The Psychology behind Comparisons


We judge other people whenever we engage with them, and we compare them to internalized standards, other individuals, or ourselves when we make these judgments. Numerous social, psychology studies have demonstrated the pervasive significance which comparative thinking plays in social cognition and individual perception. Social neuroscientists have recently become interested in the concept of social comparison and have started to study its neurological foundations. Human judgment is comparative by nature. People always evaluate things in reference to a relevant norm or standard. For example, claiming to be tall suggests that a particular individual is taller then others. Because of this, even such a fundamental claim regarding physical attributes is by nature comparative. At the center of an extensive spectrum of social cognitive processes, comparisons serve as fundamental mechanisms of social judgment.

Reaction of the brain to relative and objective results

A common goal for those seeking happiness and fulfillment in life is accumulating more wealth. Individual well-being is primarily affected by one’s absolute income, according to traditional economic theories of decision-making, which reflect humans’ innate desire to accumulate riches. On the other hand, experiments and real-world observation in social settings provide an alternative viewpoint. Both an individual’s absolute wealth and their wealth relative to others appear to be indicators of their subjective well-being.

Recently, social neuroscience has looked into how social comparison affects the ventral striatum (VS) along with the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), two parts of the brain reward system .

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Ventral striatum:

One of the primary components of the incentive system is the VS. The VS. responds to both primary and secondary rewards, such as monetary incentives, and appears to be involved in the development of stimulus-reward associations. Examples of the primary rewards include pleasant flavors. Different types of comparisons, including as expectations, temporal comparisons, and counterfactual, can affect ventral striatal activity.

Dorsal anterior cingulate cortex:

Another area that is crucial to the processing for reward prediction and associated faults is the dACC. The dACC serves as an integrative hub that links the motor, cognitive, and affective lobes of the brain. Its job is to keep an eye on these functions under potentially contradictory circumstances, including when someone makes a mistake or when results fall short of expectations.

Two Categories of Social Comparison Exist

Researchers have distinguished between two categories of social comparisons:

Upward social comparison:

In an effort to feel more motivated and upbeat, we compare ourselves to those who we believe to be in better situations than ourselves. For example, your supervisor may inspire you. Perhaps their career has truly taken off and you are impressed by their achievements and leadership style. In an attempt to improve so that you can eventually catch up to them, one tend to compare yourself to them. One may even feel jealous or envious of their achievements.

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Downward social comparison :

We use downward social comparison to make ourselves and our circumstances seem better by comparing ourselves to those we believe to be in worse situations. Although it may sound harsh, everyone has engaged in this behavior at some point. Suppose you have limited funds for the weekend and you’re disappointed that you won’t be able to take your friends to watch a live band. Then, because it gives you a fresh perspective on your life, you could start to feel a little better about your own financial condition if you happen to see someone who is homeless.

Negative aspects of comparison

There are various sorts of social comparison. In other words, when people get together, we normally compare ourselves to each other and establish some kind of hierarchy, whether it be explicit or implicit. Moms’ groups assess their own performance as mothers and make sure their children are progressing by comparing their relationships and their babies’ milestones. We often compare people who are great achievers to those who are just searching for fun and friends.

Depletion of Emotions:

Comparing is a destructive habit that drains a lot of emotional energy and jeopardizes mental health. Numerous studies have demonstrated a direct link between high levels of anxiety and sadness and frequent comparing. Young individuals who are still developing their identities as well as are more susceptible to social influences are particularly prone to this.

Productivity Difficulties:

Merely comparing oneself to others all the time can only lead to passivity and postponement. The brain space used up by comparison could be used for worthwhile endeavors that promote development and progress. Rather than wasting time on social media perusing other people’s successes, consider what you may accomplish by concentrating your efforts and paying attention to your own objectives.

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Tense Bonds:

The harm that comparison causes extends beyond one’s personal wellbeing. Additionally, relationships may be strained as a result. Whether in sexual relationships, friendships, or familial relationships, the dynamics can turn poisonous when tainted by feelings of inadequacy or jealously. These emotions have the potential to fester over time, erecting mental walls and breeding bitterness that may be detrimental to any relationship.

Diminished Self-Respect:

A common consequence of constant comparison is a decline in self-worth. You could find yourself engaging in constant self-talk that is critical of your life, accomplishments, or physical appearance as compared to others. This inner critic can cause you to doubt your own value and ability, which can have a devastating effect on your confidence levels.

The Aspect of Social Media

Social networking sites are becoming places where people compare things all the time.

Quick Comparison:

These platforms provide a constant flow of well chosen photos and narratives, which almost always leads to comparisons between your own life and the supposedly flawless lives of others. But it’s important to keep in mind that a lot of the content shared online is a “highlight reel” that obscures the flaws and difficulties that everyone encounters.

Depression and Social Media:

Although there has long been a connection between using social media and experiencing higher levels of inadequacy, the amount of studies supporting this relationship is remarkable. Time spent on social media sites is strongly correlated with higher levels of anxiety and depression, according to several research, including this one. It is crucial to keep in mind that, despite these concerning statistics, most of the time, what you see online does not truly reflect someone’s reality.

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Positive influence of comparison

We frequently perform better when we’re attempting to keep up with a successful buddy or role model, and we can improve ourselves by helping others. We also tend to be more appreciative of what we have and to be more empathetic and grateful when we contrast ourselves with those who are less fortunate than us and, frequently perform better when we’re attempting to keep up with a successful buddy or role model, and we can improve ourselves by helping others.

One can find motivation even in the need to avoid the shame of failing. The supportiveness component is the primary difference among friendly competition and “frenemy” rivalry. Enemies appear to take great pleasure in humiliating others and putting others down. Conversely, true friends encourage you to achieve, celebrate your victories with you, and support you through difficult times.

Strategies to Quit Comparing

Here are listed few steps that can help one to avoid the habit of comparison


The first step toward significant transformation is awareness. When you notice yourself comparing, mindfulness practices can be a huge help. Take a moment to breathe and stop yourself the next time you catch yourself falling into the comparison trap. Consider your goals before making comparisons between yourself and other people. Recognize your feelings and make an effort to determine where they originated.

Limit Your Exposure:

Occasionally, the most efficient answer is the simple one. Reducing the amount of times and places you are exposed to that encourage your comparing habit can have a profound effect. Whether it’s unfollowing certain accounts or going on a digital detox, these actions can have a big impact. Additionally, there are apps that track and restrict how much time you spend on screens, acting as a continual reminder to interact with the outside world.

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Develop Gratitude:

Gratitude is a potent counterbalance to comparing. Your perspective changes from one of scarcity to abundance when you concentrate on what you already have rather than what you lack. You may keep a thankfulness diary in which you list three things every day for which you are thankful. This exercise can gradually reprogram your brain to prioritize positives over negatives.

Strive for Your Objectives:

Try focusing more on your own development rather than on approval from others. Make personal objectives and strive to fulfill them. No matter how modest they may seem, acknowledge and celebrate your own accomplishments. Challenge yourself in the past, not other people. There won’t be as much space for negative comparisons the more you focus on your own path.

Seek Community and Support:

Recall that you are not facing this alone. Seek assistance if you struggle to avoid comparing yourself to other people. This could be a family member, close friend, or mental health expert who can offer helpful guidance. External viewpoints can occasionally provide priceless insights into our deeply ingrained routines and mental patterns. You can also take your focus off harmful comparisons by participating in group activities that provide a sense of community.

Humans have always compared themselves to one another; it’s a natural activity that keeps us from falling too far short of our potential and allows us to coexist together as a community. Additionally, it aids in self-definition, allows us to assess our performance in other spheres of life by looking at what seems feasible, and frequently even makes us feel better about ourselves. But it may also be stressful and lead to unnecessarily high levels of competition.

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