Comparison Threat: Social Comparison and Working Memory Capacity

Philip Edward Peper


The threat of comparison to intellectual superiors evokes a physiological stress response, which, evidence suggests, depletes working memory capacity 11. Expectation of social comparison has been shown to increase physiological and perceived stress in individuals, especially in upward comparisons 7 & 10. Upward comparison is comparing oneself to someone the individual deems superior to themselves. In the present study, three groups of subjects (n=29 undergraduate students, 18 males and 13 females) all took a baseline reading span test as a measure of working memory capacity, took a two-minute break, then returned to a possible comparison threat just prior to a second, similar reading span test where they were told that their performance on the reading test would be compared to the performance of others. The three groups included a control (no comparison), downward comparison (compared to high school students), and upward comparison (compared to Ph.D. graduates). The role of sex of subject as a moderating variable was examined.


Social Comparison; Threat; Working Memory

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