Social Indispensability or Social Comparison: The Why and When of Motivation Gains of Inferior Group Members1


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    This research was supported by a grant to the first author from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (He 2745/8-1/2). Some of the results were presented at the annual meeting of the Midwestern Psychological Association in Chicago, May 2006. The authors thank Marion Wittchen, Norbert Kerr, and Bernhard Weber for their helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. The authors also thank Katharina Flory, Ute Küpper, Julia Lembke, and Marina Quejo for their help with data collection.

Guido Hertel, University of Munster, Department of Psychology, Organizational Psychology, Fliednerstrasse 21, D-48 149 Munster, Germany. E-mail:


In 2 experimental studies, social indispensability and upward social comparison were contrasted as potential triggers of motivation gains of inferior group members. Using a cognitive task in a computer-supported environment, individual work was compared with conditions that enabled upward comparison only (coaction), or both upward comparison and social indispensability (conjunctive task). Moreover, working conditions (face-to-face vs. anonymous) and partner-related performance feedback (contemporaneously vs. post-task) were manipulated as potential moderators. Results revealed motivation gains only when partner feedback was contemporaneously available. In this case, upward-comparison effects could be demonstrated during coaction. However, when participants' contribution determined a group outcome, their motivation was additionally increased, demonstrating social indispensability effects. Finally, motivation gains were generally higher during face-to-face compared to anonymous work.