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Appraisals and Envy: The Influence of Situational Factors on Envious Feelings and Motivations


This dissertation investigates the situational appraisals that are theorized to influence envy. When someone experiences an upward comparison, their response may be influenced by appraisals about the other person (e.g., similarity, closeness), the desired object (e.g. attainability), and the surrounding situation (e.g. fairness). These appraisals may elicit envy or moderate how an envier is motivated to respond. The studies in this dissertation use a variety of perspectives to investigate these appraisals and their associations with envious responses.

Chapter 1 finds that recalled envy experiences primarily occur towards superior others who are similar, in both close and distant relationships. These two studies use diverse samples to explore envy across adulthood, including differences with age in what domains people envy.

Three studies in Chapter 2 find complex, replicable patterns of relationships between appraisals and envious responses in recalled envy experiences. These studies look at envy both from the internal perspective of enviers and from the external perspective of targets of envy.

Chapter 3 uses an in-lab social comparison manipulation in order to investigate the effects of two appraisals about the superior person: similarity and closeness. These appraisals are manipulated in strangers (Study 3.1 & 3.2) and measured in pairs of established friends (Study 3.3 & 3.4). In all four studies, these appraisals have few effects on the feelings and motivations of envy immediately after a comparison, suggesting that there is not a direct causal relationship between these appraisals and envious responses.

Together, these studies uncover many nuances in the appraisal-response relationships of envy. Although envy may occur more often in particular contexts, and certain appraisals may be associated with specific responses, these appraisals do not necessarily directly elicit envy. Additionally, this research supports the contention that envy can motivate of a range of potential responses, highlighting the complexity in this social emotion.

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