Balance and social comparison processes in the attribution of attraction


Inquiries concerning this paper and reprint requests should be addressed to the first author, Faculty of Administration, University of Ottawa, 135 Wilbrod Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1N9B5. Preparation for this paper was facilitated by Canada Council Doctoral Fellowship W763918 to the first author.


The area of attributed attraction was examined from the perspective that observers intuit some of the processes studied by social psychologists in the area of interpersonal attraction. A social situation was examined in which a target person was evaluated positively or negatively by another. The target was described as being either confident or not confident about the subject of the evaluation. Social comparison theory was interpreted to predict for observer subjects a stronger effect for the direction of the evaluation when the target's confidence was low rather than high, while balance theory was interpreted to predict the opposite. Support was found for the balance theory prediction. It was then suggested that low confidence may not be sufficient to engage social comparison processes unless it occurs in the context of a “need to know”—when the issue has important consequences. In another experiment, this context was provided and the trustworthiness of the evaluator was also manipulated. A social comparison effect was obtained. The strongest effect for the direction of the evaluation occurred when the target's confidence was perceived to be low and the evaluation was sincere.