While visiting with family this summer in his native land down under, Jonathan Gerber, assistant professor of psychology (pictured here), will also be wondering about comparisons. As honorary visiting professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, Gerber will continue his research by conducting a meta-analysis of social comparison. Here’s how he described his work:
“The meta-analysis addresses some issues that have been investigated for over 50 years in social psychology. Leon Festinger—one of psychology’s greats and also the inventor of cognitive dissonance—published a paper in a small journal that has become a touchstone for nearly every major psychology researcher since then (and nearly everyone in the field has published one paper on social comparison). In it, he suggested that when we are uncertain of where we stand—e.g., am I rich? Am I attractive? What should I wear? What should I believe about Justin Bieber?—we compare with others. Subsequent research has looked at who we compare with and how those comparisons make us feel. For instance, does comparing ourselves with Albert Einstein make us feel smarter or dumber?
There has been a lot of research (on social comparisons) but no proper quantitative summary and that’s what I’ve been working on. Ladd Wheeler, one of the top two experts on the theory and professor at Macquarie, came up with the first experimental test in the mid 1960s and has been at the top of the subject every decade since. This is a chance for me to work with a leading expert (Wheeler) on an important topic. After two or so years, we are almost done with the coding of articles, ready to crunch the numbers and write about our results. I wonder how we’ll compare?”