Special Session Summary Biases in Social Comparison: If You Are One in a Million, There Are 4,000 People Just Like You

Geeta Menon, New York University
Vicki G. Morwitz, New York University
[ to cite ]:
Geeta Menon and Vicki G. Morwitz (1994) ,"Special Session Summary Biases in Social Comparison: If You Are One in a Million, There Are 4,000 People Just Like You", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 379.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Page 379

SPECIAL SESSION SUMMARY

BIASES IN SOCIAL COMPARISON: IF YOU ARE ONE IN A MILLION, THERE ARE 4,000 PEOPLE JUST LIKE YOU

Geeta Menon, New York University

Vicki G. Morwitz, New York University

Consumers both shape and are shaped by their social context. They often compare themselves to other people (e.g., their reference group), and their attitudes and judgments are affected by such comparisons. In fact, the literature in psychology and marketing indicates that behavior too is often affected by social influences (e.g., Bearden and Etzel 1982; Bearden and Rose 1990).

There is ample evidence that these social comparisons are prone to biases. We concentrate on three forms of bias, two consensus effects and one uniqueness effect: (a) The false consensus effect is the tendency for individuals to falsely assume that other people are similar to them (i.e., "They are like me"). In general, this bias might manifest itself when consumers are asked to provide information about other people. (b) The "backward" false consensus effect is the tendency for individuals to falsely assume that they are similar to other people (i.e., "I am like them"). This bias might manifest itself when consumers are asked to provide self-judgements, and information about oneself is not accessible or reliable. Consumers may therefore use information about other people when constructing or estimating their own values. (c) The false uniqueness effect is the tendency for individuals to falsely assume that they are different from other people (i.e., "I am unique").

Each of the three papers presented in this session demonstrated one or more of the biases discussed above. In addition, Steve Hoch's comments as discussant helped tie the findings of the papers together. The first paper by Deborah Mitchell and Eric Johnson examined how managers' predictions of their markets suffer from a very large false consensus bias. Additionally, managers are systematically overconfident in their predictions. The second paper by Geeta Menon, Priya Raghubir and Norbert Schwarz illustrated that a respondent's estimate of the frequency of a behavior is subject to false consensus bias. The extent of this bias is moderated by the diagnosticity of the information of oneself in memory. Further, this paper introduces the concept of a backward false consensus effect. This effect is shown to occur when adequate information about oneself is not accessible. Finally, Vicki Morwitz and Carol Pluzinski demonstrated all three biases in a political polling context. Voters surveyed prior to the 1992 U.S. Presidential Election demonstrated false consensus bias when they expected that many others would also vote for the same candidate for whom they intended to vote, despite a preponderance of information available indicating the contrary. In actual voting, however, people had a tendency to switch from their intended vote to the candidate expected to win by the majority (i.e., Clinton). This type of "bandwagon" phenomenon exemplifies the behavioral consequence of the backward false consensus effect. This paper further shows that an overwhelming percentage of voters believe that they are not at all influenced by published political polls. At the same time, they perceive that most other voters are influenced by the same polls, illustrating the false uniqueness effect.

REFERENCES

Bearden, William O. and Michael J. Etzel (1982), "Reference Group Influence on Product and Brand Purchase Decisions," Journal of Consumer Research, 9 (September), 183-194.

Bearden, William O. and Randall L. Rose (1990), "Attention to Social Comparison Information: An Individual Difference Factor Affecting Consumer Conformity," Journal of Consumer Research, 16 (March), 461-471.

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