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Shifting social identities as a strategy for deflecting threatening social comparisons, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology


Results of three studies suggest that the multifaceted nature of identity provides a strategic basis for reducing the threat involved in upward social comparisons. After performing worse than a comparison standard, people may strategically emphasize aspects of their identity that differentiate them from the standard, thereby making the standard less relevant for self-evaluation. On the basis of previous research showing that persons low in self-esteem are less likely to make effective use of self-protection strategies, we hypothesized that this strategy of deflecting the threat involved in upward comparison (i.e., decreasing perceived comparability by emphasizing an unshared social identity) would be used primarily by persons who are characteristically high in self-esteem. This pattern was confirmed in three studies. Moreover, use of the strategy was associated with relatively more positive affect following threatening upward comparisons.




Thomas Mussweiler, Shira Gabriel, Galen Bodenhausen

Date Published



Mussweiler, Thomas, Shira Gabriel, and Galen Bodenhausen. 2000. Shifting social identities as a strategy for deflecting threatening social comparisons. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 79(3): 398-409.


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