters in their perceivers’ eyes because mildly favorable information dilutes the impact of highly favorable information. For example, presenters choose to spend more money to make a product bundle look more costly, even though doing so actually cheapened its value from the evaluators’ perspective (study 1). Additional studies demonstrate the robustness of the effect, investigate the psychological processes underlying it, and examine its implications for a variety of marketing contexts.
In 3 studies, we tested the hypothesis that the higher ranked an individual’s group is, the less cooperative the facial expression of that person is judged to be. Study 1 established this effect among business school deans, with observers rating individuals from higher ranked schools as appearing less cooperative, despite lacking prior knowledge of the latters’ actual rankings. Study 2 then experimentally manipulated ranking, showing that the effect of rankings on facial expressions is driven by context rather than by individual differences per se. Finally, Study 3 demonstrated that the repercussions of this effect extend beyond the perception of cooperativeness to tangible behavioral outcomes in social interactions. Theoretical and practical implications of this phenomenon are discussed.
AThe present analysis reveals the social comparison bias – a bias that emerges from the social comparison process and taints recommendations. We hypothesize that people who have high standing on a relevant dimension (e.g., quantity of publications) begin to protect their social comparison context by making recommendations that prevent others, who might surpass them on the relevant dimension, from entering their comparison context. Studies 1 and 2 instantiate this effect in both hypothetical and real decision situations, showing that people tend not to recommend individuals who surpass them on the relevant dimension on which they have high standing. Finally, Study 3, in a sample of real employees, links the effect to one’s concern for protecting self-esteem. Theoretical and organizational implications are discussed.
This paper explores the influence of social categories on the perceived trade-off between a relatively bad but equal distribution of resources between two parties and a profit maximizing yet unequal one. Study 1 and 2 showed that people prefer to maximize profits when interacting within their social category, but chose not to maximize individual and joint profits when interacting across social categories. Study 3 demonstrated that outside observers, who were not members of the focal social categories, also were less likely to maximize profits when resources were distributed across social category lines. Study 4 showed that the transaction utility of maximizing profits required greater compensation when resources were distributed across, in contrast to within social categories. We discuss the ethical implications of these decision making biases in the context of organizations.
The N-effect (Garcia & Tor, 2009) is a phenomenon in which the motivation to compete decreases as the number of competitors increases, even when controlling for overall expected payoffs. In their thoughtful Commentary, Mukherjee and Hogarth (2010) astutely argue that, given ability differences in the population, the greater sampling error (SE) in small-N settings increases weaker competitors’ individual probability of winning, potentially increasing their motivation.1 Although SE may sometimes contribute to the N-effect, we explain here why SE is a theoretically unlikely account of our 2009 findings,2 and experimentally demonstrate the persistence of the N-effect under conditions in which an SE effect should not appear.
In contrast with the common assumption in the plea bargaining literature, we show fairnessrelated concerns systematically impact defendants’ preferences and judgments. In the domain of preferences, innocents are less willing to accept plea offers than guilty defendants and all defendants reject otherwise attractive offers that appear comparatively unfair. We also show that defendants who are uncertain of their culpability exhibit egocentrically-biased judgments and reject plea offers as if they were innocent. The article concludes by briefly discussing the normative implications of these findings.
This article introduces the N-effect—the discovery that increasing the number of competitors (N) can decrease competitive motivation. Studies 1a and 1b found evidence that average test scores (e.g., SAT scores) fall as the average number of test takers at test-taking venues increases. Study 2 found that individuals trying to finish an easy quiz among the top 20% in terms of speed finished significantly faster if they believed they were competing in a pool of 10 rather than 100 other people. Study 3 showed that the N-effect is strong among individuals high in social comparison orientation and weak among those low in social-comparison orientation. Study 4 directly linked the N-effect to social comparison, ruling out ratio bias as an explanation of our results and finding that social comparison becomes less important as N increases. Finally, Study 5 found that the N-effect is mediated by social comparison. Limitations, future directions, and implications are discussed.
Encouraging consumers to engage in helpful behavior is a perennial task of marketers in non-profit and for-profit organizations. Recent research suggests that merely imagining the presence of others can lead to less helping behavior on a subsequent unrelated task (Garcia, S.M., Weaver, K.D., Moskowitz, G.B., and Darley, J.M. (2002). Crowded minds: The implicit bystander effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 843–853.). The present analysis uncovers the boundary conditions of this effect. Across four studies, we establish that the degree to which a group situation fosters public scrutiny is an important moderator. When group primes are paired with public scrutiny, their inhibitive effect on helping behavior diminishes, and helping behavior on a subsequent task tends to increase. The present research thus adds complexity to previous findings by suggesting that implicit bystanders can both decrease and increase helping behavior.
This chapter reviews "people accounting" in the workplace.
Research showing how upward social comparison breeds competitive behavior has so far conflated local comparisons in task performance (e.g. a test score) with comparisons on a more general scale (i.e. an underlying skill). Using a ranking methodology (Garcia, Tor, & Gonzalez, 2006) to separate task and scale comparisons, Studies 1–2 reveal that an upward comparison on the scale (e.g. being surpassed in rank), rather than in the mere task (e.g., being outperformed), is necessary to generate competition among rivals proximate to a standard (e.g. ranked #3 vs. 4, near ‘‘the top’’); rivals far from a standard (e.g. ranked #203 vs. 204), on the other hand, still tend to cooperate. Study 3 illustrates this finding with player trades in Major League Baseball. Study 4 further shows how an implicit scale comparison, instead of the commonly assumed explicit task comparison, may account for those classical competition findings in the literature. Study 5 then reveals how scale ranking becomes all important in the proximity of a standard, leading rivals to tolerate even an upward scale comparison to increase their proximity to the standard. Implications for the increasingly popular ‘‘forced ranking’’ management systems (e.g., at General Electric) are also discussed.
Six studies explored the hypothesis that third parties are averse to resolving preference disputes with winner-take-all solutions when disputing factions belong to different social categories (e.g. gender, nationality, firms, etc.) versus the same social category. Studies 1–3 showed that third parties’ aversion to winner-take-all solutions, even when they are based on the unbiased toss of a coin, is greater when the disputed preferences correlate with social category membership than when they do not. Studies 4–6 suggested that reluctance to resolve inter-category disputes in a winner-take-all manner is motivated by a desire to minimize the affective disparity—the hedonic gap—between the winning and losing sides. The implication is that winner-take-all outcomes, even those that satisfy conditions of procedural fairness, become unacceptable when disputed preferences cleave along social category lines.
Despite the importance of doing so, people do not always correctly estimate the distribution of opinions within their group. One important mechanism underlying such misjudgments is people’s tendency to infer that a familiar opinion is a prevalent one, even when its familiarity derives solely from the repeated expression of 1 group member. Six experiments demonstrate this effect and show that it holds even when perceivers are consciously aware that the opinions come from 1 speaker. The results also indicate that the effect is due to opinion accessibility rather than a conscious inference about the meaning of opinion repetition in a group. Implications for social consensus estimation and social influence are discussed.
This paper presents people accounting—a hypothesis that describes how a simple numerical imbalance in representation along nominal social category lines can affect people’s choice of candidates in highly competitive situations (e.g., awards, jobs, etc.). For example, two scholarship finalists from California and New York may be equally qualified, but the award-winning chance for the California candidate will drop precipitously if 8 of the past 10 winners were from California. Studies 1–3 illustrate this effect. Study 4 links people accounting to intergroup fairness concerns and suggests that people accounting is more likely to occur when the category dimension is meaningful (e.g., Stanford/Princeton) than when it is not (e.g., left/right-handedness). Study 5 shows that candidates from overrepresented categories (e.g., “Californians”) must achieve higher minimum standards in order to be selected. The implication is that highly competitive decisions are often influenced by headcounts along mundane social category lines.
Three studies found that people from lower-class backgrounds are less expressive toward interaction partners from upper-class backgrounds except in contexts where they share minority status on another dimension. In Study 1, White lower-class dyad members behaved less expressively than their upper-class interaction partners, while in African American and Latino dyads, upper- and lower-class individuals were similarly expressive. In Study 2, lower-class White participants reported feeling generally less comfortable about interacting with an upper-class partner but not when they shared numerical minority status of being residents of the same state traveling away from home. Finally, Study 3 revealed that lower-class individuals intentionally act differently with upper-class individuals but not with lower-class ones. Upper-class individuals act the same with lower- and upper-class partners alike.
Social comparison theories typically imply a comparable degree of competition between commensurate rivals who are competing on a mutually important dimension. However, the present analysis reveals that the degree of competition between such rivals depends on their proximity to a meaningful standard. Studies 1 to 3 test the prediction that individuals become more competitive and less willing to maximize profitable joint gains when they and their commensurate rivals are highly ranked (e.g., #2 vs. #3) than when they are not (e.g., #202 vs. #203). Studies 4 to 6 then generalize these findings, showing that the degree of competition also increases in the proximity of other meaningful standards, such as the bottom of a ranking scale or a qualitative threshold in the middle of a scale. Studies 7 and 8 further examine the psychological processes underlying this phenomenon and reveal that proximity to a standard exerts a direct impact on the basic unidirectional drive upward, beyond the established effects of commensurability and dimension relevance.
Choice behavior researchers (e.g., Bazerman, Loewenstein, & White, 1992) have found that individuals tend to choose a more lucrative but disadvantageously unequal payoff (e.g., self—$600/other—$800) over a less profitable but equal one (e.g., self—$500/ other—$500); greater profit trumps interpersonal social comparison concerns in the choice setting. We suggest, however, that self-categorization (e.g., Hogg, 2000) can shift interpersonal social comparison concerns to the intergroup level and make trading disadvantageous inequality for greater profit more difficult. Studies 1–3 show that profit maximization diminishes when recipients belong to different social categories (e.g., genders, universities). Study 2 further implicates self-categorization, as selfcategorized individuals tend to forgo profit whether making a choice for themselves or another ingroup member. Study 3, moreover, reveals that social categorization alone is not sufficient to diminish profit maximization; individuals must self-categorize and identify with their categorization.
Five studies merged the priming methodology with the bystander apathy literature and demonstrate how merely priming a social context at Time 1 leads to less helping behavior on a subsequent, completely unrelated task at Time 2. In Study 1, participants who imagined being with a group at Time 1 pledged significantly fewer dollars on a charity-giving measure at Time 2 than did those who imagined being alone with one other person. Studies 2–5 build converging evidence with hypothetical and real helping behavior measures and demonstrate that participants who imagine the presence of others show facilitation to words associated with unaccountable on a lexical decision task. Implications for social group research and the priming methodology are discussed.
A questionnaire study about bargaining tactics was conducted among 163 public defenders (PDs) and district attorneys (DAs) in the criminal justice system. The authors hypothesized that PDs (defensive roles) would perceive questionable tactics to be more appropriate than would DAs (offensive roles), that PDs and DAs would elevate their approval of questionable tactics for counteraggression purposes, and that PDs would elevate their approval for counteraggression to a greater extent than would DAs. Results supported these hypotheses. The authors also examined the basis of the status quo bias, because previous status quo bias studies always confounded power with defensive role. After testing four status quo bias hypotheses, results suggested that, contrary to previous explanations, a defender-challenger framework sometimes provides a better account of the status quo bias than does a power framework.