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The effect of mindset on assimilative and contrastive social comparison outcomes and body image


Social comparisons can alter self-evaluations in multiple ways. Recent research highlights the role of an individual's mindset in moderating these comparison outcomes. Mussweiler's (2003) selective accessibility model (SAM) predicts that initial perceptions of either similarity or dissimilarity with the comparison target will lead to differential outcomes. A similarity mindset is predicted to move self-evaluations in the direction of the comparison target and promote assimilation whereas a dissimilarity mindset is predicted to move self- evaluations away from the comparison target and promote contrast. Additionally, Blanton's (2001) three-selves model predicts that the activation of a particular self- representation will moderate comparison outcomes. Activation of a possible-self by focusing one of who they can become is predicted to foster movement toward the target and promote assimilation, whereas activation of a personal-self mindset, focusing on who one is at present, is predicted to foster movement away from the target and promote contrast. The current research extends these social comparison models to the domain of body image, where ample research suggests that exposure to idealized media target produce decrements in body and self- satisfaction for women. Thus, most women demonstrate contrast in their self-evaluations following comparisons with media targets. Both SAM and the three-selves model predict that women adopting certain mindsets, specifically either a similarity or possible-self mindset, should report assimilation, increased self-ratings, instead. Results of 5 studies demonstrate that perceptions of similarity and activation of a particular self- representation moderate social comparison outcomes in the predicted manner. Furthermore, the final study explores the effect of multiple mindsets on comparison outcomes by combining both a self-activation and similarity mindset, with unexpected results. The implications of these findings for social comparison theory and body-image research are discussed

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