In a Good Place

Kevin Lewis

September 12, 2020

When every day is a high school reunion: Social media comparisons and self-esteem
Claire Midgley et al.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming


Although past research has shown that social comparisons made through social media contribute to negative outcomes, little is known about the nature of these comparisons (domains, direction, and extremity), variables that determine comparison outcomes (post valence, perceiver's self-esteem), and how these comparisons differ from those made in other contexts (e.g., text messages, face-to-face interactions). In 4 studies (N = 798), we provide the first comprehensive analysis of how individuals make and respond to social comparisons on social media, using comparisons made in real-time while browsing news feeds (Study 1), experimenter-generated comparisons (Study 2), and comparisons made on social media versus in other contexts (Studies 3 and 4). More frequent and more extreme upward comparisons resulted in immediate declines in self-evaluations as well as cumulative negative effects on individuals' state self-esteem, mood, and life satisfaction after a social media browsing session. Moreover, downward and lateral comparisons occurred less frequently and did little to mitigate upward comparisons' negative effects. Furthermore, low self-esteem individuals were particularly vulnerable to making more frequent and more extreme upward comparisons on social media, which in turn threatened their already-lower self-evaluations. Finally, social media comparisons resulted in greater declines in self-evaluations than those made in other contexts. Together, these studies provide the first insights into the cumulative impact of multiple comparisons, clarify the role of self-esteem in online comparison processes, and demonstrate how the characteristics and impact of comparisons on social media differ from those made in other contexts.

Why a Simple Act of Kindness Is Not as Simple as It Seems: Underestimating the Positive Impact of Our Compliments on Others
Erica Boothby & Vanessa Bohns
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


A simple compliment can make someone's day, start a new friendship, or just make the world a better, kinder place. So, why don't people give more compliments? Perhaps people misforecast the effect their compliment will have. Five studies explored this possibility. In Studies 1a and 1b, compliment givers underestimated how positively the person receiving their compliment would feel, with consequences for their likelihood of giving a compliment. Compliment givers also overestimated how bothered and uncomfortable the recipient would feel (Study 2) - and did so even in hindsight (Study 3). Compliment givers' own anxiety and concern about their competence led to their misprediction, whereas third-party forecasters were accurate (Study 4). Finally, despite compliment givers' anxiety at the prospect of giving compliments across our studies, they felt better after having done so (Study 4). Our studies suggest that people misestimate their compliments' value to others, and so they refrain from engaging in this prosocial behavior.

Highs and lows: Genetic susceptibility to daily events
Maurizio Sicorello et al.
PLoS ONE, August 2020


Why people differ in their susceptibility to external events is essential to our understanding of personality, human development, and mental disorders. Genes explain a substantial portion of these differences. Specifically, genes influencing the serotonin system are hypothesized to be differential susceptibility factors, determining a person's reactivity to both positive and negative environments. We tested whether genetic variation in the serotonin transporter (5-HTTLPR) is a differential susceptibility factor for daily events. Participants (N = 326, 77% female, mean age = 25, range = 17-36) completed smartphone questionnaires four times a day over four to five days, measuring stressors, uplifts, positive and negative affect. Affect was predicted from environment valence in the previous hour on a within-person level using three-level autoregressive linear mixed models. The 5-HTTLPR fulfilled all criteria of a differential susceptibility factor: Positive affect in carriers of the short allele (S) was less reactive to both uplifts and stressors, compared to homozygous carriers of the long allele (L/L). This pattern might reflect relative affective inflexibility in S-allele carriers. Our study provides insight into the serotonin system's general role in susceptibility and highlights the need to assess the whole spectrum of naturalistic experiences.

Lay Theories of the Wandering Mind: Control-Related Beliefs Predict Mind Wandering Rates in- and outside the Lab
Claire Zedelius, John Protzko & Jonathan Schooler
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


People often fail to keep their mind from wandering. Here, we examine how the tendency to mind wander is affected by people's beliefs, or lay theories. Building on research on lay theories and self-regulation, we test whether differences in people's beliefs about the extent to which mind wandering is controllable affect thought control strategies and mind-wandering rates in daily life and the laboratory. We develop a new scale to assess control-related beliefs about mind wandering. Scores on the scale predict mind wandering (Study 1) and intrusive thoughts (Study 2) in everyday life, thought control strategies and dysfunctional responses to unwanted thoughts (Study 2), and mind wandering during reading in the laboratory (Studies 3-6). Moreover, experimentally induced lay theories affect mind-wandering rates during reading (Studies 4 and 5). Finally, the effectiveness of strategies people can use to reduce their mind wandering depends on their lay theories (Studies 2 and 6).

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