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Upward and downward social comparisons can decrease prosocial behavior


Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Anita E. Kelly, Department of Psychology, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556, USA. E-mail:


This experiment addressed whether upward or downward social comparisons can affect people's prosocial behavior toward the comparison targets. Undergraduates (N = 123) completed an inkblot test and then were randomly assigned to conditions in which they were told that their performance was either inferior or superior to their peers. A control group was given no performance feedback. Participants' self-reported prosocial behaviors were measured 2 days later. Results indicated that both the upward and downward comparison groups engaged in significantly less prosocial behavior than did the control group and that empathy toward their peers mediated this effect. Our findings suggest that upward or downward comparison can make people feel less empathic toward the targets and thus less inclined to help them.