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  • Does Upward or Downward Social Comparison Reflect on Athlete’s Self-

    Esteem or Body Image? Marteinn Gauti Andrason


    BSc in Psychology

    Author: Marteinn Gauti Andrason ID number: 160192-2169 Department of Psychology School of Business




    Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the BSc Psychology degree,

    Reykjavik University, this thesis is presented in the style of an article for submission

    to a peer-reviewed journal.




    Researches have shown through the years that in every society some kind of

    comparison exists. It seems to be in our nature to compare ourselves to other people

    to evaluate our social ranking. When we do we do not always make comparisons to

    people similar to us, but we rather make downward or upward comparisons. The aim

    of this study was to find out how upward and downward comparison is related to self-

    reflection and if there is any difference in both self- esteem and body image between

    men and women in a group sport. Survey data were gathered and analysed from cross-

    sectional sample of 85 athletes, both male and female, from the sports club Haukar

    ranging in age from 18 to 34 years old. All participated by choice and no one received

    any reward for their participation in the study. The main results of the study indicated

    that women use upward social comparison more frequently than men and that

    adolescents who use upward social comparison more frequently show worse body


    Keywords: Upward social comparison, downward social comparison, self- esteem, body image, gender

    Abstract – Icelandic

    Rannsóknir í gegnum árin hafa sýnt að samanburður er allstaðar í kring þar sem eru

    félagslegar aðstæður, skiptir ekki máli hvort við erum að tala um einstaklinga eða

    hópa, það er alltaf einhversskonar samanburður. Markmið rannsóknarinnar var að

    skoða hvort það væri einhver munur á sjálfstrausti og líkamsímynd meðal karla og

    kvenna í hópíþróttum annars vegar og hinsvegar að sjá hvernig félagslegur

    samanburður sem beinist upp á við og niðrá við tengist sjálfsmyndinni.

    Rannsóknargögn voru greind útfrá þversniðs úrtaki, 85 íþróttamenn frá íþróttaklúbb

    Hauka á aldrinum 18 til 34 ára tóku þátt í þessari þversniðs rannsókn að eigin vali,

    engin verðlaun voru veitt fyrir þátttöku í þessari rannsókn. Helstu niðurstöður

    rannsóknarinnar bentu til þess að konur eru líklegri til að nota félagslegan samanburð

    sem beinist upp á við heldur en karlar og að félagslegur samanburður sem beinist upp

    á við hafi neikvæð áhrif á líkamsímynd.



    Does upward or downward comparison reflect on people’s self- esteem or

    body image, which are participating in a group sport?

    Social comparison Researches have shown through the years that in every society some kind of

    comparison exists, doesn’t matter if we are talking about individuals or groups, there

    is always some kind of comparison (Gilbert, Price and Allan, 1995). According to

    Gilbert (1995) there are several reasons why we compare ourselves to others. It can be

    to self-enhance, self-improve and to determine if one self should engage in a difficult

    situation. Other species, beside human, do also compare to each other. What thrives

    an individual is the longing for self-evaluation and to know that one self is doing the

    right thing or going the right way (Buunk and Gibbons, 2007). Because of social

    comparison people will try to find other individuals similar to themselves in hope to

    become friends with them. At the same time they try to avoid people who are

    different. According to Allan and Gilbert, (1995) study, social comparisons is

    important when it comes to socially deciding who to become friends with. Their study

    shows that social ranking and social fitting in are important roles in everyday life.

    Peers tend to be the most frequent target for adolescences when it comes to social

    comparison, both for girls and boys, particularly in height, weight, personality,

    intelligence and popularity (Jones, 2001). In jones (2001) study, it can be seen that

    individuals choose to compare themselves to people that are similar to them. There is

    a gender difference when it comes to upward social comparison according to (Jones,

    2001), girls are more likely to use upward social comparison than boys.

    When we do we do not always make comparisons to people similar to us, but

    instead we make downward or upward comparisons (O’Brien et al., 2009). According

    to O’Brien (2009) research people who regularly compare themselves to others

    physique suffer from greater body dissatisfaction and eating disorder behaviours.



    Downward social comparison When people are making downward comparisons it usually means they have

    low physical self-esteem and have negative picture of themselves. (O’Brien et al.,

    2009). They try to lift their own spirit by comparing themselves to people who they

    think are worse off than they have, for example, obese individuals. That might

    increase their own self-esteem and they might be more satisfied with their own body

    image. According to O’Brien (2009) Researches have shown that even those who

    have high self-esteem also compare themselves to individuals that they think are less

    valuated, which shows that regardless of self-body image or self-esteem people tend

    to experience more downward comparison.

    Social comparison on body image and self-esteem Women often compare themselves to media images, pictures of models for

    instance. That often leads to dissatisfaction with one own body and can lead to

    dieting and disordered eating behaviours (Tiggemann and Polivy, 2010). In general

    the main reason for eating disorder amongst women is said to be todays social

    pressure on women to be thin and attractive, which has a negative effects on their

    body image (Feingold og Mazzella, 1998). As Feingold and Mazzella (1998) state in

    their research, women tend to be less satisfied with their bodies than males. They also

    found that males tend to have more positive feelings towards how physically

    attractive they look compared to how females think of themselves. However, to rule

    out the possibility that males were in fact more physically attractive than the female

    participants, judges rated the female participants more attractive than the male


    If we take women for an example, and their comparison to social media, there

    is a consistent correlation between upward social comparison and dissatisfaction with

    one body image and worse self-esteem if exposed to fashion magazine images



    (Tiggemann og Polivy, 2010). People as a whole tend to make upward physical

    appearance comparisons instead of downward comparison, and does that have

    adversely effect on body image and self-esteem (O’Brien ., 2009a). In O’Brien (2009)

    research it shows that upward social comparison correlates with decreased body

    satisfaction (body-image). In a study made by (Jones, 2001) focusing on students, she

    found that students that make comparison to models as well as peers experience

    greater body dissatisfaction, which supports the theory that upward social

    comparison has negative effect on body-image. Upward social comparison through

    social media does have a negative impact on self-esteem amongst Facebook users.

    This is shown in a study by (Vogel, Rose, Roberts og Eckles, 2014) where people

    exposed to fixed Facebook profile, so that it looked as it was an upward social

    comparison target, did show low state of self-esteem.

    Some researches, however, have shown that even people who are high on

    body image and self-esteem scales compare themselves to downward targets (O’Brien

    ., 2009a). In O’Brien (2009) research it shows that with increased downward social

    comparison predicting more positive body satisfaction. In a study by Vogel (2014), in

    relation with social comparison and self-esteem, his findings were when people are

    faced with downward social comparison their self-esteem tends to be higher.

    Self-esteem in relation to gender In relation with self-esteem, both genders seem to walk down the same path in

    life, considering self-esteem of both males and females is over all high in childhood.

    It decreases during adolescence, increases a lot through adulthood but sometimes

    drops back down in old age (Orth og Robins, 2014). According to (Bleidorn o.fl.,

    2015), when people get older their self-esteem increases, where th