The Effect of Reducing Opportunities for Downward Comparison on Comparative Optimism

Authors

  • Stephen L. Brown,

    Corresponding author
    1. Monash University Melbourne, Australia
      Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Stephen L. Brown, who is now at the Department of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire, Preston PR1 2HE, United Kingdom. E-mail: slbrown2@uclan.ac.uk
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  • Amantha Imber

    1. Monash University Melbourne, Australia
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Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Stephen L. Brown, who is now at the Department of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire, Preston PR1 2HE, United Kingdom. E-mail: slbrown2@uclan.ac.uk

Abstract

Comparative optimism is a pervasive tendency for people to rate personal future prospects more favorably than those of comparable others. This may be caused by deliberately choosing targets on the basis of vulnerability. Restricting the range of comparison targets reduces the opportunity to make downward comparisons and should reduce comparative optimism. We asked 100 undergraduates to assemble a list of other students known to them. Participants estimated their personal risk of being victim of a road crash and skin cancer, and estimated the risk of 2 targets from the list. The participant selected one target, while the experimenter randomly chose the other target. Comparative optimism was greater in the participant-selected target condition, and this effect was almost exclusive to participants who reported making downward comparisons. We concluded that downward comparison processes could affect comparative optimism when targets are individual people.

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