Social Comparison, Health and Health Motivation: An Experimental Study
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Introduction: Social Comparison (SC) or the tendency to compare oneself to others in the social environment has emerged as a salient component of physical and emotional functioning. This study assessed the impact of SC on cardiovascular reactivity to stress provocation, health motivation, and perceived health.;Methods: This repeated measures experimental study examined a sample of healthy graduate students (N = 78; Mean Age = 26.4; 83.1% Female). Participants were assigned to receive downward, upward, or neutral SC feedback while being interviewed about a stressful event (adapted from the Social Competence Interview); Cardiovascular reactivity (systolic blood pressure; diastolic blood pressure; heart rate) was monitored during baseline, interview, and recovery. Other measures included: SC Orientation (Iowa Netherlands Comparison Orientation Measure), Subjective Social Status (MacArthur Ladder), self-rated health and health motivation (Health Self-Determinism Index). Analyses included: Chi-Square and Kruskal Wallis tests to evaluate between-group differences, ANOVA/ANCOVA to evaluate the impact of SC on reactivity and health motivation, multinomial logistic regression to evaluate the impact of SC on self-rated health, and repeated measures ANOVA/ANCOVA to evaluate changes in self-rated health and health motivation from pre-task to post-task. Hierarchical multiple regression was used to evaluate moderating effects of SC orientation and subjective social status. MANOVA/MANCOVA were used for post-hoc analyses. Results: Participants in the downward SC condition indicated a significant increase in total health motivation characterized by increased confidence in health behavior. Individuals in the neutral condition indicated a significant decrease in total health motivation characterized by decreased confidence in health judgment. Neither SC orientation nor subjective social status moderated these relationships. There was no effect of SC on cardiovascular reactivity or self-rated health.;Conclusions: Downward SC (increased) and neutral SC (decreased) led to changes in intrinsic motivation from pre-task to post-task. Implications of these results suggest that SC impacts intrinsic motivation to improve or maintain health. Better understanding of these complex and multifaceted relationships will facilitate more targeted and efficacious intervention efforts at the micro and macro levels.