Turning Up the Contrast: Self-Enhancement Motives Prompt Egocentric Contrast Effects in Social Judgments

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Contrast effects occur when people judge the behavior and attitudes of others relative to their own. We tested a motivational account suggesting that these effects arise because people tailor their judgments of others to affirm their own self-worth. Consistent with that interpretation, participants displayed more egocentric contrast in their judgments of another person's intelligence (i.e., their evaluation of his score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test was more negatively related to their own score) after their self-esteem was threatened than after it was bolstered (Studies 1 and 2). High-self-esteem individuals displayed more judgmental contrast overall than did their low-esteem counterparts (Study 2). Strongly pro-choice participants whose esteem was threatened also displayed more contrast in their judgments of another person's attitude on abortion, relative to esteem-bolstered participants (Study 3). Discussion centers on the implications of these findings for theory on social comparison, self-affirmation, and social judgment.

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