Expanding the Comparative Scope
Measuring up to distant others: Expanding and contracting the comparative scope
People are constantly comparing to others: whether in experiences, possessions, opinions, or achievements. Research suggests that people generally choose similar others to compare to; in this research I suggest that dissimilar others can be useful too—specifically when the thing people want to learn is abstract.
For instance, I gave people the chance to compare the actions or the values that improved their lives to those that improved someone else’s. In other words, people had the chance to learn about life improvement from someone near or distant. Values are more abstract than actions because they provide overarching rules on how to behave, so we predicted that people would be more interested in comparing to distant others when they were comparing values than actions.
Results confirmed that people were just as interested in comparing to distant others when they compared values, but significantly less interested in comparing to distant others when they compared actions.
The results have implications for the things we learn from those who are not like us. While we may learn things like good playlists from our friends, when we travel and encounter strange people and places, we may learn broader, bigger things—like how to be a good family member, or how to live a good life.