Social Psychology Research Project on self-enhancements


Tracy Truong & Cynthia Martinez

Annotated Bibliography

Social Psychology



Self-enhancement techniques, particularly the better-than-average effect, self-serving

beliefs, and downward social comparison, can positively or negatively influence individuals to

behave a certain way in different socio-cultural contexts. These techniques can be effective as

demonstrated by several studies because it can potentially improve the development of your

self-concept and enhance self-esteem.

Self-concept is the idea that an individual can bring about who they are based on the

actual self and imagined self (Kassin, Fein and Markus, 2017, p. 55). This can be based on one’s

experience because of the acquired knowledge one has about themselves (Kassin, Fein &

Markus, 2017, p. 57). This can be correlated to self-esteem, the idea that an individual may

experience a positive or a negative attitude towards oneself based on characteristics (Kassin, Fein

& Markus, 2017, p. 76)). In other words, a person will evaluate themselves based on how

satisfied they may be about who they are (Kassin, Fein & Markus, 2017, p. 76). Self-concept and

self-esteem can intertwine with one another. Based on the individual’s awareness to one’s own

self-evaluations, this may lead individuals to have a positive self esteem in an unconscious way.

For instance, a person may experience positive self-esteem and believes that the skills are above

and beyond people’s expectations. Kassin, Fein and Markus (2017) explains how there are

several self-enhancement techniques to help maintain or enhance their self-esteem.


The first technique includes the better-than-average effect. This is described by the

tendency of a person to think themselves as better than average (Kassin, Fein & Markus, 2017,

p.89). This can be a good technique, as it is a way for one’s highly positive self criticism to be

modified in a way to boost one’s self-esteem. Kim, Kwon and Chiu (2017) puts this mechanism

to the test, by grabbing participants to measure what their ability in comparison to another person

that is considered average. Some of the abilities measured included types of writing, organization

and cognitive thinking. The results indicated that the students actually scored average or below

average, depending on how easy or difficult the ability was. However, Kim, Kwon and Chiu still

interpret the better-than-average effect as a self-enhancement mechanism, because the results

show that the participants interpret the word “average” differently. therefore each ability,

whether easy or difficult, scored medium or a little below medium (Kim, Kwon & Chiu, 2017).

There were three findings that supported this theory to be a form of self-enhancement. First,

Kim, Kwon and Chiu find that the participants in each group define the the word “average” as a

below medium score. One example that was used is when someone criticizes a professor to be

just an average teacher. Due to this, most participants only scored below-medium, but in their

minds, they believe that is a true definition of “average.” The next factor is how the participants

rated the task itself. For instance, if the task given seemed easy, this boosted their self-esteem,

scoring close to average. Lastly, Kim, Kwon and Chiu examined the gender differences (even

though this was no intention to do so) and how most men in the study scored slightly higher than

average on the science based abilities/skills.

The better-than-average effect also has been implied into the Implicit Association Test

(IAT). The IAT measures on association between two things (Kassin, Fein & Markus, 2016). In


other words, this test will view how an individual will quickly affiliate two ideas and this

measure will determine how one is thinking in an unconscious way (Kassin, Fein & Markus,

2016, p. 163). Howald and Ratliff (2016) experiment two types of studies where participants will

be using the IAT to determine stereotyping and prejudice. The first study included adult

participants taking the IAT with the category, thin people vs. fat people (Howald & Ratliff,

2016). In order to test this theory, Howald and Ratliff changed the wording in the questions, so

the participants would answer preferences on an individual perspective and the world’s

perspective. For example, the participants answered in a way to make themselves seem as they

are not discriminating in any type of way compared to the average population. When asked what

the world prefers, the majority answered that the world prefered thin people, and the individual’s

answered that they preferred thin people and fat people equally (Howald & Ratliff, 2016).

The second study shows the similar situation, but with other IAT tests including

stereotyping (Howald & Ratliff, 2016). One thing that was added was an agree to disagree

question regards on how their thoughts were affected based on the topics of the IAT (Howald &

Ratliff, 2016). This resulted that many participants showed a slight significance in offense, which

shows how well the better-than-average theory was implied due to the results from the IAT being

neutral and showing stereotype behavior.

Serving belief is another form of how one’s self-esteem can boost, because a person will

attribute a scenario to favor themselves based on behavior or cognitive thinking. Self-serving

beliefs may have a positive and negative factor. Both factors will figure out ways to explain how

this is benefitting the self. There have been a few studies proving how self-serving beliefs look

like (Palmeira, Spassova & Keh, 2015, p. 90). The studies included the participants


(decision-makers) opinions based on whether or not advisors are offering good or bad advice,

and being questioned who has been more responsible to taking the advice in effect (Palmeira,

Spassova & Keh, 2015). This has been observed by surveying both groups on questionnaires in

relation to how knowledgeable they may feel (Palmeira, Spassova & Keh, 2015). The results turn

out that the decision makers felt that the advisors overall gave positive advice which lead to

positive outcomes in the questionnaires, which gained the decision makers a positive self-serving

belief in themself, although (Palmeir, Spassova & Keh, 2015). The reason is due to the

trustworthiness in advisors which creates a boost in self-enhancement.

Another mechanism of self-enhancement that people often subconsciously partake in is

the downward social comparison. Downward social comparison is defined as the defensive

tendency to compare ourselves with others who are worse off than we are (Kassin, Fein &

Markus, 2016). More often than not, downward social comparison is commonly used in all

aspects of our everyday life occurring in school, work, volunteer organizations, and many more.

Comparing ourselves to others could potentially harm us or encourage us to be and do better;

however, researchers demonstrated that in particular, downward social comparison uplifts

people’s mood and shifts their perspective in life (p.93).

Social Comparison on Facebook: Motivation, affective consequences, self-esteem, and

Facebook fatigue​ by Cramer, Song, and Drent focuses on research examining individuals who

constantly and consistently participate in using social media. Currently, millennials and future

generations are absorbing Facebook content as soon as they wake up in the morning. Without

even realizing it, they are developing their own self-assessments in comparison to their peers

who may seem more successful than they are. Facebook users are able to share their life with


others by updating their status, post pictures and videos that they may or may not spend time

editing, and comments.

Recent research showed that self-esteem is negatively correlated with the time spent on

Facebook and other social media activity such as Instagram, SnapChat, or even Twitter (Cramer

et. al, 2016). People only spend time posting exciting events or successes on their social media –

hiking, traveling, graduating, job promotion, milestones (getting married, buying a car, or a

home). People post what they want to post and they want others to know, and more often times

than not, to think, that their life is incredible, and they are not struggling. In a sense, individuals

already know what they see on social media may not always be the true predicament of that

person’s life or character. However, they are still affected by it and is negatively comparing

themselves to others. Helgeson and Mickelson’s (1995) functional approach model was used in

this research which focused on motives rather than social comparisons (upward and downward)

(Cramer, Song & Drent, 2016). When people realized that they are comparing themselves to

others who are in a less fortunate situation than they are, they use it as a learning lesson – to not

make the same mistakes they did.

In terms of social comparison regarding individuals with higher self-esteems (HSEs),

they are more prone to partake in downward social comparison (self-enhancement) compared to

those with lower self-esteems (Cramer, Song, & Drent, 2016). Researchers collected data of

participants using a Likert Scale, asking them questions such as, “Do you compare yourself to

others on Facebook”? In addition to those questions, researchers also conducted a social

comparison perception test, motivates for social comparison, facebook fatigue test, self-esteem,

and positive affect using the Likert Scale which ranges in values from 1-5 (Cramer et. al, 2016).


Results show that some people may have a higher preference of using Facebook less to increase

their self-esteem instead of participating in social comparisons.

Social media may be a negative influence in our lives – affecting us emotionally and

psychologically. The previous article focuses on downward social comparison in relation to

social media activity. ​Relationship social comparison interpretations and dating relationship

quality, behaviors, and mood​ by Marian Morry and Tamara Sucharyna focuses on social

comparison in dating relationships. When individuals choose their partners, most already have a

high standard that he/she would have to meet. They would have to fulfill the “lists” that would

make them a great partner. People often compare their own relationships in relation to their

friend’s relationship with their partners. Focusing on downward social comparison, individuals

may overprioritze or overexemply their own relationship in order to make themselves feel better

about what they may be going through. Morry and Tamara states that social comparisons are one

source of information individuals use to make sense of their relationships (p. 554).

After an upward or downward social comparison, people must interpret what they want to

do with their relationship – hope for the future or realizing that their relationship is not going

anywhere. Researchers created a Relationship Social Comparison Interpretation Scale (RSCI) to

further understand the interpretations and correlations with relationship quality, self-reported

behaviors, and mood (Morry and Tamara, 2016). According to the article, people only partake in

any form of social comparison when they are unsure, stressed, or unsatisfied with their current

relationship. Participants (N = 206) around the age of 21 years old who are in a relationship with

their partner for at least 37 months were randomly assigned to make an upward or downward

social comparison to their friend’s relationships. Qualtrics, an online assessment, collected the


participant’s results. Using these results to differentiate between secure and insecure individuals,

people interpret their comparisons differently depending on the social contexts. The three self

enhancement techniques: better-than-average effect, self-serving beliefs, and downward social

comparison are a few of the many ways individuals are influenced to change in behavior. Studies

have been proven how effective these techniques work. One thing to come to mind is how this

may work both consciously and unconsciously, in order to help enhance or maintain self-esteem.



Cramer, E. M., Song, H., & Drent, A. M. (2016). Social comparison on Facebook: Motivation,

affective consequences, self-esteem, and Facebook fatigue. ​Computers in Human

Behavior, 64739​-746. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2016.07.049

Fein, S., Kassin, S., Markus, H.R. (2017). Social Psychology. Cengage Learning. (p.88-93).

Howel, J. L., Ratliff, K. A. (2016). Not your average bigot: the better-than-average effect and

defense responding to implicit association test feedback. ​British Journal of Social

Psychology​, ​56(1)​, ​125-145​. Doi: ​10.1111/bjso.12168

Kassin, S., Fein, S., & Markus, H. R. (2017). ​Social psychology​ (10th ed.). Boston, MA:

Cengage Learning.

Kim, Y-H., Kwon, H., Chiu, C-Y. (2017). The better-than-average effect is observed because

“average” is often construed as below-medium ability. ​US National Library of Medicine​,

8​, ​898​, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00898

Mory, M. M., & Sucharyna, T. A. (2016). Relationship social comparison interpretations and

dating relationship quality, behaviors, and mood. ​Personal Relationships, 23​ (3),

554-576. doi: 10.1111/pere.12143

Palmeira, M., Spassova, G., Keh, H. T. (2015). Other-serving bias in advice taking: when


advisors receive more credit than blame. Organizational Behavior and Human decision

processes, 130, 13-25.