Social Comparison & Emotions

Social comparison is a relentless and often troubling drive within you. Self awareness can help you to still the emotional turmoil set off by this incessant subconscious process. Social comparison works both ways. It enables you to fit into the social hierarchy of your community. It enables you to improve your performance through subconscious imitation of the people you admire. Nature even limits the hidden process to a comparison among your equals, creating a realistic potential for improvement.

When you notice an image you admire, you have an orienting response, which orients your gaze towards a preference. Gaze directions provide a critical input, which distribute the absorbed information into your cortical regions to evaluate the value of the seen image.  Social comparison triggers a feeling of helplessness and despair about your failure to achieve comparable levels. It generates anger towards your superiors. When you compare yourself with lower levels of society, it initiates the emotions of gratitude and guilt. An acceptance that you are unique, that the wealth, talents and skills of people will always vary can help to still negative feelings related to social comparison. While the subconscious process will work to improve yourself, an awareness of its manipulative workings can help to still your emotional turmoil.

  • The Social Comparison Theory by Leon Festinger.
  • Social comparison helped herd members to cooperate by imitating the behavior of equals.
  • Social comparison is a real time continuous process.
  • Emotional controls determine the social hierarchy.
  • Emotions manipulate behaviors.
  • Emotions act before you know it.
  • Behavior can be changed by subduing negative emotions.
  • Envy, shame and guilt affect behavior.
  • Social comparison improves your behavior subconsciously.

Can An Algorithm Be Controlling The Mind?
I am not a physician, but an engineer. Way back in 1989, I listed how the ELIMINATION approach of an AI Program could be uncovering a mystery of the mind.  How could a doctor be instantly identifying Disease X out of 8000 diseases?  How could the doctor's mind isolate a single disease/symptom (D/S link out of trillions of possible links in less than half a second? 

This list of 6 unique new premises could be explaining the enigma and revealing an exciting glimpse into the mind:

First, the total born and learned knowledge available to the doctor could only be existing as the stored/retrieved data within the 100 billion neurons in his brain.

Second, axon hillocks could be storing that knowledge as combinatorial memories. Residing at the head of the axonal output of each neuron is its axon hillock, receiving thousands of inputs from other neurons. Each hillock is known to be making the pivotal neuronal decision about received inputs within 5 milliseconds. The hillock could be opting to fire impulses, if it recalled a combination. If not, it could be opting to inhibit further impulses.  Or, it could be recording new combinations, adding to its memory store.  These choices and recordings were programming axon hillocks to logically store and respond to vast memories, making the mind intelligent.

Third, combinations are known to be providing nature with its most powerful mode of coding. Science has been reporting the neuronal memories provided by combinations for millions of smells. Each axon hillock is capable of processing more combinations than there are stars in the sky. Each new combination stored by an axon hillock could be recording a new set of relationship links remembered by the mind.  The doctor's brain could be storing all the D/S links known to him as combinations in the relevant axon hillocks of his brain.

Fourth, instant global communication is working today as a practical reality. Millions of cells of spreadsheets are instantly reflecting single inputs into cells. The doctor observes a symptom. Within the instant of his observation, the feedback and feed forward links of his brain could be informing all related D/S axon hillocks of the presence of the symptom as a combinatorial transmission.  Only the D/S link of Disease X could be recalling the combination and recognizing the symptom.

Fifth, on not recognizing the symptom, all other disease related D/S hillocks could be instantly inhibiting their impulses. But, the D/S links of Disease X could be continuing to fire. Those firing D/S link would be recalling past complaints, treatments, patients, references and signs of Disease X, thus confirming the diagnosis, in the doctor's mind.  In this manner, rational axon hillocks could be enabling the prescient speed and wisdom of the mind.

Sixth, specific regions of the brain are known to be identifying sensory inputs, recognizing objects and events, triggering emotions and providing motor responses. Axon hillocks of those regions could be rationally responding to inputs and triggering those functions. The axon hillocks of the amygdala could be storing memories of threats during life, or during prehistoric encounters. The sight of a snake could be triggering fear signals from the organ. Those signals could be triggering reflexive flight or freeze responses out of the axon hillocks of the motor regions.

Finally, common sense can calm such reflexive responses through routines for self awareness, as suggested in these pages. Sound judgement
can be toughening the mind by making it patient and by controlling its temper. Grief or guilt will not be shattering experiences; reason can be the tool for conquering fear; for escaping from the well of sudden disappointment; avoiding dissatisfaction with life; avoiding despair over the lack of meaning in life. These urged routines, which provide effective mind control, are now benefiting thousands of people.

orldwide interest in this website is acknowledging its rationale. Not metaphysical theories, but pattern recognition and infinite axon hillock memories could be explaining the astonishing speed of human intuition. Several years after 1989, a Nobel Prize began acknowledging combinatorial olfactory codes. Over three decades, this website has been assembling evidence of how neural pattern recognition is powering emotional and physical behaviors. It has been receiving over 2 million page views from over 150 countries.

The Social Comparison Theory
What Is The Social Comparison Theory?
The Social Comparison Theory was initially proposed by social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954. The theory proposes that individuals have an internal drive to evaluate their own opinions and desires by comparing themselves to others. People look at outside images to evaluate their own views and abilities. These images are sought to be realistic and achievable. The drive to compare reduces as the comparison image diverges from their images of their own views and abilities. People tend to move into groups of similar opinions and abilities, and they move out of groups that fail to satisfy their comparison drive. The theory suggests that while people do improve their abilities through comparison, they do not change their views significantly through the same process.

The Social Comparison Theory
How Does The Herd Instinct Work?
The social comparison drive became a survival need, when grazing animals grouped together to protect themselves. The groups moved and acted together, without any overall plan. Unlike an army detachment, which follows an overall plan, individual emotional controls achieve cooperative behavior in herds. Social comparison helped herds to imitate the behavior of equals to choose cooperative patterns of behavior. These tendencies create a status structure of higher and lower groups. A dominance hierarchy is established, with leaders and followers. Each group compare themselves within their own group. At the watering hole, the leader drinks first. Others instinctively follow. Social comparison enabled individual assessments of supportive group behavior.

The Social Comparison Theory
When Does Social Comparison Function?
Without our awareness, our nervous system monitors the behavior of people all around us. If we step into an elevator, our muscles stiffen so as to avoid encroaching into the private territories of others. The formal atmosphere of a museum quiets our conversation. If someone stops in the middle of the street to look up, others will also look up. If someone you respect bows to authority, you are more likely to follow suit. We tend to compare and imitate. We sense their tension and imitate their focus of attention. All this is done without much conscious awareness. Social comparison is a ceaseless part of our subconscious mental processes.

The Social Comparison Theory
How Do Emotions Impact Behavior?
Social comparison is a pattern recognition process, which compares the behavior and achievements of others to assess one's own position in the social group. A person understands his rank in the hierarchy, measured in terms of wealth, official status, or physical prowess. When people are generally comparable, such as in a school yard, behavior patterns decide the hierarchy. Leaders tend to be aggressive, to push back if pressed and to intrude into other's spaces. Anger establishes dominance. Fear subdues the follower. Shame and guilt prevent actions, which are injurious to the herd. The generated emotions continually decide the social structure.

The Social Comparison Theory
How Does The Emotional Mechanism Function?
Pattern recognition of comparative behavior triggers emotional control signals, which modify behavior within milliseconds. Within the blink of an eye, your body prepares for an infinite range of variations of the fight, or flight response. Fear, or anger triggers immediate responses. Adrenalin increases. Heart beats increase to improve blood supply. Blood pressure rises and breathing changes. Acidity increases in the stomach. The excretory system prepares to clear toxin. Without your conscious awareness, the comparison process makes you feel fear, guilt, shame, or despair about your comparative stance. These are subtle bodily responses, which manipulate your behavior and disturb your peace of mind.

The Social Comparison Theory
Can You Control Your Emotional Behavior?
Hidden social comparison triggers emotional responses. Your conscious awareness of the generated ill feelings follows the process. The experiments of Benjamin Libet uncovered your helpless role in this powerful pattern recognition routine. He studied subjects who voluntarily pressed a button, while noting the position of a dot on a computer screen, which shifted its position every 43 milliseconds. The noted moment of depressing the button was the moment of conscious awareness of the decision of the subjects to press the button. Each time, Libet also timed the beginning of motor neuron activity in the brains of his subjects. He discovered that awareness occurred 350 milliseconds AFTER the beginning of motor activity. Emotions take control of your mind before your awareness of how, or why it all happened.

The Social Comparison Theory
Can You Still Your Emotions?
Your mind processes knowledge faster than your conscious thoughts. Subconscious social comparison may trigger negative emotions like anger, fear, shame, or guilt, or despair. When you feed realistic data to the system you can prevent such emotions from being triggered. Even if bad feelings are triggered, you can quiet them by paying conscious attention to them.

Fortunately, both these actions are within your conscious control. In its intuitive wisdom, a focus of attention on reasonable data will cause your mind to absorb it and to respond reasonably. It will also subdue negative emotions, if you consciously observe them from a distance. You can prevent the emotion from being triggered by changing your attitudes through new knowledge. You can still those emotions by becoming conscious of them when they are triggered.

The Social Comparison Theory
How Is Envy Triggered?
The social comparison drive evaluates comparisons with perceived equals on the emotional values of material possessions and social relationships. The high appeal of a neighbor's gleaming new car enhances the pain of a missed loan installment on one's own battered jalopy. One's inability to match the achievements of others switches to anger over the unfairness of it all. Anger redirects to the nearest victim. Subconscious social comparison triggers destructive envy, which harms people and makes them wish ill upon their neighbors.

The Social Comparison Theory
Does Envy Accept Reality?
Envy is founded on a wrong view of fairness. A natural sense of fairness makes parents treat their children equally. Our political systems stand for equality. But, life is neither ideal, nor fair. There will always be other people with more talents, more wealth, or more health. Neither is fairness a workable social concept. The brilliant insights of a few stand behind great achievements of man. The inventor of the wheel alone contributed lifetimes of effort to all of humanity. History shows that depriving talented people in the name of fairness leads only to the proven poverty of the socialist systems. Even if it is not fair, society can thrive only if it rewards those who contribute more. Once this reality of the world around us seeps in, envy has no place.

The Social Comparison Theory
Do Guilt & Shame Reduce Conflict?
The social comparison drive reduces conflicts in groups. A person, who feels no guilt is likely to harm others and to harm the fabric of society. The so called mirror neuron network enables us to sense the emotional responses of others concerning our errors and omissions. We tend to feel the weight of their contempt or scorn as painful emotions. Eisenberger's research at UCLA confirms activity in the neural pain circuits, when a person suffers social rejection. The system triggered the pain of guilt and shame by comparing selfish behavior with the the moral code of the group. Guilt causes a person to express regret and so, he is likely to be forgiven. This reduces the chances of retaliation and consequent conflict. The social comparison drive discourages unsocial actions and compels members to act for group benefit.

The Social Comparison Theory
What Are The Ill Effects Of Social Comparison?
The hidden process of social comparison triggers the painful processes of envy. When the achievements of others cause you discomfort, become aware of the negative emotion. Should you suffer the emotions of an animal past? Is the pain of envy justified? Do you not have advantages, which the other lacks? If you fail in one area, can you not discover equally satisfying, but achievable goals elsewhere? Can you not cherish the many advantages that you have in life? Accepting the reality of your own failures will still envy and make you feel a better person. The success of your neighbor will then only inspire you to do better in your own life.

The Social Comparison Theory 
Are You Aware Of The Benefits Of Social Comparison?
Millions of buying decisions in the market place are triggered through the social comparison process. Fashions change, when role models decide to wear their skirts long, or short. Word of mouth advertising is an acceptance of advantages of a product, as perceived by a friend or neighbor. The gestures of film stars are copied by millions of fans. The mirror neuron network may have roles to play in this process, where motor regions imitate the responses of goal directed actions of another person. Evidently, we will imitate the actions of someone we admire, because our neural network subconsciously decides that an improvement in performance is desirable! We can leave it to nature to subconsciously improve our performance through social comparison!

This page was last updated on 03-Sep-2016

Jordan Peterson - Happiness
Can Artificial Intelligence Replace Humans?

JUST THINK...   What happens when you are beginning to talk? Your nervous system is picking an emotion, articulating an idea around it, choosing apt words from a vocabulary of thousands of words, arranging them in lexical and grammatical order and adjusting the pitch of your voice. Before you speak you are having no consciousness of the words you will use. Who is actually taking charge?  This question leads to the question "What is consciousness itself?" Is consciousness a spirit living in a human body?  Is it a life form that emerges from the nervous system?  This is the living hard problem of consciousness.