Sidestepping awkward encounters: avoidance as a response to outperformance-related discomfort


Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Julie Juola Exline, Department of Psychological Sciences, 10900 Euclid Avenue, Case Western University, Cleveland, OH 44106-7123, USA. E-mail:


When people believe that their higher performance poses a threat to another person, they may experience discomfort or concern that has been termed Sensitivity to being the Target of a Threatening Upward Comparison (STTUC). One way to reduce STTUC discomfort might be to avoid contact with the outperformed person, a possibility examined in three studies of undergraduates. In laboratory contexts, STTUC discomfort predicted reluctance to meet an outperformed peer (Study 1) and preference for a different partner in future competitions (Study 2). In Study 3, which focused on naturalistic outperformance situations, STTUC distress again predicted avoidance. Additionally, avoidance of contact predicted less satisfaction with outcomes, especially in relationships where people knew each other well.