CRVAW Faculty Journal Articles


Children's Affective, Behavioral, and Cognitive Responses to Social Comparison


Relative outcomes in social commerce with peers are potent determinants of cognitions and behavior in young children. Although there has been considerable attention given to the behavioral consequences of social comparisons following the receipt of rewards, there has been less concern with cognitive or affective consequences. Additionally, little is known about the accrued effects of multiple social comparison experiences that may be consistent or inconsistent with one another. In the present study, young children received a constant level of reward but the amount they saw a peer receive was varied. There were two sequences of reward distribution, and in a given sequence children received either the same number of rewards as the peer (=), more (+), or fewer (−). In a 3 × 3 factorial design all possible combinations occurred. A negative inequality in reward distribution, no matter where it fell in a sequence, made children sad and inclined children to distribute fewer rewards to peers. When a sequence contained an initial experience of positive inequality, children decreased subsequent levels of self-reward. Experiencing a comparison that revealed a negative inequality in reward distribution also disrupted children's accuracy in appraising the overall distribution of rewards: even when an initial negative inequality was completely offset by an equivalent experience of positive inequality, children inaccurately concluded that they had received fewer rewards than their peers.

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