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"When bad things happen" : the self-enhancing effect of watching television talk shows

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"When bad things happen" : the self-enhancing effect of watching television talk shows
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Frisby, Cynthia M
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xii, 192 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.

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Audiences ( jstor )
College students ( jstor )
Gratification ( jstor )
Self esteem ( jstor )
Social comparison ( jstor )
Social psychology ( jstor )
Talk shows ( jstor )
Television programs ( jstor )
Television viewing ( jstor )
Viewers ( jstor )
Dissertations, Academic -- Journalism and Mass Communications -- UF ( lcsh )
Journalism and Mass Communications thesis, Ph.D ( lcsh )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Thesis:
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1997.
Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 183-191).
Additional Physical Form:
Also available online.
General Note:
Typescript.
General Note:
Vita.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Cynthia M. Frisby.

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"WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN:"
THE SELF-ENHANCING EFFECT OF WATCHING TELEVISION TALK SHOWS










By

CYNTHIA M. FRISBY














A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

1997































To the members of my family, I dedicate this dissertation. Thanks for loving and
supporting me during the three years I worked on this project.














ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I wish to thank the members of my committee, Debbie Treise, Kim Walsh-

Childers, James Shepperd, and Barry Schlenker for having an enormous amount of

patience and understanding, for returning my numerous e-mail messages and phone calls,

forgiving my many mistakes, teaching me how to produce a quality research project,

answering millions of questions, being available for countless office visits, and for the

invaluable advice on research, writing manuscripts, and teaching philosophies. It should

be obvious that I have learned a lot from these people, and I know I learned from the best.

Thank you, in particular, to James Shepperd for supplying the "tools" I needed to

cultivate and enhance my interest in and enthusiasm for this dissertation topic.

I would like to, however, extend a special thank you and word of appreciation to

my chairman, Dr. Michael Weigold, for whom I give credit for encouraging me to attain,

this, one of the greatest, and most challenging accomplishments of my life. We've

known each other for almost six years and in that time he has had to help me overcome

many challenges and obstacles. To Dr. Weigold, I would like to say thank you for being

everything to me, my advisor, major professor, mentor, and friend. Thank you will never,

ever begin to express all the appreciation I have for the man who held high standards that

merely dared me to be the best I can be.







iii









I would also like to thank my husband, Craig Frisby, for his assurance and

willingness to sacrifice a few important deadlines and "date nights," cancel office hours,

do the laundry, iron shirts and wash dishes just so that the dissertation could be

completed in a timely manner. I would especially like to thank him for having a soft

shoulder to cry on, for loving me no matter what, being a good listener, and for

maintaining his wonderful sense of humor. My husband truly is my best friend and is my

"one in a million chance of a lifetime when God showed compassion, and sent to me a

stroke of 'love' called [Craig]." I would also like to extend a huge thank you to my

mother, Ada Smith. Thank you, doesn't seem to say all that I need to say, but I'll give it

my best. I would like to thank my mother for sacrificing all of her time and energy so

that she could help me whenever I needed her, particularly when it came to taking care of

our "angels," Angela and Marcus. I will never forget the countless times she would

suddenly and unexpectedly, with no hesitation, volunteer to spend the night and/or pick

the children up from school just so that I could grade papers and/or projects, record exam

scores, prepare lectures, and/or work on my dissertation. I am so thankful that God may

allow my mother to see me, her oldest child, walk across the stage and receive a degree

that she probably thought she would never live to see in her lifetime. "I'll love her

forever, I'll like her for always, and forever, and ever my Mommie she'll be."

I am also indebted to other members of my family, namely my sister, Sharrone,

and my brother, Michael. I would especially like to thank my sister for driving over 500

miles late one Friday night in the middle of a monsoon so that she could be on hand to

help with the children. What a sacrifice and sign of my sister's--who is also my very




iv









best friend-- unselfish love! A word of thanks are also due to my extended family, Rev.

Leon and Mabel Frisby, my mom and dad, and my brother-in-law, Brian Frisby, who

stressed the value of family and maintaining a Christ-centered home. It has certainly

been evident in my family and throughout my life that "nothing happens to a child of

God without going through the hands of God."

Throughout the course of this and other life experiences, I have come to realize

that God provides and will send guardian angels to protect me and to keep my feet from

stumbling. To David Brumbaugh and George Stewart, thanks for providing all the

computer support I needed and a "place to hide." A word of thanks should also be

extended to Noralyn Jones and Lori McRee for taking such great care of and loving my

special angels during the day. Thanks to Kirsten Strausbaugh for being the best office

partner the college had to offer. I would like to thank Tracy Cristal for writing a very

"special letter," a letter that inspired me one day when I really needed it. I must also

acknowledge some very dear friends, Jim and Alison Karrh, Debbie Perez, and Millie

Rivera-Sanchez. I would like to extend an extra special word of appreciation to Millie,

who gave me the strength and encouragement I needed, particularly when I thought I had

none left. I would especially like to thank Millie for her honesty and integrity. My

words of appreciation to Millie might best be expressed in the words of a song, "Did I

ever tell you that you're my hero? You're everything I would like to be." Proverbs 17: 17

says, "A friend loves at all times." I can not count the numerous times this scripture came

to life through the acts of unconditional love and forgiveness which was displayed many






v









times by my friends. Thanks to my friends for encouraging me to keep on running the

race that was set before me and for being my special "guardian angel."

I would be remiss if I did not thank my research assistants, Wendy Allen, Tina

Banner, Steve Carlton, Aaron Charron, Cynthia Contreas, Joy Cooper, Reginald Gay,

David Groomes, Tanya Mortensen, and Christina Smart. While the work load and task

was tremendous and at times overwhelming, these young men and women consistently

displayed unspeakable enthusiasm and cooperation. I am proud to have had the pleasure

of working with them all. Thank you to "my team" for their continued commitment and

devotion.

At this point I would like to extend a quick word of thanks to my church family

who always, no matter what, prayed for me, loved me, and lifted my spirits. God has

said, "never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" and HE NEVER DID! God's

continued presence in my life became obvious to me through the love of my family,

friends, and church.

Jesus says, "whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the

Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him," (Colossians 3:17). I

would like to thank God for His amazing grace, for making me the person that I am, and

for creating in me a desire to be like and have the mind of Christ. I am so glad that I no

longer have to look for love in all the wrong places. At this moment, I am proud to say

that I found love, forgiveness and grace in one Man, the person of Jesus Christ. Praise

God for the fact that I am a victor in Christ!






vi















TABLE OF CONTENTS


page


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................................................................................. iii

A B ST R A C T ....................................................................................................................... xi .

CHAPTERS

1 IN TR O D U C TIO N ..................................................................................................

Statement of the Problem Under Investigation...........................................................2...
Popularity of the TV Talk Show.....................................................................3...
TV Talk Shows: Trash TV or Infotainment?.................................................6...
The Benefit of Watching Talk TV ..................................................................9...
The Theoretical Framework to Explain Consumption of TV Talk Shows.................9...
Contribution to Theory Development and Field of Mass Communication ..............10

2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ...................................................................... 13

M otives for M edia U se ............................................................................................. 13
Current Research on Uses and Gratifications ...............................................15
Limitations of Uses and Gratifications .........................................................17
Entertainm ent Theory ......................................................................................... 19
A ffective R egulation........................................................................................... 20
Social Comparison Theory .................................................................................23
Literature Review on Social Comparison.................................................................23
Three Types of Social Comparisons...................................................................25
Criticisms of Social Comparison Theory............................................................29
Dimensions that Encourage the Social Comparison Process..............................33
Possible Outcomes of a Downward Social Comparison.....................................38
Individual Differences in the Social Comparison Process..................................45
Effects of Threat on Mood States .......................................................................53
Theoretical Assumptions of the Present Study .........................................................57
TV Talk Show V iew ers ...................................................................................... 57
Individual Differences in Downward and Upward Social Comparison
P rocesses .............................................................................................. ......... 58
Changes in Life Satisfaction and Mood..............................................................58


vii









Effects of Threat to Esteem on Mood States.......................................................59
Experim ental Predictions.......................................................................................... 59

3 M E T H O D .......................................................................................................... 62

O verview of Study .................................................................................................... 62
Design and Experimental Manipulations............................................................64
Brief Overview of the Experimental Procedures ................................................64
Population and Sam ple ....................................................................................... 65
Instrumentation: The Research Tools .......................................................................66
Selection of the TV Talk Shows .........................................................................66
Measures of Program Choice and Self-Esteem...................................................69
Feedback Instrumentation: The Balanced Inventory of Desirable
R esponding (B ID R ) ...................................................................................... 70
Time: Pre and Post Social Comparison Opportunity.........................................71
Comparison Conditions ......................................................................................72
Measures of Life Satisfaction and Mood State .............................................74
Procedure .......... .................................................................................. ............ 76
D ebriefing ........................................................................................................ 8 1


4 R E SU L T S ....................................................................................................... 83

Prelim inary A nalysis................................................................................................. 83
Reliability of Measurement Scales .....................................................................83
M anipulation Checks .......................................................................................... 84
F eedback .............................................................................................. ......... 84
Competence and Coping Capability of Target..............................................85
Addressing The Experimental Hypotheses and Research Questions........................86
The Effects of Downward Comparisons on Life Satisfaction and Mood ........... 87
The Effects of an Upward Comparison on Life Satisfaction and Mood............. 90
Research Question: Is a Downward Social Comparison Moderated by
Self-Esteem and Type of Feedback?.............................................................93
Effects of Threat and Downward Comparison on Mood..............................94
A dditional A nalyses.................................................................................................. 95
Perceived Similarity of the Target ......................................................................95
Interest in the Topic or Issue...............................................................................96
Personal R elevance ............................................................................................... 97
Relationship Among Similarity, Relevance, and Interest...................................97
Evidence of the Impact of Social Comparison on Domains of Life
Satisfaction ................................................................................................... 100
Downward Comparison.............................................................................. 100
U pw ard C om parison ................................................................................... 104
A Test of the Overall Experimental Design....................................................... 106



viii









5 D ISC U SSIO N .................................................................................................. 109

Alternative Explanations for the Findings............................................................... 110
Experim ental M ethod........................................................................................1... 10
Self-A ffirm ation Theory ...................................................................................1... 12
Selective Attention and Biased Recall..............................................................1... 14
Idiosyncratic N eeds...........................................................................................1... 14
The Effects of Upward Comparisons on Subjective Well-Being ...................... 115
Selection of Versus Reaction to Comparison Targets ................................. 115
Positive Instance Hypothesis ......................................................................1... 17
Characteristics of the Target.......................................................................1... 17
Negative Feedback and the Downward Social Comparison Process................1...18
Lim itations of the Study .........................................................................................1... 19
Theoretical Im plications .......................................................................................... 122
Uses and Gratifications of Media Consumption................................................ 123
Affective Regulation and Media Use.................................................................125
The Prevalence of Everyday Social Comparisons ............................................. 125
The Case for Dissimilar Others..........................................................................127
Factors Predicting Life Satisfaction.................................................................. 127
Societal Im plications................................................................................................ 130
Television Talk Shows Are "Infotainment"....................................................... 131
The Antisocial Effects of Watching TV Talk Shows ........................................ 132
Future D irections ..................................................................................................... 135
Using Downward Comparison to Explain Viewing of Humorous TV
Show s .......................................................................................................... 135
Social Comparison with Other Media................................................................ 136
C onclusion ............................................................................................................ 138

APPENDICES

A INFORMED CONSENT FORM FOR PARTICIPATION IN
RESEARCH PROJECT........................................................................................... 142

B WRITTEN INSTRUCTIONS PROVIDED TO EXPERIMENTAL
PA R TIC IPA N TS .................................................................................................... 144

C RESEARCH ASSISTANT'S EXPERIMENTAL SCRIPT.............................146
Downward Comparison Condition: Tape A ........................................................... 146
Downward Comparison Condition: Tape D ............................................................151
Upward Comparison Condition: Tape B ................................................................157
Upward Comparison Condition: Tape C ................................................................. 163

D WRITTEN FEEDBACK.................................................................................. 169
Positive Feedback ................................................................................................... 169
N egative Feedback ................................................................................................... 169


ix









N o Feedback ........................................................................................................ 170

E PRETEST MEASUREMENT INSTRUMENT ...............................................171
Program C hoice ................................................................................................. 171

F ROSENBERG'S SELF-ESTEEM SCALE........................................................ 173

G TH E "B ID R SCA LE ........................................................................................ 174

H COPING WITH COLLEGE LIFE MEASUREMENT INSTRUMENT........ 177

I LIFE SATISFACTION MEASUREMENT INSTRUMENT..........................179

J MANIPULATION CHECK MEASUREMENT SCALE.................................181

LIST O F REFEREN CES .............................................................................................. 183

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ...........................................................................................192



































x














Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

"WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN:" THE SELF-ENHANCING EFFECT OF
WATCHING TELEVISION TALK SHOWS

By

Cynthia M. Frisby

December 1997


Chairman: Dr. Michael F. Weigold
Major Department: Journalism and Mass Communications

Daytime talk shows have been neglected as a focus of inquiry in mass media

research. However, talk shows are a popular vehicle and may satisfy viewers' needs to

feel better about themselves. Self-enhancement, or feeling better about oneself and one's

life, may be one of the primary reasons people watch what some consider to be "trashy"

TV talk programs. An experimental 2 (comparison: upward vs. downward) x 2 (self-

esteem: high vs. low) x 3 (feedback: positive vs. negative vs. none) x 2 (time: pre-social

comparison opportunity vs. post-social comparison opportunity) factorial design was

used to evaluate predictions made from social comparison theory. Changes in mood and

life satisfaction scores from the pretest to the posttest were used to measure the effects of

exposure to particular comparison targets on an individual's attitude and affective state.

Data obtained suggest that high self-esteem individuals felt better and experienced greater




xi









benefits after exposure to downward comparison targets. No support was found for an

expected relationship between threat and downward social comparisons. It appears that

threat may not be necessary for people to benefit from self-enhancing comparisons. The

data suggest that downward social comparison may be more prevalent than upward

comparisons. Results of the study are used to speculate about the functions of television

talk shows and may help to explain the popularity of this popular program genre. One

implication of the study is that research could provide insights into the processes that

motivate television viewing preferences and program choice. The theoretical and societal

implications of these results are discussed, as are the future directions for research in

social comparison theory and media consumption.






























xii














CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION

Felecia and Erica are best friends, or were best friends until Erica slept with

Felecia's boyfriend, Greg. Felecia found this out while having dinner with Erica's sister,

Candace. Now, Erica is pregnant, but is afraid to tell anyone because she's not exactly

sure who the father is. So, Felecia, Candace, Greg, Erica, and Erica's boyfriend, Patrick,

decide to air their dirty laundry on a national television talk show instead of with a

counselor or psychologist. According to Abt and Mustazza (1997), the "purpose of the

confessants' disclosures is entertainment, not therapy, and that entertainment has been

known to go to bizarre lengths" (p. 98). And millions of people listen in. Why do

viewers faithfully watch television talk shows that seem to focus on other people's

disclosures and personal problems?

Mass communication researchers long have been concerned with the factors that

influence media use. When people are asked why they spend so much time with the mass

media, particularly television, many respond that they do so in order to be informed

and/or entertained (Rubin, 1981). Some individuals claim to watch television for

information, while others claim that television is a means to help pass time or escape

from personal problems. This research is based on the assumption that television may

play a more complex and more subtle role.






1






2

Statement of the Problem Under Investigation


TV talk shows are dominating the airwaves of daytime television and have

become, according to Abt and Mustazza (1997), "America's entertainment." Viewers,

research suggests, have become fascinated with and dedicated to viewing their favorite

TV talk show (Nielsen Media Research, 1997). Remarkably, very little academic

attention has been devoted to the messages contained in talk show programming or the

effects of the messages on viewers' self-concepts, perceptions of reality, attitudes, and

opinions.

The representation of personal relationships and conflicts in relationships on

television constitutes a substantial part of the content of television talk shows. Talk

shows like Oprah, Montel Williams, Jerry Springer, Sally Jessy Raphael, Ricki Lake, and

Jenny Jones often focus on the formation, maintenance, dissolution of, and intimate

problems within close relationships. This paper will consider various roles television talk

shows can play: (1) to provide an emotional release for viewers; (2) to temporarily

enhance or change viewer mood states; (3) to provide a means of escape, or; (4) to help

viewers cognitively re-evaluate their own interpersonal problems and /or tensions. The

research questions guiding this investigation are: a) Do talk shows entertain by calming

or exciting? b) Do television talk shows attract a certain type of viewer significantly

more than another type of viewer (i.e. individuals low in self-worth). And, why are these

viewers attracted to television talk show programs? c) What are the benefits of watching

TV talk shows? d) Do viewers compare themselves, their life circumstances, and

problems with the guests? And, if so, what is the effect of the comparison?






3

Popularity of the TV Talk Show

Millions of people each day watch television talk shows (refer to Table 1:1).

Research results reveal that the faithful viewers of television talk shows tend to be men

and women between the ages of 18 and 34 (Simmons Market Research Bureau, 1991).

This target audience constitutes approximately 6% of the total national viewing audience.

This means that more than 600,000 young adults are regular viewers of talk shows.


Table 1:1 Top Ranked TV Talks Shows (1997 Nielsen Media Research)
Rating Number of Households Name of Talk Show
(in millions)
1 6.9 The Oprah Winfrey Show

2 4.5 Rosie O'Donnell

3 4.2 Jenny Jones

4 3.9 Sally Jessy Raphael

5 3.8 Regis & Kathie Lee

6 3.8 Maury Povich

7 3.7 Montel Williams

8 3.6 Ricki Lake

9 3.5 Jerry Springer

Note: A single rating point represents 1% or 959,000 households. There are an estimated
95.9 million TV households in the U.S.

These ratings elicit an important question: "Why are so many people attracted to

the talk show genre and the various program hosts?" One reason that has been offered for

the attraction of television talk shows is the type of information they provide. "The tell-






4

all nature of these programs makes them popular with American viewers" (Priest, 1995,

p. 3).

Television talk shows, Keller (1993) argues, attract viewers because they "grab us

emotionally" by employing topics or social issues that encourage anger and other intense

emotions. This emotional effect may explain why shows like Ricki Lake and Jenny Jones

continue to broadcast stories of violent crimes, adultery, incest, racism, sexuality, weight

gain or loss, and complex problems in interpersonal relationships with family members,

friends, or co-workers. The main objective of television talk shows, according to Keller

(1993), is to elicit a viewer's emotional response. A recent quote taken from a TV talk

show producer helps illustrate this point: "When you're booking guests, you're thinking,

'How much confrontation can this person provide me?' The more confrontation the

better. You want people just this side of a fistfight" (Gamson, 1995, p. 68).

Ricki Lake, for example, recently received the "Best Talk Show" award at the

United Kingdom National Television Awards. "Ricki Lake's syndicated talk show has

made her the Oprah of Generation X" (Mr. Showbiz, Star Bios, Internet Homepage). The

3.6 % audience rating for the Ricki Lake show means that this program reaches an

estimated audience of 3 million people (Gamson, 1995). According to the Ricki Lake

home page, the show reflects the evolving tastes of its young adult audience and promises

to deliver original, lively talk for its viewers. The Ricki Lake show also "lets us [viewers]

share other people's relationship issues in a cutting-edge daytime forum designed to keep

action hot and audience members involved" (Ricki Lake Internet Home Page). It is then

no wonder why this show remains highly ranked (refer to Table 1-1) and continues to






5

attract a large number of faithful viewers among its target audience of 18- to 34-year-old

women. "To these younger people, it [the show] makes a couple of deliciously tempting

promises: that Ricki will let them 'eavesdrop on other people's traumas and dramas in a

cutting edge daytime forum designed to keep action hot and audience members involved,'

and that Ricki's 'trademark compassion, intellect, and irresistible charm creates an

atmosphere where guests and audience members feel comfortable letting it all hang out

with absolute candor and some surprising results'" (Abt & Mustazza, 1991, p. 75).

Many of the television talk shows, however, cannot compare with the ratings of

the Oprah Winfrey show. Winfrey's syndicated talk show has stayed in the number one

position for approximately ten years and is described as being in a class all by itself (Abt

& Mustazza, 1997; Nielsen Media Research, 1997). Recently, Winfrey announced that

she was no longer going to produce sensationalized or negative shows (e.g., racism,

welfare reform, etc.). "We started doing confrontational TV....I believe it was important

to introduce these issues and face the truth of who we were...Instead, TV got stuck

thriving on them, and for the worst possible reasons--exploitation, voyeurism, and

entertainment" (quote by Oprah Winfrey as cited in Abt & Mustazza, 1997, p. 1). After

years of focusing on negative topics, Oprah has completely overhauled her program by

employing a celebrity-interview format. Oprah is not the only talk show to change

formats. In November 1995, Geraldo Rivera decided to change the format of his talk

show and turned toward a more entertaining, "nontrashy" show (Abt & Mustazza, 1997).

According to some media analysts, TV talk shows such as Oprah and Geraldo,

which have softened the content of their shows, are now considered to be the "big losers"






6

in reaching younger audiences (Abt & Mustazza, 1997). According to some media

analysts, nice topics do not and will not draw ratings (Abt & Mustazza, 1997; Carter,

1996). Winfrey's show, for some unexplained reason, has maintained a number one

rating. However, it should be noted that since changing its format, Winfrey's popular

talk show has experienced a slight decline in audience ratings, going from approximately

10 to 7% of the viewing audience. With respect to viewers between the ages of 16 and

34, the most popular talk shows are Ricki Lake, Jenny Jones, and Jerry Springer. These

three shows tend to focus on topics that encourage extreme emotional responses.

TV Talk Shows: Trash TV or Infotainment?

Perhaps more than any other brand of media message that we receive, television
talk programs deliberately use such gross manipulation in their attempt to
entertain and supposedly "inform" us. While they employ a deceptive, game-like
atmosphere, the information they provide about "real-life," claiming that it's just a
"reflection" of reality, is worse than useless. It's a dangerous to play with and at
deviance, for it puts us in the habit of 'entertaining sin'...using the moral errors
and deviance of others for our entertainment and tolerating such behavior as a
normal part of life. (Abt & Mustazza, 1997, p. 83)


During a discussion on TV talk shows, Senator Joe Lieberman (1995) said, "these

shows are indeed cheap, and too often demeaning, exploitative, perverted, divisive, or at

least, amoral." (October 26, 1995). Most critics of the television talk show argue that

these programs are primarily pornographic and are wildly distorting the viewer's

perceptions of reality (Abt & Mustazza, 1997; Bernstein, 1994; Lieberman, 1995). "For

the first time in our history, the weird and the stupid and the vulgar are becoming our

cultural norm, even our cultural ideal" (Bernstein, 1994, p. 58). Opponents of television






7

talk shows believe very strongly that these programs negatively affect viewers and are

potentially harmful to society.

A majority of the TV talk shows focus on the misfortunes or problems of others:

"Skinheads, racists, misogynists, youngsters who hate school and society, parents who

hate their children, self-mutilators, cheating lovers, sadomasochistic lovers, incest

perpetrators and 'survivors,' transsexuals and bisexuals, nymphomaniacs, dysfunctional

families..., strippers, people with gross eating disorders, cult members, murders" and the

list goes on (Abt & Mustazza, 1997, p. 25). Research conducted on the content and focus

of many of the topics discussed on TV talk shows revealed that, more often than not, the

shows focus human misery and tragedies (Zoglin, 1991). Research conducted by Abt and

Mustazza (1997) revealed that approximately 78% of the topics on TV talk shows are

about sex, behavioral disturbances, and families out of control. Zoglin (1991), a reporter

for Time, argues that the topics on television talk shows are "surrealistic blurs of human

misery, sideshow voyeurism, and sheer lunacy" (p. 79). Some of the typical talk show

topics Zoglin (1991) found in his investigation were:

a) Illegitimate children who found their natural parents but wish they hadn't.

b) Transplant recipients who claim to have adopted the personalities of their

donors.

c) Women who have been raped by the same man more than once.

d) Guys who like overweight gals.

e) Mothers-in-law from hell.






8

f) Doctors with AIDS.

g) Crack addicts with babies.

Critics contend that these topics create and exacerbate conflict. Take, for

example, what happened on Jenny Jones in 1995 (Abt & Mustazza, 1997; Carter, 1996).

In March of 1995, a young man appeared as a guest on a show about secret admirers.

The admiree, knowing that the show was about secret admirers, expected his admirer to

be female, but was surprised and embarrassed to discover that his admirer was a long-

time male friend. The friend admitted his secret fantasy as well; tying the admiree up and

spraying whipped cream and champagne all over his body. The shocked, humiliated, and

embarrassed admiree vehemently declared on the show that he was "100% heterosexual."

A few weeks later, the admiree bought a 12-gauge shotgun and killed the admirer. He

told police that the reason he committed the murder was simply because he was

embarrassed and humiliated by his appearance on the program.

Moreover, television talk shows, critics argue, distort reality. Talk shows do not

reflect the real world or the true context of American life (Bernstein, 1994). Television

talk shows provide viewers with a type of entertainment designed to boost ratings and

viewership (Bernstein, 1994). For example, critics argue that topics such as "moms

having affairs with their children's friends," "cross-dressing after dark," "skinheads," and

"incest," may not be newsworthy or may not appear to provide information because they

are "devoted to hyping the hype" (Bernstein, 1994). Others critics agree with comments

made by Bernstein and Lieberman and argue that the emotionally laden topics that seem






9

to permeate television talk shows are nothing but pure garbage, "trash TV," or "tabloid

sleaze" (Bander, 1996; Bernstein, 1994; Lieberman, 1995; Thomas, 1997).

The Benefit of Watching Talk TV

Many talk show hosts claim that their shows "empower" audience members and

help viewers to solve problems. Donohue, Geraldo, and Oprah offer as "proof' of this

empowerment the tons of fan mail received each day. These hosts believe their talk

shows actually make a positive difference in people's lives (Abt & Mustazza, 1997;

Munson, 1993) and that this difference often is ignored by critics. Hence, some believe

that television talk shows are simply "a low form of information that is nonetheless useful

because it gets through to those whom 'higher' forms do not reach" (Munson, 1993, p.

146). Viewers may be attracted to television talk shows simply because the programs

help fulfill needs for entertainment.

The Theoretical Framework to Explain Consumption of TV Talk Shows


If you ask the typical television talk show viewer "Why do you watch talk

shows?" he or she may respond by saying "for information" or "because they help me to

find out what is going on in the world" (Frisby & Weigold, 1994). However, talk shows

may serve more covert, unexpressed functions. For example, viewers may be attracted to

talk shows because the guests and the topics being discussed may make them feel better

about themselves and their life circumstances. Such a function is predicted by social

comparison theory.






10

Social comparison theory postulates that individuals have a drive or need to

compare their abilities and opinions (Wheeler, 1991; Wheeler & Reis, 1991; Wood,

1989). According to social comparison theory, people typically employ objective

physical standards (i.e., exam scores, information on salaries, grades) against which to

compare themselves, when such standards unavailable. When such standards are not

available, they compare themselves with other people. Social comparison theory also

suggests that when engaging in a comparison, people chose similar others rather than

dissimilar others as comparison standards.

In real-life, everyday situations, it would be extremely difficult to avoid making

comparisons. Frequently, people may compare themselves with others in their immediate

environment and in the mass media in order to judge their own personal worth.

According to Goethals (1986), people may make comparisons with others who are salient

or available, whether they want to or not. Through a social comparison with guests of the

TV talk show, for example, viewers may: a) gain a sense of who they are, b) reinforce

social or personal values, c) experience greater life satisfaction, and/or d) discover and

understand how others deal with similar personal problems.

Contribution to Theory Development and Field of Mass Communication


What impact do television talk shows have on viewers, particularly viewers

between the ages of 18-34 (the target audience)? There is little scientific evidence for the

impact of these shows on viewers. Despite the number of criticisms and concerns voiced

by some on the topics and the effects that the talk show discussions might have on

younger viewers, very little research has been conducted that investigates the effect these









shows may have on viewers. While the topics on these shows may teach viewers in a

very obnoxious way to solve personal problems, these shows also could set or change

societal or cultural norms about social behaviors. Research is needed in order to

determine the effects these shows have on individuals as well as society.

The research conducted has implications for network programmers as well as

mass communication academicians and theorists. This study not only will summarize

recent findings on the effects and popularity of television talk shows, but also will

analyze and specifically identify those unspoken gratifications television talk shows offer.

By examining how people use television and social comparisons with images on

television, the study is intended to investigate a possible media effect: TV talk shows help

viewers feel better about their own lives and life circumstances. This affective response

to television talk show content may consequently serve as a tool for viewers with

different kinds of personal problems to regulate affective states. The focus of the study,

therefore, is on examining the television talk show audience and discovering whether

these shows provide the means for individuals to engage in social comparisons, which

may enable viewers to experience boosts in mood and life satisfaction.

Using social comparison theory to guide the research, it is believed that the

present study will uncover and explain why people watch TV talk shows, particularly

those considered by some critics to be "trash TV." Findings obtained from the study

should provide information about the functions of television talk shows and the audience

characteristics that may be used to explain the popularity of this program genre. If, as it

has been suggested, viewers watch television talk shows because the comparison with

guests makes them feel better about their own personal problems, the research can be






12


used to provide new insights concerning the psychological, cognitive, and behavioral

processes that motivate television viewing preferences and program choice.














CHAPTER 2
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE

Research conducted by Frisby and Weigold (1994) suggests that some regular

viewers of TV talk shows believe that TV talk shows provide valuable information by

keeping them informed and up-to-date on societal events, while other viewers, however,

believe that the greatest benefit of watching TV talk shows rests in the fact that the shows

are entertaining. Hence, some regular viewers would argue that these programs are

popular because the content elicits an "exciting" affective response. Several theories in

mass media use may be used to explain media choice and preference.

The present study attempts to identify the effects of viewing television talk shows

and considers the affective consequences of watching television talk shows. The next

three sections discuss mass media theories that have been used to explain the impact that

television and other media vehicles have on consumers. The literature review begins with

a discussion of the uses and gratifications and affective regulation theory of media use

and ends with a discussion of an alternative theoretical framework that was used to guide

the present study.

Motives for Media Use


Uses and gratifications theorists focus on how media satisfy social and individual

needs. Media are considered a source of gratification, and audience members are viewed





13






14

as active seekers and communicators (Rubin, 1994). The uses and gratifications approach

shifts the focus from media effects (e.g., does the media "cause" things to happen in

society?) to examining how people use the media (e.g., what people do with media or the

purposes for which individuals use media). According to Rubin (1994), before examining

media effects or how media impact human behavior, researchers need to determine how

individuals use the media and attain a firm understanding of audience motivations and

behavior. The uses and gratifications paradigm has three objectives: "(1) to explain how

people use media to gratify their needs, (2) to understand motives for media consumption,

and (3) to identify functions or consequences that follow from needs, motives and

behavior" (Rubin, 1994, p. 419).

Uses and gratifications is based on the following assumptions (Rubin, 1986):

1. Individuals use media to satisfy specific needs. Media use is goal directed.

2. Individuals select and actively pursue media channels and content to fulfill specific

needs.

3. Individuals are aware of the needs they anticipate meeting from media and can state

their needs and expectations and their specific reasons for using particular media.

To explain motives for media use, Katz, Gurevitich, and Haas (1973) identified

five distinct and theoretically meaningful categories of audience needs. The five

categories of needs related to media use are: a) cognitive, b) affective, c) personal

integrative, d) social integrative, and e) escapist needs. Cognitive needs relate to using

media for obtaining information, knowledge and understanding of the world. Affective

needs relate to emotional experiences and their pursuit by an individual to satisfy






15

entertainment or pleasure needs. Personal integrative needs relate to the desire of an

individual to gain confidence, stability, or esteem. Social integrative needs relate to an

individual's desire for affiliation with family and friends, and escapist needs relate to the

individual's desire for tension release or diversion.

Current Research on Uses and Gratifications

Researchers and uses and gratifications theorists frequently refer to at least six

gratifications of media use; information (also known as surveillance or knowledge),

escape, passing time, entertainment, social viewing/status enhancement, and relaxation

gratifications (Rubin, 1981). Although the variable names for these gratifications may

change from study to study, research in mass media uses and gratifications continues to

confirm that these six gratifications hold up across situations (Conway & Rubin, 1991;

Rubin, 1981; Rubin, 1986).

According to Katz et al., (1973), individuals obtain different gratifications from

different media. Learning and knowing oneself was best served, they found, by print

media. Newspapers, the researchers suggest, satisfy an individual's needs for status

enhancement or "self-confidence." On the other hand, watching television was

determined to be most useful for "killing time" and maintaining friendships and family

solidarity (Katz et al., 1973).


Gratifications of TV Soap Operas and Game Shows
Viewing of television soap operas and game shows, according to research, is

related to relaxation, passing time, entertainment, and social viewing motives (Rubin &

Rubin, 1982; Rubin, 1985; Rubin & Perse, 1988). In a study of uses of daytime television






16

soap operas by college students, Rubin (1985) found four distinct motives for watching

daytime serials: orientation, avoidance, diversion, and social utility.

Orientation motives refer to watching television to learn about oneself, others, and

to learn about social issues and the world. Watching television for avoidance motives

means that an individual specifically watches television to forget about problems and to

get away from a task or friends/family. Diversion motives refer to watching television for

the specific purpose of being aroused or stimulated. For instance, a diversion motive

would be fulfilled if one wishes to watch television to "calm down" or pass time. Passing

time refers to watching television because it is something to do and because it simply fills

up the time. And finally, social utility motives refer to watching television specifically to

aid in social interactions with others. This means that the information obtained from

viewing television makes one feel better about oneself because it provides facts to back

up opinions.

Regular viewers of TV news shows, documentaries, and talk shows, on the other

hand, identified information as an important viewing gratification of these programs

(Rubin & Rubin, 1982). After reviewing the literature on the gratifications obtained from

watching television, it is possible to conclude that TV news programs are fulfilling

information needs while programs such as soap operas, quiz shows, and magazine shows

are satisfying viewer needs for entertainment, passing time, and escape.


Gratifications of Television Talk Shows
In a study on gratifications of television talk shows, Frisby and Weigold (1994)

found five gratifications obtained from viewing television talk shows. Subjects were






17

asked to watch one of three television talks show at any time during an ordinary week.

Immediately after watching the show, participants answered questions about their talk

show viewing motives.

According to the data, viewers claim to watch TV talk shows in order to feel

good, or forget about problems (affect management), because the shows are on at home

(passive exposure), to learn about the issues of the day or learn about the world

(surveillance), for something to do (pass time), and because friends watch them (social

viewing). In addition, analysis revealed that regular viewers were more likely than

nonviewers to state that learning about issues was a major gratification obtained from

viewing television talk shows.

Limitations of Uses and Gratifications

Research employing a uses and gratifications theoretical perspective requires

asking individuals to subjectively report on and identify their particular experiences. The

uses and gratifications approach to media use assumes that people are aware of the needs

they anticipate from media and, if asked, can promptly and specifically state reasons for

using certain media. The technique most often used to assess the specifics of media use

and motives for media use is the self-report questionnaire or survey (Zillman & Bryant,

1986).

Many of the uses and gratifications studies rely on questionnaires or surveys (see

for example, Conway & Rubin, 1991; Katz, Gurevitch, & Haas, 1973; Rubin, 1981). One

explanation for such heavy reliance on these specific measurement instruments may be

the fact that surveys are quick and easy and yield a great deal of information that may be






18

relevant to the relationship among psychological or emotional needs and characteristic

purposes and motives for using certain media.

Data obtained in many of the studies on media use and gratifications are generally

analyzed using factor analyses or tables. Most times, the evidence collected in the studies

provide support for the six well-known gratification categories (i.e., information,

entertainment, escape, social, passing time, and relaxation). However, some argue that

this categorization of variables, may be a fundamental weakness of the uses and

gratifications approach because the conclusions generally restate published findings and

typically provide broad explanations for media use. Very little research has been

identified that relates specific motives to specific audience satisfactions and needs. The

studies, therefore, have been criticized for being largely exploratory and nontheoretical in

nature (Zillman & Bryant, 1986).

One problem with using questionnaires or surveys on media use is that the data

are often inconclusive (Zillman & Bryant, 1986). Respondents often are responding to the

researcher's questions and are not asked open-ended questions or questions that will let

them say what they want to say. Moreover, some critics argue that respondents may be

unaware of their motives or may be unwilling to disclose their "true motives."

Are media audiences so reflective that they can provide a rational explanation for

their media use? Would a survey yield the same six gratifications if respondents were

asked questions which extended beyond the six gratifications mentioned above? For

example, suppose people were asked to respond to a question like, "I watch Ricki Lake

because the guests are usually worse off than me and seeing that makes me feel better."






19

Or, "I watch Jenny Jones because I compare myself with the guests, and suddenly realize

I am in a much better situation." How would people respond? How likely is a response

like, "I sure do, and boy do I feel great when I see the guests make fools of themselves"?

Or are individuals likely to be hesitant, embarrassed, and/or reluctant to admit such a

motive? Would a "uses and gratifications" question such as this prompt a socially

desirable response (i.e., strongly disagree or even "no way")?

Consumers may be unaware of their reasons and may be unable to articulate why

certain media contents are chosen over other forms. And, with regard to explaining

television consumption, particularly motives for consuming "bad" or morbid television

programs, the uses and gratifications theoretical approach may not tap into the actual

motives for media use.

Entertainment Theory

According to Zillman and Bryant (1986), entertainment can be defined as "any

activity designed to delight and, to a smaller degree, enlighten through the exhibition of

the fortunes or misfortunes of others, but also through the display of special skills by

others and/or self' (p. 303). With this definition of entertainment in mind, it seems clear

that consumers may fulfill specific needs for entertainment through comedies, tragedies,

and drama programs (Bryant & Zillman, 1984; Zillman & Bryant, 1986).

Are TV talk shows popular among viewers because the program content produces

an "exciting" affective response? And who benefits more from exposure to entertaining

programs like television talk shows? Research suggests that reactions to entertaining

programs can be positive or negative, depending on an individual's idiosyncratic needs






20

(Zillman & Bryant, 1986; Zuckerman, 1979). Under this assumption, it is possible to

speculate that certain viewers watch TV talk shows to regulate affect. "Thus, for

understimulated, bored persons, exposure to certain exciting television programs can be

seen as having the benefit of returning them [viewers] to a hedonically superior, and,

hence, desirable state" (Zillman & Bryant, 1986, p. 307). One research question guiding

the present study concerned whether or not TV talk shows are attracting a certain type of

viewer significantly more than another type of viewer (i.e. low self-esteem viewers). This

and other effects of individual differences in selective exposure to TV talk shows will be

discussed in a later section of this paper (e.g., refer to section titled, Self-Esteem and

Downward Social Comparison).

Affective Regulation

"It [affective regulation] is, in fact, the effect of entertainment consumption. It is
the primary effect that is sought out and pursued for the benefits that it entails---
benefits such as being distracted from acute grievances, having boredom removed,
being cheered up, being given great excitement, being helped to calm down, or
being fed pacifying messages" (Zillman and Bryant, 1986, p. 320).

Bryant and Zillman (1984) provide another behavioral approach that might clearly

explain why people use media: affective regulation. Media use from this perspective is

selective and deliberate. Moreover, the affective regulation paradigm does not require

respondents to provide explicit reasons or comparisons of why or how they made

program choices (Zillman & Bryant, 1986). Program choice and exposure to certain

programs is conducted "mindlessly" and spontaneously. "It can be projected that these

choices are situationally variable and serve ends which respondents need not be and

probably are not aware of" (Zillman & Bryant, 1986, p. 306).






21

Research on media use for affective regulation suggests that people select

television in order to regulate their affective states. Viewers seek out specific media for

very specific benefits, such as being distracted from serious problems and/or grievances,

having boredom removed, and being cheered up or calmed down. These benefits may be

comparable to the "escape" motive associated with uses and gratifications (Zillman &

Bryant, 1986)

In a study related to using media to regulate affect, Potts and Sanchez (1994)

found that television viewing does serve as a means of escape and to regulate or enhance

mood. Depressed viewers tended to engage in "strategic" television viewing. The

researchers argue that mood guides strategic television viewing by changing a negative

mood, or maintaining a positive one (Potts & Sanchez, 1994).

Dittmar (1994) also found strong correlations between depression and

gratifications obtained from viewing television. In this study, subjects were screened with

a clinical interview and were selected for participation based on their responses during the

interview and to the MMPI. Those subjects who were identified as depressed and met

criteria for depressive disorders were invited to participate in the study. Non-depressed

subjects were identified also by responses to the MMPI and clinical interview.

Results showed that among male and female college students, depressed women

were more likely than any other group to watch more soap operas and depressed men

were more likely to watch situation comedies. Based on the data, Dittmar concluded that

television may offer a certain "coping style" that offers depressives a method of

"vicarious living." Depressed individuals may use characters on television to "provide






22

emotional gratification while at the same time avoiding the risks associated with real

interpersonal relationships" (Dittmar, 1994, p. 325).


Affective Regulation and Viewing TV Talk Shows
To what degree does affective regulation determine or affect people's motives for

viewing talk shows? To answer this question, Frisby and Weigold (1994) examined

correlations between motives for talk show viewing and feelings experienced while

watching the show. The sample comprised 89 people who viewed TV talk shows at least

once a week. The participants received instructions to watch (in their own home or dorm)

one episode of Oprah, Donahue, or Geraldo. Prior to viewing, subjects completed

Rosenberg's self-esteem scale and received a booklet containing instructions and all other

dependent measures. Verbal and written instructions emphasized that while viewing the

program, subjects were to record all thoughts in spaces provided in the booklet.

Additionally, they indicated any feelings experienced during each thought on an

accompanying set of scales.

Data revealed that regular talk show viewers (i.e., people who indicated watching

TV talk shows more than twice a week) experienced significantly more positive, happy

thoughts while viewing talks shows. Since much of the content on a TV talk show

involves tragic events or trashy topics, one explanation for the increase in positive

thoughts among regular viewers could be that the guests who are observed suffering

misfortunes or problems might be providing viewers with an opportunity to say, "Gee, I

thought I had it bad," and this thought causes them to rejoice or ultimately feel more

optimistic (a positive feeling) about their own personal circumstances.






23

Social Comparison Theory

Exposure to tragic events and/or bad news almost invites social comparison

among viewers (Zillman & Bryant, 1986). Viewers may be encouraged to compare and

contrast their own situation with the situations of the "suffering parties they witness, and

... this contrasting eventually produces a form of satisfaction" (Zillman & Bryant, 1986,

p. 317). Affect is enhanced because viewers, seeing the misfortune of others, become

appreciative of their life circumstances and situations. According to Festinger's (1954)

social comparison theory, when people are uncertain about their abilities and opinions,

they evaluate themselves by making comparisons with similar others. People compare

themselves with others for a variety of reasons: to determine relative standing on an issue

or related ability, to emulate behaviors, to determine norms, to lift spirits or feel better

about life and personal situations, and to evaluate emotions, personality, and self-worth

(Suls & Wills, 1991; Taylor & Loebel, 1989).

The present study will explore the notion that talk shows may be popular with

audiences because of the affective consequences that follow from audience social

comparisons. Social comparison theory may help to explain and uncover an important

motive for watching television talk shows, a motive that people may be unable or

reluctant to express openly.

Literature Review on Social Comparison


Social comparison theory may help to account for the attraction and popularity of

television talk shows. The theory assumes that individuals have a need to evaluate






24

themselves and that they do so via comparison with others. It is argued here that social

comparisons may be elicited by television content. It is possible that some television

content may afford individuals with opportunities to protect or enhance their self-esteem.

The present study will examine the notion that television talk shows may be popular with

certain audiences because, it is assumed, these programs help viewers self-enhance or feel

better about themselves and their life circumstances.


Theoretical Assumptions
As originally formulated, social comparison theory was concerned with self-

evaluation. The theory had five major theoretical assumptions (Festinger, 1954; Suls,

1977; Wheeler, 1991):

1. People have a "drive to know." People are motivated by a need to know that their

opinions are correct, and they need to know what they are and are not capable of

doing.

2. Social comparison arises when evaluation of opinions or abilities are not obtainable

by objective measures or nonsocial ways (e.g., exam scores, number of points scored,

reaction time, time it takes to finish a race or marathon, etc.).

3. When objective measures are not available, individuals will evaluate their opinions or

abilities by comparing with others.

4. Individuals will not make comparisons with others who are different or who are

perceived as different on relevant dimensions. This similarity hypothesis, according

to Suls (1977), is the most widely cited and tested theoretical assumption. It is

believed that comparisons with similar others provide more knowledge and more






25

useful information (Festinger, 1954). That is, when people compare with dissimilar

others, the only information that they gain, learn, or can be certain of, is that their

performance or opinion is unique (Wood, 1989). Without a similar other, individuals

cannot determine or accurately asses their abilities.

5. Importance and relevance of the target dimension will affect the comparison process.

Three Types of Social Comparisons

More recently, social comparisons have been described as serving two additional

motives besides self-evaluation: self-enhancement, and self-improvement (Wood, 1989).

The following sections will describe research and theory related to each of these three

motives.


Self-Evaluation
The most useful comparisons are those that inform and provide accurate

information about where one stands in relationship to the dimension under evaluation

(Wood & Taylor, 1991). The need for accurate information is a self-evaluation function

of social comparison. When an individual is familiar with the dimension under

evaluation, similar others help the individual accurately interpret his or her own standing

on the dimension under evaluation (Wood, 1989). Research on self-evaluation typically

presents subjects with a choice among various tasks grouped by level of ability. Evidence

suggests that subjects tend to select the tasks that they perceive will help them to

accurately assess their abilities (Campbell, 1986; Crocker, Thompson, McGraw, &

Ingerman, 1987)






26

According to the literature, self-evaluation is most evident when people make

comparisons with similar others (Raynor & McFarlon, 1986; Molleman, Pruyn, &

vanKnippenberg, 1986; Trope, 1986). Molleman, Pruyn, and van Knippenberg (1986)

interviewed more than 500 cancer patients who were asked to indicate how likely they

were to interact with other cancer patients who were much worse, slightly worse, similar,

slightly better off, or much better off. Results showed that subjects preferred interacting

with other patients who were similar. For cancer patients, interacting with patients who

have similar prognoses was less negative then interacting with patients who are much

worse or much better off.


Self-Improvement
A self-improvement function results from an individual's interest or desire to feel

efficacious, inspired, and motivated. Comparisons with others who are superior to or

better off than oneself are called upward comparisons. Individuals engaging in upward

comparison may learn from others, be inspired by their example, or become highly

motivated to achieve a similar goal.

According to Wood (1989), self-improvement comparisons are clearly visible in

everyday life. Wood (1989) argues that upward comparisons occur because they lead to

self-improvement, particularly when the dimension under evaluation is relevant, highly

desired, and when the individual is already motivated to achieve a goal. Self-

improvement is the main effect of upward comparison targets because they motivate

individuals to do better and teach individuals how to perform better (Seta, 1982; Wood,

1989).






27

To investigate the impact of social comparison processes on coactors' task

performance, Seta (1982) conducted two experiments. In first study, 81 female subjects

were paired with a coactor whose performance was identified as inferior, identical, or

slightly superior. Subjects were led to believe that they were participating in a reaction

time study and that the task involved pressing four buttons. After 30 minutes working on

the task, subjects were asked to fill out a two-item questionnaire that also served as a

manipulation check of the subjects' perceived discrepancy in performance and ability

level. A second study was conducted to replicate these procedures and results. Results

from both studies indicated that subjects' performance on a task improved when they

were in the presence of another individual whose performance was perceived to be

slightly better.

According to Wood (1989), upward comparison targets are those most typically

sought for purposes of social comparison. Festinger (1954) also believed that comparison

choices will typically be oriented toward superior, similar others (e.g., upward

comparisons). People who are doing better than the self on a particular dimension are

most likely to provide information that will facilitate improvement on that dimension.

Research indicates, however, that upward comparisons lead people to evaluate

themselves more negatively (Wood & Taylor, 1991). Very few empirical studies have

been conducted or could be identified to support the notion that upward comparisons are

always self-enhancing. Rather, studies often show that that upward comparisons can be

both self-enhancing and self-deflating. "There has been much less research explicitly

devoted to self-improvement as a goal of social comparison than to the other comparison






28

goals" (Wood & Taylor, 1991, p. 29). One reason could be that self-improvement

comparisons are risky and may force individuals to face insecurities or discover inferior

dimensions of which they were unaware. Another explanation for the lack of research and

empirical evidence of this effect could be because of the emphasis on similarity.

Similarity, in this instance, could prove to be particularly painful when the superior other

is close or very similar (Tesser, 1991).


Self-Enhancement
People harbor unrealistically positive views of themselves, and these positive

illusions often result in comparisons that make people feel better about themselves or

their circumstances (Regan, Snyder, & Kassin, 1995; Wood & Taylor, 1991).

Consequently, comparisons with others who are thought to be doing better, regardless of

how informative the comparison is, can be highly threatening. When self-esteem is

threatened, an individual, motivated to protect the weak or threatened ego, may seek

downward comparison. Self-enhancement occurs as a result of downward comparisons--

comparisons with similar others who are inferior or less fortunate--especially when the

dimension is relevant to the self (Wills, 1981). The basic principle of downward

comparison is that people feel better about their own situation and can enhance their

subjective sense of well-being when they make comparisons with others who are worse

off or less fortunate.

The self-enhancing benefit of downward comparison were proposed by Wills

(1981). He determined that when people experience misfortune and/or threat, they are

motivated to compare themselves with others who are inferior or less advantaged. This






29

type of comparison typically is used to improve one's mood. When subjective well-being

has decreased, an individual can restore it by comparing with another individual who is

worse off. The more favorable the comparison between the individual and the target, the

more likely the person is to feel better about his or her own situation.

Criticisms of Social Comparison Theory


Similarity
As mentioned previously, similar others are important when the goal is self-

evaluation (Taylor, Buunk, & Aspinall, 1990). For self-evaluation comparisons to occur,

individuals compare themselves with others who are similar on the dimension under

evaluation. For example, swimmers would rather compare themselves with another

swimmer because this type of comparison is more informative and less ambiguous

(Taylor et al., 1990).

Festinger (1954) argued that social comparisons will only occur when an

individual makes comparisons with others who are similar with respect to the same skin

color, stature, opinions, abilities, etc. However, many social comparison theorists

disagree with this idea. The first to argue against comparison with similar others was

Deutsch and Krauss (1965). These theorists argued that similarity is not necessary

because people often seek out variety, novelty, and difference in social encounters

instead.

Many laboratory studies that focus on similarity tend to use similar experimental

procedures. Similarity dimensions are determined by the investigator, who also

determines and selects the comparison dimension under evaluation. The investigator then






30

defines the dimension for the subject by providing the subject with information about

how they compare with others on the experimentally defined dimension. Similarity,

therefore, becomes operationally defined as how close the target comparison dimension is

to the subject.

However, in naturalistic situations, similarity may be much more ambiguous and

even harder to define. As Taylor et al. (1990) argue, a victim of stress may have no idea

about what self-enhancement is or how they stand in terms of other people going through

the same stressors. Therefore, similarity for this person may be defined not by how close

another is to him or her on specific dimensions, but whether or not that person has

experienced the same event or has been confronted with a similar type of stress. In this

instance, similarity is not defined by objective standards such as age, gender, ethnicity, or

income, but is defined by a particular experience. This notion of similarity is considerably

different from the similarity assumption formulated by Festinger's earlier ideas and

assumptions.

A case in point: A first-year faculty member focused on tenure learns that an

article has not been accepted for publication at a specific journal; he or she may seek

other first-year or beginning professors who are also in the same "publish or perish"

situation. For this faculty member, comparisons with another beginner may prove much

more useful than comparisons with a victim of incest, a scorned and rejected

spouse/lover, or victims of chronic diseases such as breast cancer or AIDS. While these

individuals might be similar to the faculty member with regard to age, gender, status, and

other demographic characteristics, they may not provide the comparer with the






31

information he or she needs to determine effective coping strategies, ways to be

successful in academics, or help with getting articles published. These three instances

represent very different motives and also illustrate the role dissimilar others play with

respect to self-enhancement and self-evaluation.

Mettee and Smith (1977) found that in many situations, dissimilar others are

preferred for comparisons because they are often better sources of information. However,

comparisons with a similar other often times could produce unfavorable information- a

painful effect. Therefore, comparisons with dissimilar others help ease the pain. Mettee

and Smith (1977) argued that in noncompetitive situations, comparisons with dissimilar

individuals allow identifications with this person and self-enhancement. Because of the

threat to one's self-esteem that comparisons and evaluations with similar or superior

others may cause, Wills (1981) argues that individuals have more to gain by making

comparisons with those who are disadvantaged or dissimilar.


Threat
According to theory, downward comparisons are most useful when individuals are

threatened and are motivated to see themselves as superior to others (Wills, 1981).

Downward comparisons may occur when individuals are reminded of how their

circumstances could or might have been worse, and this information therefore makes an

individual feel better and less threatened (Wills, 1991). These comparisons help

individuals cope by reducing distress and allowing individuals to see themselves and their

problems in a better, more positive light (Wood 1989).






32

Studies indicate that downward comparison and the self-enhancing effects of

downward comparison are less evident without some type of threat to the self (Brown,

Collins, & Schmidt, 1988; Gibbons, 1986; Gump & Kulik, 1995). Gibbons (1986) found

evidence that supports the notion that downward comparisons are most likely when

subjects feel bad.

The fact that downward comparisons occur when individuals are threatened

supports the idea that "downward comparison is primarily a habit of people who are

'most unhappy' and is most likely to occur when they have experienced a 'decrease in

subjective well-being'" (Gibbons, 1986, p. 146). Careful review of the literature on self-

enhancement shows that the tendency to engage in downward comparison is less evident

after participants received positive feedback than after having received negative feedback

(Brown et. al., 1988; Wood, Giordano-Beech, Taylor, Michela, & Gaus, 1994; Wills,

1981).

However, some researchers have challenged the notion that threat is a necessary

precursor for downward comparison. For example, Wood, Taylor, and Lichtman (1985),

found little evidence to support the idea that downward comparisons increase with threat.

Using breast cancer patients, the researchers examined the role of threat in the downward

comparison process by correlating several variables with the comparisons made by the

patients. Respondents were asked to comment on their cancer experience, treatment,

attributions for cancer and beliefs about controllability, life changes, changes in close

relationships, their fears, emotional reactions, and comparison processes.






33

The results obtained in this study failed to support the prediction that downward

comparison was positively related to threat. The researchers found that for breast cancer

patients, poor prognosis, a definite threat, was unassociated with the social comparison

process. The researchers concluded that "the experience of breast cancer itself raises

threat to a 'ceiling' and that objective sources of threat may not match patients

perceptions of what is threatening (Wood et al., 1985, p. 1180).

The effects of threat on the social comparison process is inconclusive. One

explanation for the contradiction in findings may be explained by the fact that downward

comparisons may be related to the magnitude and impact of the threat. According to

Wood et al., (1985), a need to engage in a downward comparison may increase rapidly as

threat increases. And as threat to the self subsides, the need for downward comparison

subsides, and social comparison shifts to self-evaluation or self-improvement. For

instance, Wood et al., (1985) contend that the role of threat may be somewhat paradoxical

in that as an individual's circumstance worsens, opportunity to engage in downward

comparison dwindles because, according to the researchers, the number of others who are

more disadvantaged dwindles.

Dimensions that Encourage the Social Comparison Process


Ambiguity
A careful review of the literature suggests that because people are motivated to

see themselves in a positive light and to see themselves as superior to others, when

situations are ambiguous, individuals will perceive similar others as dissimilar in order to

self-enhance (Sherman, Presson, & Chassin, 1984; Schulz & Decker, 1983). Self-






34

enhancement therefore is achieved for the individual by cognitively reinterpreting a

comparison on another "relatively ambiguous target" dimension (Taylor, Buunk,

Aspinwall, 1990). Schulz and Decker (1985), for instance, found support for the idea that

when the self is threatened by poor performance on one attribute, people view themselves

more positively by making comparisons on other dimensions.

Using spinal cord injury victims, Schulz and Decker (1985) found that these

people thought they were better off than nondisabled individuals. The researchers found

that individuals selectively focused on specific attributes that make them appear more

positive and advantaged. For example, instead of focusing on physical abilities, the

participants in this study focused on and made comparisons about intelligence attributes.

Therefore, based on the results of these and other studies, it can be concluded that some

individuals base their comparisons on surrounding attribute comparison targets (e.g.,

problem severity and coping success), and these comparison targets provide the comparer

with different types of information (Gibbons & Gerrard, 1991). This also may be used to

explain how downward comparisons help people cope with personal problems.

Comparisons with dissimilar targets in ambiguous situations, therefore, enable

people to make "cognitive reinterpretations," and ultimately engage in downward

comparison (see Gump & Kulik, 1995). In fact, Buunk (1995) found that social

comparison is fostered by uncertainty and frustration and not by negative affect, threat to

self-esteem, or health problems.

Research suggests that positive beliefs about the self are difficult to maintain

when the comparison dimensions are unambiguous (VanYperen, 1992). Using 88 major






35

league soccer players, VanYperen (1992) sought to examine the relationship between

ambiguity of the dimension of comparison as well as the player's self-perception of being

a better player. The players were asked to compare themselves with the average

professional soccer player (a vague comparison) and the average teammate (a more

specific comparison). First, the participants had to compare themselves with respect to

their ability and then they had to compare with respect to playing the ball by head, also

known as heading the ball," which according to the researcher is a very concrete, specific,

unambiguous soccer ability.

Subjects were asked to indicate how much value they attached to the specific

skills and also were asked to indicate on a five-point Likert scale what they perceived to

be the difference between their average teammate and the average professional soccer

player. They then were asked to identify differences based on two other skill-related

dimensions: soccer ability and heading the ball ability.

Results suggested that the more value subjects attached to a dimension, the more

they engaged in a downward comparison and considered themselves superior on the

dimension. Importance of the dimension in this condition serves a self-enhancement

motive. Main effects were found for both the dimension of comparison and comparison

target. Subjects generally viewed themselves as better soccer players (the ambiguous

dimension) than as better headers (the specific dimension). Consequently, they

considered their soccer ability to be better than that of the average professional player, but

their heading ability, a specific dimension, to be worse than that of their average

teammate. Results seemed to suggest that importance and ambiguity play an important






36

role in determining the type of social comparison. Self-enhancement seems most likely

when the dimension is important and ambiguous (VanYperen, 1992).


Perceived Self-Efficacy
Major, Testa, and Bylsma (1991) proposed that a primary determinant of upward

or downward comparison is the control an individual perceives he or she has over the

situation relative to the comparison other. The degree of perceived control people feel

they have over particular situations (i.e., physical attractiveness, level of income, etc.)

tends to change the meaning of the comparison response as well as the affective

consequences.

Upward comparisons work best when people are attempting to change problem

behaviors (Major et. al., 1991). When making comparisons, individuals can cognitively

reinterpret the situation and believe that their behavior is changeable. Social learning

theory also supports this notion. Positive models who successfully perform desired

behaviors increase self-efficacy and tend to help others improve their behavior. Seta

(1982) found, for example, that subjects who were allowed to perform tasks with a

slightly superior co-actor later demonstrated similar superior performances. Therefore,

upward comparisons are employed in situations when individuals perceive that improved

performance is possible.


Problem Stability
Cash, Cash, and Butters (1983) exposed women to idealized advertising images

featuring either an attractive or unattractive model. Results revealed that women exposed

to attractive models rated their own level of attractiveness lower than did women who






37

were exposed to the unattractive models. Physical appearance is therefore likely to be a

comparison dimension that is perceived as "relatively unchangeable" (Major et. al.,

1991). Some social comparison theorists argue that downward comparisons occur

because people perceived that a particular situation (the level of their hostility or physical

attractiveness) is unchangeable (Goethals, 1986).

Wills (1991) argues that increases in positive affect as a result of downward

comparison processes depend on three conditions: a) personality similarity must be high;

b) information must suggest that the comparison's situation and unfortunate state is

temporary, and c) the situation must be perceived as controllable. Downward comparison,

Wills argues, should occur only when the person is experiencing an unchangeable,

uncontrollable problem.

Wills goes on to argue that problem stability has a significant effect on

comparison choice and outcome of the comparison. If the dimension under evaluation is

changeable and under personal control, and, if the individual perceives that he or she is

better off than the comparison target, downward comparison can enhance well-being.

Responses to downward comparison may include increased positive affect, elevated self-

evaluations, greater satisfaction with one's outcomes, and increased self-relevance of the

comparison dimension (Majoret al., 1991). "If two downward comparison targets are

provided representing controllable and uncontrollable problems respectively, the

prediction is that there will be a preference for the former comparison" (Wills, 1991, p.

66). Further elaboration and experimental evidence of this theoretical assumption is






38

needed in order to determine the moderating role of control on the effects of downward

comparison.


Up or Down?: Summing up the Determinants of Social Comparison
If the target dimension under comparison is perceived by an individual to be

uncontrollable and unchangeable, then a downward comparison in this case may hurt an

individual's self-esteem instead of enhancing it (Major et. al., 1991). "Learning that

someone is worse-off than oneself not only reveals that you are not as bad off as others,

but also suggests that it might be possible for things to get worse" (Major et. al., 1991, p.

257).

It is possible to speculate that the main determinant of whether people engage in

an upward or downward social comparison is the extent to which people believe the

situation is uncontrollable and fixed (Major et. al., 1991). When individuals perceive that

they have little control over, or little ability to change the relevant comparison dimension,

an upward comparison should occur because this target provides information that tells the

comparer how to survive. Downward comparisons, on the other hand, are most likely to

occur when participants feel that the situation is under personal control. In this instance,

downward targets may inform individuals of their ability to be better or in more control

than individuals in similar situations.

Possible Outcomes of a Downward Social Comparison

The present study is designed to demonstrate that television talk shows help

viewers feel better about themselves and their life circumstances. By viewing these

programs regularly, affect is regulated and emotions are released through the downward






39

comparison process with talk show topics and guests. Therefore, the following sections

will briefly discuss and detail published evidence attesting to motives aimed at enhancing

self-esteem.

Research suggests that social comparisons are used to enhance one's self-esteem

(Hackmiller, 1966; Taylor & Brown, 1988). The following list will briefly summarize the

possible outcomes of a downward social comparison. Social comparison research

(Gibbons & Gerrard, 1991; Wills, 1981; Wills, 1991) shows that:

1. Comparison with a less fortunate other decreases negative affect and enhances

subjective well-being. Negative affect is reduced because the perception of

one's own personal circumstances is changed as a result of downward

comparison (Wills, 1991).

2. Downward comparisons may positively affect an individual's satisfaction with

personal relationships and/or living circumstances. A downward comparison

may suggest, "My life isn't so bad. Things could be worse."

3. Downward comparisons enhance self-esteem and subjective well-being, and

this enhancement leads almost immediately to an increase in positive mood

state.

4. Realizing that there are others who are worse off or who do not have the same

type of coping skills is encouraging. This encouragement has direct effects on

optimism.

Do people prefer to make comparisons with worse-off, less fortunate others?

Hackmiller (1966) was one of the first researchers to demonstrate downward social






40

comparisons. Subjects were told that the study would assess hostility toward one's

parents. They then were given feedback that they had high scores on hostility. Results

indicated that subjects preferred to compare themselves with others who scored "higher"

on the hostility trait as compared to individuals who scored "lower." Psychologically, this

meant that subjects looked for others who were worse than they were on the hostility

measure (Wheeler, 1991). The Hackmiler (1966) study suggested that when provided

with a choice, individuals prefer to compare themselves with someone who is worse off

than they are.

More evidence supporting the notion that downward comparisons are made with

others who are worse off comes from Taylor, Wood, and Lichtman (1983) The

researchers interviewed several women with breast cancer and asked them to comment on

how well they were coping with cancer in comparison with other breast cancer patients.

Results showed that 80% of the women indicated that they were doing much better than

other women with breast cancer. Furthermore, respondents imagined that there were less

fortunate others, a phenomenon specifically related to downward comparison. Affleck

and Tennen (1991) also found that respondents preferred information about less fortunate

others. People will affiliate with others who are equally unfortunate (Wills ,1981).


Enhanced Self-Esteem
How does downward social comparison affect self-esteem? Morse and Gergen

(1970) conducted a study in which subjects completed Rosenberg's self-esteem inventory

either in the presence of a socially desirable person (i.e., well-dressed, well-mannered,

etc.) or in the company if a socially undesirable person (i.e., sloppy dress, clumsy, ill-






41

mannered, etc.). Believing they were interviewing for a position as a research assistant,

subjects were asked to wait for the interview in the company of another applicant, "Mr.

Clean" or "Mr. Dirty."

Results showed that when individuals were confronted with the socially

undesirable confederate, "Mr. Dirty," self-esteem increased. However, subjects in the

"Mr. Clean" condition experienced a decrease in self-esteem. The data obtained in this

study suggest that self-esteem is affected by social comparison processes. Moreover, the

Morse and Gergen (1970) study showed that downward comparisons enhance and

positively affect an individual's level of self-esteem.

Strengthening the notion that downward comparisons enhance self-esteem is a

study conducted by Brown, Novick, Lord, and Richards (1992). These researchers

conducted four experiments designed to determine the effects of physical attractiveness

on self-appraisal and esteem. Female subjects were led to believe that they were

participating in a study on impression-formation and viewed a photograph of an attractive

or unattractive target. After completing a questionnaire that assessed their general

impression of the target and an assessment of the model's attractiveness, subjects were

asked to complete a second questionnaire that contained five items pertaining to the

subjects' perceptions of their own attractiveness. Results suggest that self-esteem was

enhanced when subjects were exposed to unattractive female targets. In addition, females

in the unattractive model condition rated themselves as more attractive than females in

the attractive model target condition.






42

Reis, Gerrard, and Gibbons (1993), also interested in testing the relationship

between self-esteem and downward comparison, designed a 2 x 2 x 2 x 3 mixed factorial

experiment. The investigators selected a highly involving target dimension for women:

contraceptive methods. Respondents answered questions on a pretest measure concerning

attitudes about and their personal use of contraceptive methods and their attitudes about

what were effective and ineffective contraceptive methods. One hundred and twenty

women completed the revised Feelings of Inadequacy Scale. Low and high self-esteem

participants were selected from the bottom and top thirds of the testing distribution.

Subjects also completed a mood scale before and after the comparison manipulation. The

mood scale was composed of adjectives such as hopeful, discontented, happy,

discouraged, dissatisfied, insecure, optimistic, and gloomy.

Participants were told that the study was concerned about group processes and

that they had been selected because their responses on the mass testing questionnaire

indicated that they were similar to one another. Then they were told that they would make

statements about themselves and would hear information about another member of the

group, as they would in a actual discussion group.

Subjects were then taken to individual rooms where they recorded a statement

about their family background, school, and leisure activities. They were asked to make

their statements similar to comments they would make in an actual discussion group

meeting. Then, subjects were asked to tape a short statement about their personal sexual

behavior and contraceptive use. After completing the audiotapes, the subjects rated the






43

effectiveness of their own contraceptive behavior and also finished the first mood

assessment scale.

Social comparison processes were manipulated by asking the participants to listen

to a pre-recorded conversation on social and contraceptive behavior of another group

member. The tape was in actuality a single prepared statement describing what the

researchers called a "fairly typical college woman." After listening to the tape, subjects

completed a set of questions designed to assess how similar the target was to themselves

and the typical college woman.

Subjects were randomly assigned to listen to one of two conversations: effective

vs. ineffective target conditions. In the effective target condition, the statement indicated

that the woman used oral contraceptives and was conscientious about taking them every

day. In the ineffective condition, the woman reported that she used the rhythm method

but admitted that she was very erratic in monitoring her safe days. There were then three

levels of comparison: upward, downward, and lateral (subject was ineffective/effective or

both target and subject were effective and ineffective). Ineffective subjects were not

exposed to downward comparison targets and effective subjects were not provided with

upward comparison opportunities. Results indicated that subjects who made comparisons

with the ineffective target demonstrated more esteem improvement than those who

compared with the effective target.


Enhanced Subjective Well-Being
According to Wills (1981), the basic principle of downward comparison is that

subjective well-being will be enhanced by comparison with others who are worse off or






44

less fortunate. The definition of a less fortunate other is one who is experiencing negative

circumstances (Wills, 1991). Negative affect is reduced because the individual perceives

that his or her situation is much better than originally considered. A downward

comparison may suggest, "My life isn't so bad because [what is happening to the target

suggests that] things could be worse." The present study will examine the notion that

comparisons with "inferior" media images lead to greater enhancement of subjective

well-being (e.g., mood state and perceptions of life satisfaction).

Subjective well-being is considered an attitude with three basic components:

cognition or one's assessments or evaluations of an object (e.g., life-as-a-whole, self-

perceptions, etc.), positive affect, and negative affect (Emmons & Diener, 1985).

According to Emmons and Diener (1985), positive affect reflects the degree to which one

experiences joy and happiness in various domains of life, and negative affect involves the

unpleasant emotions one experiences (e.g., stress, anxieties, fears, etc.). Individuals may

be satisfied as long as they feel that they are doing better than others, clearly evidence of

downward social comparisons.

According to Andrews and Robinson (1991), assessments of subjective well-

being may include feelings of stress, social support, internal control (i.e., belief that one

can control one's own fate), and external control of a performance (i.e., how well a

person performs at home, work, or in social roles). With respect to many social

psychological issues, it has been found that these concepts predict subjective well-being,

particularly as assessed by measures of depression and quality of and/or satisfaction with

life (Andrews & Robinson, 1991).






45

Life Satisfaction as a Measure of Subjective well-being
Life satisfaction measures focus primarily on the affective component with

relatively little focus on the cognitive component. Several investigators have found a

positive relationship with the affective component and a personality trait referred to as

extroversion, which is exhibited by individuals who are extremely optimistic, active, and

exhibit high levels of self-esteem (Costa & McCrae, 1988). Costa and McCrae (1988)

found that personality traits such as extroversion and emotionality were positively related

to reported levels of happiness and subjective well-being. This finding indicates that

certain variables are either components of or causally related to subjective well-being.

Subjective well-being can be assessed in a variety of ways. For the purposes of

this paper, subjective well-being and life satisfaction will measure how satisfied an

individual is with life-as-a-whole as well as how satisfied individuals are with specific

domains of life satisfaction such as relationships with family and friends, mood, feelings

of independence and control, and level of social support.

Individual Differences in the Social Comparison Process

Self-Esteem refers to people's positive and negative evaluations of themselves

(Robinson, Shaver, Phillip, & Wrightsman, 1991). Literature on self-esteem typically

describes high self-esteem people as people who feel good about themselves, are

generally happy, healthy, and can adapt to very stressful situations (Blascovich &

Tomaka, 1991). On the other hand, people who feel poorly about themselves, tend to be

and are relatively anxious, pessimistic about the future, and are prone to failure, have low

self-esteem. Because they expect to fail, low self-esteem individuals feel anxious and will






46

exert little effort when they are confronted with problems or challenges. Self-Esteem is

assessed by summing evaluations of one's self-worth or value. It is an affective

evaluation that focuses on approval and importance. Self-Esteem for the purposes of this

paper will focus on the individual's evaluation and attitude about his or her self-worth

and importance.

Who engages in downward comparison? Low self-esteem individuals, according

to Wills (1981), are the people who are most likely to benefit from a downward

comparison. The basic principle in downward social comparison as originally proposed

by Wills (1981) is that a general improvement in mood, subjective well-being, and

optimism will be demonstrated by low self-esteem individuals. Studies on individual

differences in social comparison tend to show that low self-esteem people are most likely

to engage in and benefit from downward comparison (Gibbons & Gerrard, 1989; Gibbons

& Gerrard, 1991). One explanation for this may be that low self-esteem people are

generally more insecure and uncertain about their abilities (Gibbons & Gerrard, 1991).

In a study of eating disorders among college students, Gibbons and Gerrard

(1989) found that low self-esteem people engage in downward comparisons more than

high self-esteem people. More importantly, the data suggested that low self-esteem

individuals reported significant improvement in their mood states, level of optimism, and

life satisfaction. The amount of their improvement was significantly greater than that of

the high self-esteem individuals, which suggests that people look for and seek out a type

of "support group" so to speak or others with similar problems.






47

Brown et. al., (1988) conducted two studies to explore the effects of self-esteem

on responses to downward social comparison. The researchers hypothesized that both

high and low self-esteem people engage in downward comparison, but the difference is

that high self-esteem individuals engage in more direct forms of self-enhancement (i.e.,

derogating the target) while low self-esteem individuals will engage in more indirect

forms of self-enhancement (i.e., feeling better about their self-perceptions). Sixty-two

subjects were asked to estimate the number of objects or dots they saw on a dot-

estimation task performance, a task which demonstrated that different people tend to

consistently overestimate or underestimate the correct number of dots. Subjects were then

told that psychologists place no value on whether they are overestimators or

underestimators. Instructions went on to inform subjects that underestimater and

overestimaters tend share similar characteristics.

After completion of the task, another experimenter then handed out a self-esteem

measure, The Texas Social Behavior Inventory. After completing the TSBI, another

experimenter entered the room and divided the subjects into two groups: those who

overestimated the dots and those who underestimated. Assignment to the groups was

actually done by random assignment. Results indicated that people with high and people

with low self-esteem sought self-enhancement in different ways. The researchers found

that people with high self-esteem evaluate their own group's productivity and creative

lists as being more favorable than outgroups. In a second experiment, Brown et al.,

replicated the same procedures that were used in study one. This time, however, subjects

were led to believe that it was better to be an overestimator (for some conditions, the






48

underestimator) than an underestimator (overestimator). An analysis of variance once

again indicated that high self-esteem people are most apt to display favoritism when

directly involved in group processes. Once more, low self-esteem subjects showed no

evidence of in-group favoritism when evaluating the creativity lists.

Taken together, the findings from both studies provide support for the notion that

all individuals strive to enhance their feelings of self-worth, but different people self-

enhance in different ways. High self-esteem individuals do engage in self-enhancement,

as the research tends to suggest, but for these individuals, self-enhancement was achieved

by confirming their positive self-views with positive feedback or group favoritism. Low

self-esteem individuals, conversely, sought self-enhancement by confirming negative

self-views with others who they perceived to be similar.

In a recent study, Wood, Giordano-Beech, Taylor, Michela, and Gaus (1994)

examined the possibility that low self esteem people not only protect their egos, but also

look for and specifically seek out opportunities to self-enhance. The researchers

conducted 3 studies designed to determine if low self-esteem individuals actively seek

downward comparison opportunities. In experiment one, a pre-test was conducted

approximately 12 weeks before the experiment was to begin. Five hundred and seventy-

four students completed measures of the Multidimensional Self-Esteem inventory, a 77-

item scale consisting of a global self-esteem scale, as well as subscales that tape into

competence and body appearance.

Subjects were selected on the basis on their overall score in the pretest. To test the

hypothesis, the researchers designed a 2 (self-esteem: high, low) x 2 (success, failure), x 2






49

(sex: male, female) experimental study. Participants were randomly assigned to the

success or failure condition. They were informed that the study was concerned with

personality characteristics and career interests. The cover story also led subjects to

believe that they would participate in the study with another same-sex subject who shared

the same career interest.

Success or failure was manipulated by presenting the comparison subject's

potential for professional success. The experimenter informed the subject of their

partner's scores and went on to explain to the subject that they were to use this

information as a basis to form their impressions. The experimenter then left the subject's

own scores within reach, saying "we won't need these since you are the rater." The

success condition was operationalized as one in which the subject's own scores were

considerably higher than the other subject's. The failure condition, therefore, was when

the subjects scores were considerably lower than the other subjects. Subjects were told

that their score was similar on all dimensions with the other target's, except for one

dimension.

The experimenter left the room and allowed the subject 5 minutes to compare the

discrepant test scores. When the experimenter returned, subjects were asked to read a

handwritten essay supposedly written by the other subject. This was also to help subjects

form an impression of their "partner." The essay was composed and written in such a way

that there were both likable and unlikable characteristics.

Upon completion of reading the essay, subjects rated the other subject's ability

and potential for success in his or her future career (1 = no ability 7 = excellent ability).






50

They then were asked to rate themselves, as well as the typical student. In order to

measure comparison selection, subjects were asked to select, from a list of 13 tests (social

popularity, appreciation of the fine arts, intelligence, ability in school, physical

attractiveness, creatively, ability to cope, overall competence, leadership ability,

sensitivity to the feelings of others, political awareness, problem solving, and athletic

ability), three tests for the other subject to complete and three tests they wanted to

complete. This measure was also employed to support information provided in the cover

story.

Finally, subjects completed the Profile of Mood States questionnaire. Using a

five-point scale (1 = not at all to 5 = extremely) subjects rated the mood they were in

when making impressions of the other subject. The researchers informed the subjects that

mood can significantly affect how people form impressions, "so we need to control for

your mood" (p. 71).

Results of Study One indicated that low self-esteem people made comparison

selections that would benefit their self-esteem. That is, low self-esteem people, the data

revealed, engaged in comparisons when they succeeded rather than when they failed.

When they failed, low self-esteem subjects avoided making comparisons with successful

targets. In addition, results did not indicate changes in mood as a result of downward

comparison. In fact, low self-esteem people did not demonstrate any particular benefit of

downward comparisons. The researchers reconciled this finding by explaining that

downward comparison must be coupled with a negative mood induction or threat in order

to trigger mood improvement after downward comparison (Wood et al., 1994).






51

Research, therefore, suggests that low self-esteem subjects exhibit more positive

mood change and greater life satisfaction if they subsequently engage in a downward

comparison as opposed to upward or self-evaluation comparisons (Gibbons & Gerrard,

1989). High self-esteem subjects on the other hand, fail to exhibit increases in life

satisfaction if they engaged in downward comparisons. One explanation for this,

according to Major, Testa, and Bylsma (1991), could be that high self-esteem subjects

have higher perceived control on more optimistic outlooks and are more likely than the

lower self-esteem subjects to perceive that they could become members of the same

group. "Thus it might be useful to include standard measures of life satisfaction with

measures tapping the individual's perception of being different (in an undesirable

manner) from most others" (Wills, 1991, p. 57).

According to the literature, persons low in self-esteem should gain the most

benefit from downward comparison opportunities (Wills, 1981). Evidence of the

downward comparison is expected to be found on measures of mood and satisfaction with

life. Based on the literature review, may be concluded that downward comparisons, for

low self-esteem individuals, provide information that says, "even if I can not change the

situation, it looks like things can't get any worse." Downward comparisons therefore

communicate optimism about the future, encouragement and hope about the future, and

proclaim that coping and getting through difficult situations is possible.

Hypothesis: In the downward comparison condition, individuals who are low in
self-esteem will report and exhibit evidence of downward comparison after
exposure to a worse-off other.






52

According to research, it is the low self-esteem subjects who will be more affected

by information that is self-enhancing. For example, persons low in self-esteem engaging

in downward comparison with another who is having more trouble coping or

experiencing more serious problems should show significant changes in life satisfaction

scores and decide that their own personal problems were not as bad as they had thought.

And, in addition, it is expected that when placed in upward comparison conditions, low

self-esteem individuals will react negatively and as a result, this condition will lower life

satisfaction scores, across time. This condition, for example, may inform subjects low in

self-esteem that they are: (a) not coping well, (b) not good copers, and are not like typical

students, and (c) coping worse than they thought.

Hypothesis: In upward comparison conditions changes in life satisfaction at Time
2 will not be demonstrated for individuals low in self-esteem. In fact, it is
expected that lower life satisfaction scores will be observed.

What happens when people who are high in self-esteem are confronted with

downward and upward targets? Based on data collected by Gibbons and Gerrard (1989),

it appears as if high self-esteem subjects, when placed under conditions of downward

comparison, demonstrate considerably less mood improvement than subjects low in self-

esteem. According to Gibbons and Gerrard (1989), simply recognizing that there are

worse off others does not improve the mood states of high self-esteem individuals. What

does improve mood states for high self-esteem people is evidence of the target's coping

success. In other words, because high self-esteem people respond favorably to evidence

of coping success, it is expected that subjects high in self-esteem will show increases in

mood, only under conditions of upward comparison (Gibbons & Gerrard, 1989).









Hypothesis: In upward comparison conditions positive changes in life satisfaction
and mood at Time 2 will observed for individuals high in self-esteem. Life
satisfaction scores and mood states for low self-esteem people, on the other hand,
will show considerably less improvement after exposure to the upward targets
than subjects high in self-esteem.


Effects of Threat on Mood States

To determine the effects of a threat to self-esteem and upward and downward

social comparison on the mood states of high and low self-esteem individuals, Gibbons

and Gerrard (1989) queried approximately 700 undergraduate students.1 Seventy-three

subjects were selected from the pool on the basis of their self-esteem scores. Using a

median split, participants then were placed into one of two groups: high or low self-

esteem. Subjects were then assigned to a downward or upward comparison condition.

The subjects completed several questionnaires: the Janis-Field Feelings of

Inadequacy Scale, which is a popular self-esteem measure, a mood assessment scale, and

a scale to assess coping strategies. Mood was computed by summing the subjects'

responses to 6 adjectives. The 6 adjectives were: calm, content, secure, hopeless,

depressed, sad. Subjects completed the mood scale twice, before and after the

experimental manipulation. Changes in mood were assessed by comparing sums of the

positive adjectives versus sums of the negative adjectives with responses to pre-test. To

assess coping, subjects answered questions such as, "How well are you dealing with the

stresses that you face on a daily basis?" and "Do you think you are handling the

difficulties of college life very well?"



1 The Gibbons and Gerrard (1989) study helped formulate and determine the research
method and procedures for the present experimental study.






54

Subjects were then told that the purpose of the study was to determine how

college students were adjusting to college life. They were asked to think carefully about

their coping strategies, personal problems, and difficulties encountered in adjusting to

college. The subjects then read statements written by a group partner. The statements,

however, were actually bogus statements written by the researcher. The statements

indicated that the author was having few problems and very little difficulty adjusting (the

upward comparison condition) or that the author was having very few specific problems

but a lot of trouble adjusting in general (downward comparison condition).

The researchers discovered that when threatened, especially when asked about

problems in adjustment, low self-esteem individuals demonstrated more interest in and

were more affected by self-enhancing information. Data also suggested that low self-

esteem subjects made downward comparisons and experienced a significant improvement

in mood.

A review of the literature on downward social comparison revealed that low self-

esteem subjects will report significant mood improvement. Data obtained from some

studies, however, suggest that downward comparison increases mood only when low self-

esteem subjects experience a threat (Brown, Collins & Schmidt, 1988; Gibbons, 1986;

Gump & Kulik, 1995). Therefore, it is speculated that downward social comparisons are

most likely when people feel bad.

Low self-esteem individuals, the literature suggests, have more difficulties

adjusting and subsequently are vulnerable to all types of "threats" to ego or self-esteem.

Friend and Gilbert (1973) suggested that threatened subjects as compared to






55

nonthreatened subjects were less likely to compare with a better-off other, were more

likely to compare with worse off others, and were most likely to exhibit downward

comparison when under threat or high in fear of negative evaluation. It is possible that

social comparison with another person whose problems are not severe but who is having

difficulty is most likely to yield mood enhancement.

In their investigation, Gump and Kulik (1995) sought to determine the effects of a

model's "HIV" status on self-perceptions. Audiotaped instructions informed participants

that the study was concerning sexual behaviors in the college population. Subjects then

listened to a 3-minute interview about the sexual behaviors of a purportedly real college

student. The interview was designed so that the interviewee answered questions about

her experiences with sexual partners, number and length of intimate relationships, and

about the time when sexual intercourse entered into the relationship (e.g., after the first

date, after marriage, etc.). The interview made extremely clear that the person was

heterosexual, almost always used condoms, had known the sexual history of all partners,

and had dated for a long period of time before engaging in intercourse. No mention was

made of HIV during this initial interview.

After listening to this initial interview, subjects received another set of

instructions. This time, however, subjects were informed that the interview they heard

was also concerned with how some people put others at high risk for contracting HIV.

Before listening to a second interview with a different person, subjects were provided

with general information about HIV. Subjects were randomly assigned to one of two

conditions: listening to interviews with a "HIV" positive individual or a "HIV" negative






56

individual. They then were asked to rate their similarity after knowing whether the model

was HIV positive or negative. Assessments were also made on the extent to which

subjects perceived HIV as a relevant risk, and, in addition, they were asked to rate, on a

scale from 0 to 100, their a) concern with contracting the virus, b) concern with

contracting the virus in the next two years, and c) the probability that they are HIV

positive. A control group was used and they rated their similarity to the model in part I.

They did not listen to the tape or information in part II and thus had no knowledge of the

model's HIV status (part II).

An analysis of variance revealed that subjects believed that they engaged in safer

sexual behaviors than the "HIV" positive model. Data obtained in this study suggest that

exposure to the model's HIV status influenced subject's perceptions of their relative

safety. Even though subjects listened to the same interview, results revealed that

participants rated their HIV behaviors and traits as more dissimilar to those of another

person. Interestingly, subjects found the HIV target to be dissimilar, if and only if, that

person was believed to be HIV positive rather than HIV negative. Based on the data,

Gump and Kulik (1995) concluded that "mediational analyses suggested that there was

some 'blaming' or devaluing the victim, in that subjects perceived the identical behaviors

and traits as riskier if the model was believed HIV positive rather than negative" (p. 832).

It appears as if individuals, when facing threatening information, will augment

perceptions of their own behaviors and characteristics and engage in a downward

comparison with a target perceived to be worse off. It is possible that the similarity bias






57

demonstrated in this study also serves a self-protective function (just like downward

comparison) with respect to feelings of threat susceptibility (Gump & Kulik, 1995).

Research Question: Is threat a necessary precursor for downward social
comparison? Is evidence of downward social comparison most likely under
conditions of threat or negative feedback?

Theoretical Assumptions of the Present Study


TV Talk Show Viewers

Who benefits more from exposure to entertaining programs like television talk

shows? Based on the literature review, it is assumed that low self-esteem people watch

television shows to regulate affect. It is possible that exposure to exciting TV talk shows

enhances the self-perceptions of low self-esteem people. The present study hopes to

determine whether or not TV talk shows attract a certain type of viewer significantly

more (i.e., low self-esteem people) than another type of viewer (i.e., high self-esteem

viewers).

Consistent with prior research, it is expected that under conditions of downward

comparison, persons low in self-esteem will experience a greater boost in mood and

feelings of life satisfaction after exposure to the inferior targets than persons high in self-

esteem. Borrowing a theoretical assumption from Zillman and Bryant's (1986)

entertainment theory, it was assumed that individuals low in self-esteem watch television

talk shows and engage in downward comparisons in an effort to feel better about their

own lives and personal problems.






58

Individual Differences in Downward and Upward Social Comparison Processes

Research suggests that persons low in self-esteem will gain the most benefit from

downward comparison opportunities and evidence of the downward comparison is

expected to be found on measures of mood and satisfaction with life (e.g., Gibbons &

Gerrard, 1989; Wills, 1981). Conversely, based on data collected by Gibbons and Gerrard

(1989), it is expected that high self-esteem subjects, under conditions of downward

comparison, will demonstrate considerably less mood improvement after exposure to

incompetent targets than subjects low in self-esteem. High self-esteem people, these

researchers found, respond more favorably to evidence of a target's coping success.

Therefore, the present study expects to find that subjects high in self-esteem will show

increases in mood, only under conditions of upward comparison (Gibbons & Gerrard,

1989).

Changes in Life Satisfaction and Mood

If viewers are found to engage in a social comparison with a media image, what

are the effects of the social comparisons on mood state and perceptions of life

satisfaction? One assumption of the present study involves assessments of the subjective

well-being concept. The present study defined and conceptualized subjective well-being

in terms of perceptions and evaluations of one's satisfaction with life. Life satisfaction,

therefore, has been conceptualized in this study as an individual's satisfaction with life-

as-a-whole. And since the study is also interested in the relevant factors related to life

satisfaction (i.e., mood states; satisfaction with social relationships, freedom or control,

etc.), life satisfaction has also been conceptualized in terms of the related domains.






59

In addition, it is assumed that positive increases in mood state and life satisfaction

scores will be most obvious when low self-esteem people are confronted with another

target who is having more trouble coping or experiencing more serious problems

(Gibbons & Gerrard, 1989). On the other hand, when placed in upward comparison

conditions, low self-esteem individuals, it is assumed, will react negatively. As a result, it

is speculated that upward comparison targets will negatively affect life satisfaction scores

for low self-esteem people because it is believed that this condition may inform subjects

low in self-esteem that they are: (a) not coping well, (b) not good copers, and are not like

typical students, and (c) coping worse than they thought.

Effects of Threat to Esteem on Mood States

A review of the literature on downward social comparison revealed that low self-

esteem subjects report significant improvement in mood after experiencing a threat to

self-esteem. Specifically, some research suggests that threat is necessary for a downward

comparison to for low self-esteem subjects (Brown, Collins & Schmidt, 1988; Gibbons,

1986; Gump & Kulik, 1995). Therefore, it is speculated that downward social

comparisons are most likely when people low in self-esteem feel bad.

Experimental Predictions


The present study hopes to demonstrate that television talk shows help viewers

feel better about themselves and their life circumstances. By viewing these programs

regularly, affect, it is presumed, is regulated and stress-related emotions are released






60

through the downward comparison process with talk show topics and guests. In order to

fulfill the purposes of this study, several predictions were formulated.

Different predictions were made for the downward and upward comparison

conditions. First, in the downward comparison condition, it was expected that people

would experience greater changes in life satisfaction and mood. More specifically, it was

predicted that in the downward comparison condition changes in life satisfaction would

be greater at Time 2 for low self-esteem people than for high self-esteem individuals.

And, it was expected that, when given negative feedback, people low in self-esteem in the

downward comparison condition would experience greater changes in life satisfaction at

Time 2 than high self-esteem people. In contrast, it was expected that in the downward

comparison condition, increases in life satisfaction at Time 2 would not be evident for

people high in self-esteem. From this, the following experimental and statistical

hypotheses were formulated:

Hypothesis #1: In the downward comparison condition, people with low self-

esteem will report greater changes in mood and life satisfaction at Time 2 than people

with high self-esteem. Statistical tests will be conducted that will test the following

experimental predictions:

In the downward comparison condition, changes in pre- and post-test life

satisfaction scores will be found for individuals low in self-esteem.

In the downward comparison condition, changes in life satisfaction at Time 2

will not be observed for people high in self-esteem.






61

It was also expected that changes in life satisfaction at Time 2 will be more

evident for high self-esteem people in the upward comparison condition. Thus, it was

expected that high self-esteem subjects would show more positive changes in life

satisfaction and mood only after making comparisons with upward targets.

Hypothesis #2: In the upward comparison condition, persons high in self-esteem

will experience greater boosts in life satisfaction and mood at Time 2 than persons who

are low in self-esteem.

From this hypothesis, two experimental predictions were formulated:

In the upward comparison condition, of changes in pre- and post-test life

satisfaction scores will be found for individuals high in self-esteem.

In the upward comparison condition, changes in life satisfaction at Time 2 will

not be observed for people low in self-esteem.

Research Question: Is a Downward Social Comparison Moderated by Self-Esteem

and Type of Feedback?














CHAPTER 3
METHOD

Overview of Study


Social comparisons made with others who are superior to or better off than

oneself are referred to as upward comparisons. Individuals engaging in upward

comparison may learn from others, be inspired by their examples, or become highly

motivated to achieve similar goals. Upward comparisons, research suggests, are invoked

when individuals are motivated to change or overcome problems (Major, Testa, Bylsma,

1991). Self-improvement is the main effect of an upward comparison because the targets

serve as role models and teach and motivate individuals to achieve or overcome similar

problems (Seta, 1982; Wood, 1989). According to literature on social comparison, an

effective upward comparison target is one who is extremely competent and is proficient

and skillful in terms of coping with personal problems (Major et al., 1991; Seta, 1982).

On the other hand, when a social comparison involves a target who is inferior,

incompetent and/or less fortunate, the comparison is referred to as a downward

comparison (Wills, 1981). The basic principle of downward comparison is that people

feel better about their own situation and enhance their subjective well-being when they

make comparisons with others who are worse off or less fortunate. According to theory,

downward comparisons help individuals cope with personal problems by allowing them





62






63

to see themselves and their problems in a better, more positive light (Wood 1989).

Downward comparisons are most likely to occur when people engage in a social

comparison with a target who is incompetent and less fortunate (Sherman, Presson, &

Chassin, 1984; Schulz & Decker, 1985).

The current dissertation has two goals. The first goal is to explore how various

social comparison opportunities affect feelings of subjective well-being and the second

goal to determine if persons low in self-esteem differ from people high in self-esteem

with regard to subjective well-being under conditions of upward and downward

comparison. Subjects were randomly assigned to comparison conditions: (upward or

downward comparison condition) and to the type of feedback received (positive,

negative, or no feedback). Mood was assessed before comparison and immediately after

the comparison opportunity.

The objective of the dissertation is to demonstrate that social comparisons may be

elicited by television content. It is possible that some television content may afford

individuals with an opportunity to protect or enhance their self-esteem. The present study

will examine the notion that television talk shows may be popular with certain audiences

because, it is assumed, these programs help viewers self-enhance or feel better about

themselves and their life circumstances. It is therefore hypothesized that affect is

regulated and stress-related emotions are released via downward comparisons with TV

images, namely TV talk show guests.







64


Design and Experimental Manipulations

An experimental 2 (comparison: upward vs. downward) x 2 (self-esteem: high vs.

low) x 3 (feedback: positive vs. negative vs. none) x 2 (time: pre-social comparison

opportunity vs. post-social comparison opportunity) factorial design was used to test the

experimental predictions, answer the research questions, and evaluate predictions made

by social comparison theory. Participants also made attributions concerning college life

and the extent to which television shows accurately depict problems related to the

"typical college student."

Brief Overview of the Experimental Procedures

Individuals were asked to participate in a study purportedly concerned with

portrayals of college life on popular television talk show programs. Subjects then viewed

a segment of a recent television talk show and received information suggesting that a talk

show guest (a) is successfully dealing with relationship problems (i.e., upward

comparison condition) or (b) is not dealing well with relationship problems (i.e.,

downward comparison). Effects of these comparisons on the individual's life satisfaction

and mood also was assessed.

The two comparison conditions, upward and downward, were created through ten-

minute videotape vignettes taken from two popular television talk shows. The focus of

both shows was on a discussion of a problem in the relationship problem between two

guests. Threat was created by informing subjects that they had failed a personality test;

no threat participants learned that they successfully had passed the test. And, in the no





65


feedback condition, participants did not receive information or test results from the bogus

personality test.

The present research provided information about the functions of television talk

shows and the audience characteristics that may be used to explain the popularity of this

program genre. This research also provided insights concerning the psychological,

cognitive, and behavioral processes that motivate television viewing preferences and

program choice. It is believed that downward social comparison may be one of the

primary reasons people watch talk shows considered by some to be "trash TV."

Population and Sample

The sample was drawn from selected undergraduate students enrolled in three

introductory undergraduate courses at a large southeastern university.2 All individuals

received course credit in exchange for their participation and were not aware of the

primary purpose of the study until the experiment ended.

Questionnaires were administered to approximately 410 individuals during a mass

pretesting session. Measures included the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale and a 10-item

measure that was used to assess media use information such as how often people watch

television talk shows. Two hundred and thirty-two female viewers were selected on the

basis of their self-esteem score and talk show viewing frequency. Because data obtained

in a preliminary study revealed that males and nonviewers of TV talk shows felt

extremely different about the guests appearing on the show compared to female viewers,




2 Regular viewers, those who watch talk shows at least 3 times a week, were selected for
participation.






66

it was determined the experiment should control for these gender and viewing effects by

primarily focusing on female respondents who watch talk shows on an occasional or

regular basis (i.e., more than 3 times a week). 3 Participants were run in groups of

approximately 12 to 15 people each.

Instrumentation: The Research Tools


Selection of the TV Talk Shows

To determine whether individuals low in self-esteem are most affected by

downward comparison targets and persons high in self-esteem are most affected by

upward comparison targets, a diverse sample of talk show segments was needed.

Therefore, five 60-minute talk shows were carefully selected for study. Specific criteria

established the selection of the talk shows.

The criteria used to select the talk show programs were: audience ratings and

popularity, program content, demographics of program panelists, and the show's

discussion topic. A more detailed discussion of the analysis of the program content will

follow.






3 An ANOVA conducted on the data obtained in preliminary study revealed a significant
interaction among Viewer X Self-Esteem X Comparison condition X Target Guest
Segment F (2, 120) = 4.83, p >.010. The data suggested that differences in viewing
frequency and gender affected perceptions of the guest's competence level. In other
words, regular viewers and nonviewers, and, high and low self-esteem respondents
differed significantly in their ratings of the guest's competence. Nonviewers rated
upward comparison targets as more incompetent (M = 6.1) than did viewers (M = 3.8)
while downward comparison targets were perceived as more competent by nonviewers
(M= 5.9) than viewers (M = 6.2).






67

Secondary data sources also were used to determine audience ratings, popularity,

and program content. The sources used in the analysis were Nielsen ratings and a content

analysis of the weekly television guide on the topical issues being discussed (i.e., the

show's topic had to focus on an interpersonal relationship problem). The Nielsen ratings

and the content analysis help to identify five popular talk shows. Based on information

obtained from the Nielsen ratings, it was determined that the talk shows which appeal to

the 18 34 year old age group are Ricki Lake, Jenny Jones, Maury Povich, Jerry Springer

and Montel Williams. Therefore, these five shows were selected and recorded for roughly

three months.

A total of 48 one-hour talk shows was recorded and reviewed.4 Content analysis

of each talk show was conducted to determine the demographics of the guests, the type of

topic, and relevance of the topic to a young viewing audience. The content analysis was

conducted separately by the principal investigator and three undergraduate research

assistants. 5 Data analysis suggested that two of the 48 talk shows focused on a young

"college-aged" audience.

Content analysis of the topics identified three shows of particular interest for

college students. A description of the shows is as follows: (1) "You Dumped Me, But

Look at Me Now," a Ricki Lake show focused on the survival or successful way several

young women persevered through the breakup of a serious relationship; (2) "Masters of



4 Twelve of the shows were from Ricki Lake; Twelve were from Maury Povich, Ten
shows were from Montel Williams, Nine shows were taped from Jenny Jones, and Five
shows were taped from Jerry Springer.
5 Intercoder reliability for the talk show categories was r = .89






68

Their Domain and She's my Servant," a Jenny Jones show featuring women who are

unhappy in their relationships with men who will not allow them to answer the phone,

drive a car, go to college or establish careers; and (3) "Friendship Court," a Ricki Lake

show featuring mini-courtroom vignettes of controversies and problems in seven different

man-to-man or woman-to-woman relationships.

The Ricki Lake and Jenny Jones programs were broadcast early in the Spring of

1996. These two talk shows were deemed appropriate for the experiment because these

shows featured: a) "college-aged" or young-looking guests, b) problems in interpersonal

relationships, c) the show's host or guest discussing how well the guest was dealing with

the relationship problem (i.e., triumphantly or is not handling the break up well), and/or

d) the guests were considered to be inspirational or very incompetent6.

Next, the researcher watched each of the three shows and recorded information in

a spreadsheet table about the segment (i.e., the guest's name(s) and total time segment

aired before commercial break). Commercials were edited out of the tape. Each one-

hour show was divided into 36 individual segments.7 A number was assigned to each

segment, and a random numbers table was used to select and order the segments. Of the






6 A preliminary research study was conducted and found that the manipulation and
stimuli were in line with theoretical assumptions of social comparison theory. Downward
talk show guest targets were viewed as being very incompetent while upward targets were
perceived as very competent, successful copers. Respondents in the preliminary study
found the upward comparison targets to be more competent than downward comparison
targets F(1, 22) = 221.14, p < .0001. There was also a significant difference in the two
comparison opportunities and target guest segment F(1, 22) = 9.80, p < .0005.
7 A segment refers to the part of the program that is broadcast without commercials.






69

36 segments, four segments from each show were randomly selected to be used in the

experiment.

Measures of Program Choice and Self-Esteem

During the mass pretesting session, participants received a pretest questionnaire

packet that asked respondents to identify demographic information such as age, gender,

and ethnicity. To obtain data concerning program choice and viewing preferences,

respondents also indicated how often they watch certain television programs (1 =

frequently, 2 = occasionally, 3 = rarely, 4 = never) and how often they typically watch

television (1 = 0-1 day/week, to 4 = every day). Participants also indicated how often

they watch particular shows like nightly news shows, soap operas, music videos, situation

comedies, television magazine shows, real-life drama shows, talk shows, and drama

shows.

Rosenberg's Self-Esteem scale also was included in pretest. Items on this scale

asked respondents to indicate the extent to which they agree or disagree (1 = strongly

agree, 2 = agree, 3 = neutral, or 3 = disagree, 4 = strongly disagree), with statements such

as, I feel that I have a number of good qualities," "I take a positive attitude toward

myself," and "I certainly feel useless at times." The scale was selected for three reasons:

(a) ease of administration and scoring, (b) brevity, and (c) it is relatively straightforward

in terms of the positive or negative feelings individuals may have concerning their self-

worth and value.

Rosenberg's (1965) Self-Esteem scale is a widely used scale. The scale, which

also was used in the Morse and Gergen (1970) "Mr. Clean, Mr. Dirty" study, contains 10






70

items that have been reported to have high face validity, high internal consistency, and

high test-retest reliability and could be expected to produce an adequate estimation of an

individual's level of self-esteem (Blascovich & Tomaka, 1991).

Feedback Instrumentation: The Balanced Inventory of Desirable Responding
(BIDR)

Feedback was manipulated by providing positive or negative feedback. Upon

arriving at the lab, and after signing the informed consent form, participants completed a

"bogus" personality scale, which supposedly predicts an individual's social intelligence,

adequacy, and sensitivity level. The experimenter left the room while participants

completed the scale.

In reality, participants completed an actual, validated scale: The Balanced

Inventory of Desirable Responding (BIDR). The BIDR was selected because it measures

two factors, self-deception and impression management. Self-deception involves the

extent to which people provide self-reports that are honest but positively biased. This

measure was included so that the researcher could identify the extent to which some

people with a propensity for self-deception may have denied having psychologically

threatening thoughts or feelings when confronted with the talk show guests (Paulhaus,

1988; Robinson et al., 1991).

Another reason the BIDR scale was selected for inclusion in the present study is

because it also contains measures to tap into self-enhancement. It was assumed that this

particular measure would identify, if necessary, whether participants avoided a social

comparison in an attempt to maintain an unrealistic positive view of their self-concepts.






71


The BIDR's, it was believed, would identify the extent to which respondents

overestimated and overrated their positive behaviors and underreported performance of

their undesirable behaviors (e.g., I never swear). Respondents rated their level of

agreement with 40 statements on a seven-point scale.

This scale is extremely appropriate for the present study because it could be used

in additional and/or future analysis to identify which one of the factors, self-deception or

impression management, was responsible for unexpected effects. The scale was intended

to determine the role self-deception and impression management played in avoiding a

social comparison with media images encountered in everyday life. That is, this scale

was used to assess the extent to which people avoided social comparison opportunities

and denied having psychologically threatening thoughts or feelings.

Time: Pre and Post Social Comparison Opportunity

Posttesting was conducted on measures of mood and life satisfaction. Changes in

mood and life satisfaction scores from the pretest to the posttest were used to measure the

effects of exposure to particular comparison targets on an individual's attitude and

affective state. Analyses of mood change scores indicated whether or not self-esteem

interacted with the type of comparison and feedback. This analysis was also used to

determine if the results of the study were consistent with the hypotheses and predictions

made by downward social comparison theory. The pre and posttest analyses determined

how downward and upward comparison opportunities portrayed in the media affected

particular participants.






72

Comparison Conditions

All individuals completing the pretest were randomly assigned to one of two

conditions (i.e., upward, downward). 8 The experimenter remained blind to the subject's

level of self-esteem. The downward comparison condition involved two different

segments. One segment involved Amber and her friend, Desiree. In this condition,

participants viewed an 8-minute segment of the show entitled "Friendship Court."

During this segment, subjects were provided with the following information.

Amber is very upset with Desiree, her best friend, because Desiree violated her
trust. Amber and Danielle are college roommates and used to be best friends, until
Danielle slept with Amber's boyfriend. Producers informed us that Amber seems
to have some trouble coping with her problem and, according to the talk show's
producer, has stopped attending classes, is allowing her grades to suffer, and
seems to be consumed with getting revenge.

In another downward comparison condition, participants viewed an 8- minute

segment of a talk show titled, "Masters of their Domain," featuring a guest named

Michelle. Respondents were provided with the following information.

Talk show producers sent us a brief description of the segment you have been
asked to evaluate. This segment concerns women who are trapped in relationships
with men who feel that they are "Master's of their Home." The segment that you
are being asked to watch focuses on Michelle and Bob.

Talk show producers sent us this tape because they said fan mail from young
women in similar relationships was tremendous after this show aired. It seems as
though Michelle used to be a college student, but because of Bob, she is no longer
attending the university. She also used to work part-time at a bar, the place where
she met her husband Bob. They are married, and producers inform us that
Michelle is not coping well at all. She is extremely unhappy in her relationship to
Bob. Bob is extremely jealous and controlling and as a result, Michelle is
unhappy and is upset because Bob treats her like a servant. She wants to do
things that will make her happy like go back to school and finish her degree, but



8 A preliminary study determined appropriate talk show targets.






73

as you will see, she seems to be so stuck in her relationship that fulfilling her
dream of going back to school is not very likely.

Two levels of the upward comparison condition9 involved guests who were

described as successfully handling and dealing with a serious interpersonal relationship

problem. In one segment, participants learned that Desiree was:

... a young female college student, who used to date Jeff. Jeff broke up with
Desiree and as a result she reported to the show's producer's that the breakup was
extremely traumatic for her. She was so devastated that the producers said she
could not handle things: she stopped attending classes, her grades suffered, and
she eventually had to drop out of school for a semester. But, according to the
show's producers, she quickly bounced back and since that time has reported that
she has not had many conflicts or relationship problems. Producers tell us that
she has now gone back to school and is about to graduate college with high
honors. She is presently pursuing a career in law and is involved in an extremely
happy relationship with a young man who is attending medical school. She
successfully handled her problem, as you will see on the tape, and asked to come
back on the show to show Jeff that he did her a favor by breaking up with her. As
you watch Desiree, consider whether or not you think her problem is an accurate
and realistic representation of the life and problems of a typical college student.

Another upward comparison segment featured a young African-American female

who appears confident and successfully triumphed and coped with several problems (i.e.,

weight loss, attitude change, facial looks, etc.). This target guest appeared on the same

Ricki Lake show as the former upward comparison target. Verbal instructions informed

participants of the following:

The segment you will see was titled, "You dumped me, but look at me now." In
this segment, Natalie, a female college student, was described as an excellent
coper. She successfully handled her relationship problems and asked to appear on
the show because she wanted to re-unite with an ex-boyfriend. Basically,


9 Data analysis revealed no significant differences in the two upward comparison
segments and the two downward comparison condition. Thus, one upward comparison
guest was not found to significantly differ from the other guest, and as a result, the
segments were collapsed to form one variable for the upward comparison condition. The
same was true for the downward comparison condition.






74


producer's tell us that Natalie was so devastated when her then boyfriend
Maurice broke up with her that she almost contemplated dropping out of college.

But, as you will see, Natalie has overcome several adversities like losing weight,
graduating college, and other goals. Producers tell us that Natalie is and feels
extremely confident and is very happy and content. She merely wanted to appear
on the show and tell Maurice, "Look at me now."

As you watch Natalie, consider whether or not you think her problem is an
accurate and realistic representation of the life and problems of a typical college
student. Please keep in mind as you are watching the show, what the guest is like,
what types of problems they are having, and also give some thought to how the
guest compares with you. Be sure that you evaluate this show so that you can
make insightful comments about the program's ability to reach and relate to
college students in your age group.

Measures of Life Satisfaction and Mood State

Because the goal of this study was to explore how mediated social comparison

opportunities affect feelings of subjective well-being, a measurement scale known as the

Affectometer was selected. Based on research, it was determined that the Affectometer

would identify whether feelings of subjective well being included feelings of stress,

satisfaction with relationships and amount of social support one receives, satisfaction

with role performance or self-presentations, and the extent to which people perceive life

problems to be controlled by other people or controlled by chance (Kammann & Flett,

1983). "If a study is to compare the subjective well-being of different groups of

respondents and/or monitor changes in subjective well-being over time, it may be

important not only to measure subjective well-being itself but also to measure some of

the relevant factors that are presumed to affect subjective well-being" (Andrews &

Robinson, 1991, p. 106).







75

The Affectometer by Kamman and Flett (1983) measures changes in subjective

well-being, namely life satisfaction. The Affectometer is a measure of the individual's

general happiness containing items to assess the overall positive and negative feelings

toward various life situations. It is a 40-item scale with items such as, "My life is right

on track," "My future looks good," "I like myself," and "I feel like a failure" (1 = not at

all, 2 = occasionally, 3 = some of the time, 4 = often, 5 = all of the time). The 40-item

scale was selected on the basis of its ability to measure assessments of life-as-a-whole

and with regard to specific life concerns/domains.

Four items from the scale were selected to represent 10 different life satisfaction

domains: confluence, optimism, self-esteem, self-efficacy, social support, social interest,

freedom, energy, cheerfulness, and thought clarity. Items measuring confluence were

"My life is right on track," "I wish I could change some part of my life," "Satisfied,"

"Discontented." Items measuring optimism were, "My future looks good," "I feel as

though the best years of my life are over," "Optimistic," and "Hopeless." The self-esteem

domain of life satisfaction was measured by asking respondents to indicate the extent to

which they agreed or disagreed with the following statements: "I like myself," "I feel

there must be something wrong with me," "Useful," and "Insignificant."

To represent the self-efficacy domain of life satisfaction, the Affectometer

contained the following four items: "I can handle any problems that come up," I feel

like a failure," "Confident," "Helpless." Social support, the 5th domain, was assessed in

items like, "I feel loved and trusted," "I seem to be left alone when I don't want to be,"

"Understood," and "Lonely." Another domain referred to as Social Interest measured the





76

extent to which people indicated that they "feel close to people around [them]." Other

items tapping into this domain asked respondents to indicate the extent to which they

"have lost interest in other people and don't care about them," "Loving," and

"Withdrawn."

Freedom, a domain of life satisfaction, used the following measures to determine

the extent to which people felt events were externally or internally controlled. Measures

included the following items: "I feel I can do whatever I want to," "My life seems stuck

in a rut," "Free-and-easy," and "Tense." Cheerfulness was measured by asking the

following questions, "I smile and laugh a lot," "Nothing seems very much fun any more,"

"Good-natured," and "Impatient." Thought-clarity, the final domain of life satisfaction,

focused on stress levels and asked respondents to indicate the extent to which they agree

or disagree with the following statements, "I think clearly and creatively," "My thoughts

go around in useless circles," "Clear-headed," and "Confused."

High scores on the overall Affectometer measurement scale were used to indicate

extreme happiness and satisfaction (200), while low scores indicated low happiness and

low life satisfaction (40). The Affectometer correlates between .63 and .75 with

measures of happiness and emotionality (Andrews & Robinson, 1991).

Procedure


Ten days prior to participation in the study, respondents completed a

questionnaire in a mass pretesting session. The pretest included The Rosenberg Self-

Esteem Scale and 10 items to assess demographic information as well as television

program viewing preference and frequency.






77

Each participant received an informed consent form, detailing general instructions

of the study along with a fictional purpose of the study. Subsequently, in an effort to

facilitate honest responding during the experiment, respondents were asked to use a four-

digit phone number as their code number for the experiment. Participants were assured

of their confidentiality and were instructed not to place their names on any of the

questionnaires.

After the mass testing session, the experimenter gathered the informed consent

forms and entered all data into SPSS. The investigator then selected the participants who

indicated that they watch television talk shows occasionally or always (i.e., 3 or more

times a week), and were female. Participants then were split into high and low self-

esteem groups and were randomly assigned to one of two comparison conditions (i.e.,

upward or downward comparison).

To reduce the error due to differences between persons, the experimenter used

self-esteem scores to match participants before randomly assigning them to treatments.

Once an overall median score was obtained for self-esteem, the participant's scores were

tallied and they then were placed into a block that corresponded to the experimental

group (i.e., high self-esteem versus low self-esteem). Then, the first four individuals,

those with the highest scores, were randomly assigned to one of the four experimental

session while the next four in the second block were randomly assigned one of four






78


sessions. 10 This process continued until all participants were assigned to an

experimental condition.

On arriving to the experimental group session, the participants were greeted by a

female experimenter11 who informed them, once again, of the fictional cover story (i.e.,

the study involves assessments concerning the manner in which television programs

adequately and realistically depict personal problems for today's college student).

Participants then were told that they had been selected because their responses during the

mass testing indicated that, as a group, they were fairly similar to one another. This

information was used to increase both the likelihood and impact of comparison with the

talk show guest.

After receiving these verbal instructions, participants were instructed to locate a

folder lying on their desk. On the front of the manila folder participants read a brief

overview of the experimental instructions (actually another version of the informed

consent protocol) that detailed the upcoming events of the one-hour study. After reading





10 In other words, to be sure all individuals receiving a score of 49, for example, would
be assiged in each conditions, individuals were "blocked" on the basis of their esteem
score. The four highest scores (i.e., over 48) were randomly assigned to one of four
conditions. The next group of scores (i.e., 45-47) were assigned to one of four conditions,
and so on.
11 The experimental techniques and instructions were standardized because the study
employed approximately 10 research assistants. Concern was taken to standardize the
sex and age of all research assistants. The researcher selected all female confederates
who were approximately 21-23 years of age. Confederates acted as experimenters and
were told to appear "professional." Several training sessions with experimenters were
conducted in which each research assistant was afforded an opportunity to practice
reading experimental scripts, complete pretest measures, as well as determine timing and
duration of all experimental techniques.






79

these instructions, respondents were told to open the folder, take out the first sheet of

paper, and write their four-digit code on the top of the first page.

Soon afterward, participants were asked to complete the personality scale (the

BIDR) and were informed that the scale would be used to predict their social sensitivity

and concern for others. This scale, they were told, is used to predict which individuals can

adjust well to problems and adversity. Once the participants finished the test, one of the

experimenters collected their tests and left the room so that respondents would be led to

believe that the results were being scored by a computer program.

The main experimenter then asked participants to open the manila folder and

locate the paper labeled, "Coping with College Life in the 90s." This survey asked

participants to respond to open-ended questions such as, "What do you think is the best

thing about being the age you are now?" and What problems do you think the average

college student faces in the 90s?" During this phase of the study, respondents also

completed the emotion-focused vs. problem-focused scale and identified how well they

adjust to or cope with college-related problems.

After approximately 12 minutes, an experimenter returned to the room and

informed the participants, via sheets of paper, of their overall results. Upon returning,

respondents were provided with the following information about their respective

performance on the test: a) score and rank based on test taken (i.e., their score exceeded

the average score and, as a result, they ranked second in a group of seven, or their score

or score was lower than the average result and they ranked sixth in a group of seven).






80

Respondents were informed that there were 40 possible points on the "social

sensitivity" test. In the positive feedback condition, participants received, via type-

written sheets of paper, information that read:

There were a total of 40 possible points on the social sensitivity scale. The
average score from adult populations (adults aged 18 34) is 35. Data analysis
revealed that your social sensitivity score is above-average. Compared to other
students taking this test, you rank in the upper 95th percentile. This means that in
terms of social sensitivity, your score exceeded the scores of 95% of most people
in your age group who have taken a similar test.


In the negative feedback condition, participants received sheets of paper that read:

There were a total of 40 possible points on the social sensitivity scale. The
average score from adult populations (adults aged 18 34) is 35. Data analysis
revealed that your social sensitivity score is below-average. Compared to other
students taking this test, you rank in the lower 35th percentile. This means that in
terms of social sensitivity, 65% of most people taking the test obtain scores higher
than your score.

In the no feedback condition, participants were told:


The computer testing service just informed us of technical difficulties with the
computer program. As a result, we are unable to provide the results of your
sensitivity test. As soon as the results are received we will inform you of your
score.


After distributing feedback sheets, the experimenter instructed the participants to

answer the pretest measure, which consisted of the life satisfaction measures and a mood

scale. After the subjects completed the mood scale, the experimenter then verbally

instructed the participants and provided background information on the talk show they

were going to watch. Verbal instructions informed each group that they were

participating in a study concerned with college students and the problems they face in the






81

1990s. They were told to make explicit why they were watching a talk show, that they

were going to watch and evaluate a segment of a television talk show in order to

determine if television talk show programs adequately depict the life and problems of

young people in the 1990s.

Next, participants randomly assigned to the upward or downward comparison

condition watched one 4- to 8-minute talk show segment. The experimenter started the

tape and left the room. After the segment ended, the experimenter returned and instructed

participants to return to the manila folder and locate the next set of questionnaires. This

survey contained items that were used as the manipulation check and indicated how the

participants perceived the guest's competence and degree of overall similarity.

The questionnaire also measured the effectiveness of the positive and negative

feedback and assessed level of similarity between the subject and the talk show guest.

After completing this posttest measure, the experimenter asked respondents to complete a

final questionnaire assessing life satisfaction and mood. After completing these

measures, respondents were escorted to a group debriefing session and were officially

dismissed.

Debriefing

Immediately after the experimental session, the principal investigator debriefed

the participants. To receive credit, respondents returned to an informational, "post

experimental group meeting" followed by an individual interview. At this time, all

participants were fully informed of the study's true purpose and hypotheses. The

investigator explained why deception was used in this study, provided background






82

information on downward social comparison and how this theory might be used to

explain how television talk shows enhance viewer mood and help people feel better about

their personal problems.














CHAPTER 4
RESULTS

Before the results on the theoretical issues pertaining to social comparison

processes are presented, in the section that follows a number of preliminary analyses will

be reported and discussed. The preliminary analyses examine the reliabilities of the

measurement scales used in assessing the independent and dependent variables, and

examine checks of the manipulations for the feedback and for the comparison targets.

Preliminary Analysis


Reliability of Measurement Scales

The following section briefly will discuss the results of data analysis conducted

on the reliabilities of the self-esteem and life satisfaction measurement scales. Participant

responses to the 10-item self-esteem scale were summed to provide an overall esteem

score. Possible esteem scores range from 10 to 50. The average self-esteem score for the

sample used in this study was 42.4. A median split was used to classify high self-esteem

versus low self-esteem participants.

Of the 101 subjects, approximately 51 individuals scored 0 42 and were

classified as low in self-esteem while 50 were classified as being high in self-esteem.

The mean for low self-esteem participants was, M= 37.7, SD = 4.1, and high self-esteem







83






84

subjects was, M = 46.9, SD = 2.3. The self-esteem scale was checked for reliability.

Analysis revealed that the scale had an alpha coefficient of a=.88.

The Affectometer, the instrument used to measure life satisfaction taps into

assessing satisfaction with 10 life satisfaction domains: a) positive and negative feelings

toward life situations ; b) satisfaction with relationships; and c) the amount of social

support one receives. Responses to the items measuring these factors were then summed

to provide an overall measure of an individual's life satisfaction. Possible scores on the

Affectometer range from 40 (very dissatisfied) to 200 (very satisfied). Correlation

coefficients among the 40 life satisfaction statements and adjectives were high (i.e., a

=.69, .71, .63, etc.), so they were combined to form a single index of life satisfaction (a

= .91). Four items from the Affectometer were used to measure transient mood states

(i.e., sad, happy, tired, alert). Reliability analysis of these items revealed an alpha of .66.

12

Manipulation Checks

Feedback

The manipulation check for feedback assessed responses to the questions "How

did the results of the social sensitivity test make you feel?" Participant responses were

collected on scales that ranged from 1 = very bad to 7 = very good. Data analysis

revealed that the positive feedback manipulation made participants feel better, M = 5.2



12 Reliability analysis of the remaining life satisfaction subscales revealed the following
alpha coefficients: Confluence a = .75; Optimism a = .64; Self-esteem a = .65; Self-
efficacy a = .67; Social support a = .81; Social interest a = .62; Freedom a = .62;
Cheerfulness a = .64; and Thought-clarity a = .71.






85


than the negative feedback, M = 3.4, F (1, 61) = 29.7, p1 < .0001).13 There were no other

significant main effects of self-esteem ( all p > .5) or significant interactions self-esteem,

type of comparison, and feedback ( all p > .6).

Competence and Coping Capability of Target

To examine the relationship among self-esteem, type of comparison condition,

feedback, and the nature of the subjects' responses to questions concerning the talk show

guest, an analysis of variance (ANOVA) was executed. Two levels of comparison

condition (upward targets versus downward targets), two levels of self-esteem (low

versus high), and three levels of feedback (positive versus negative versus no feedback)

were analyzed as the independent variables. The dependent variables analyzed were

attributions of target guest's competence (1 = very competent, 7 = very incompetent).

Data analysis revealed the expected main effect of comparison condition or

perceptions of the guest's competence, F(1, 89) = 72.3, p < .0001. As expected, upward

targets were judged to be significantly more competent (M =3.3, SD 1.9) than the

downward targets (M = 6.5, SD = 2.1 ). There were no other significant main effects of

or interactions among the independent variables (all 2 > .2).








13 The feedback manipulation question, "How did the results of the test make you feel,"
was administered to 31 participants assigned to the "no feedback" condition. Data
obtained from these participants were discarded in the manipulation check because it was
observed that some "no feedback" participants responded to manipulation check question.
These individuals were omitted from data analysis as experimenters were not clear on
what participants were responding to when answering this question.






86

Addressing The Experimental Hypotheses and Research Questions


Based on the experimental rationale and the theoretical implications of social

comparison theory, data analyses were conducted in stages. The first step in the process

was to conduct a preliminary assessment of the findings. An alpha level of .05 was used

for all statistical tests. Next, in order to estimate the effect of viewing talk show targets,

data were submitted to a two (self-esteem: high versus low) X two (comparison

condition: upward versus downward) X three (feedback: positive versus negative versus

none) X two (Time: Pre- versus post-test measure of life satisfaction and mood)

unweighted means analysis of variance, with the last factor treated as a within-subjects

variable.

A repeated measures ANOVA was initially run on both of the dependent

variables, life satisfaction and mood. The analysis revealed no significant main effects of

the comparison condition or feedback variables (all p > .35). A significant main effect

was obtained of the self-esteem variable on overall life satisfaction, F(1, 89) = 51.7, p <

.0001. No other significant main effects or interactions were found on either measure (all

p's >.7).

Next, planned contrasts, designed to test the hypotheses, were performed within

levels of the comparison conditions. Data were subjected to a repeated measure ANOVA

for each comparison condition. An interaction of time was expected in each comparison

condition. That is, it was expected that mood and life satisfaction would be enhanced

from pre- to post-measurement for high self-esteem subjects only under conditions of

upward comparison while enhancement only should be found for low self-esteem






87

subjects under conditions of downward comparison. A planned comparison in the

downward comparison condition was used to determine the effects of downward targets

on mood states and perceptions of life satisfaction for high and low self-esteem people.

The Effects of Downward Comparisons on Life Satisfaction and Mood

Hypothesis #1: In the downward comparison condition, people low in self-esteem

will experience greater boosts in life satisfaction than people who are high in self-esteem.

From this hypothesis, two predictions were made:

In the downward comparison condition, participants low in self-esteem will

display an increase in the life satisfaction scale from Time 1 to Time 2.

In the downward comparison condition, participants high in self-esteem will

not show an increase in life satisfaction from Time 1 to Time 2.

Hypothesis #2: In the downward comparison condition, people low in self-esteem

will experience greater boosts in mood than people who are high in self-esteem.

From this hypothesis, two experimental predictions were made:

In the downward comparison condition, participants low in self-esteem will

display an increase in mood from Time 1 to Time 2.

In the downward comparison condition, participants high in self-esteem will

not show an increase in mood from Time 1 to Time 2.


Life Satisfaction
The first hypothesis dealt with enhancement of subjective well-being or life

satisfaction, as moderated by level of self-esteem, for a downward comparison, or an






88

"inferior" comparison target. The data revealed a significant main effect of the self-

esteem variable on perceptions of life satisfaction, F(1, 55) = 40.9, R < .0001. Consistent

with information presented in the Gibbons and Gerrard (1989) study, low self-esteem

individuals reported being less satisfied with life circumstances than did high self-esteem

subjects.


Table 4-1: Changes in life satisfaction as a function of self-esteem within the downward
comparison condition.
Time

Time 1 Time 2 Overall Mean
Change
Self-Esteem

Low 130.9a 131.8a .9
(n=32) (SD = 15.08) (SD = 16.53)

High 150.5b 153.9c 3.4
(n=27) (SD = 15.65) (SD = 12.03)

158.2 161.2
(SD = 15.65) (SD = 12.90)
Note: The total possible points on the life satisfaction scale was 200. Means with
different subscripts across rows and down columns differ at R < .05.


Data analysis also revealed a significant main effect of time (i.e., changes in life

satisfaction from Time 1 to Time 2), F (1, 55) = 5.24, p = .02. As Table 4-1 shows,

participants reported greater life satisfaction at Time 2 (M = 131.2, SD = 11.9) than at

Time 1 (M = 151.2, SD = 14.7). The effect of the downward comparison on life

satisfaction scores taken at Time 1 and Time 2 was further qualified by an interaction of

levels of self-esteem and changes in life satisfaction (i.e., pre- and post-test measurement




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“WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN:”
THE SELF-ENHANCING EFFECT OF WATCHING TELEVISION TALK SHOWS
By
CYNTHIA M. FRISBY
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
1997

To the members of my family, I dedicate this dissertation. Thanks for loving and
supporting me during the three years I worked on this project.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I wish to thank the members of my committee, Debbie Treise, Kim Walsh-
Childers, James Shepperd, and Barry Schlenker for having an enormous amount of
patience and understanding, for returning my numerous e-mail messages and phone calls,
forgiving my many mistakes, teaching me how to produce a quality research project,
answering millions of questions, being available for countless office visits, and for the
invaluable advice on research, writing manuscripts, and teaching philosophies. It should
be obvious that I have learned a lot from these people, and I know I learned from the best.
Thank you, in particular, to James Shepperd for supplying the “tools” I needed to
cultivate and enhance my interest in and enthusiasm for this dissertation topic.
I would like to, however, extend a special thank you and word of appreciation to
my chairman, Dr. Michael Weigold, for whom I give credit for encouraging me to attain,
this, one of the greatest, and most challenging accomplishments of my life. We’ve
known each other for almost six years and in that time he has had to help me overcome
many challenges and obstacles. To Dr. Weigold, I would like to say thank you for being
everything to me, my advisor, major professor, mentor, and friend. Thank you will never,
ever begin to express all the appreciation I have for the man who held high standards that
merely dared me to be the best I can be.
iii

I would also like to thank my husband, Craig Frisby, for his assurance and
willingness to sacrifice a few important deadlines and “date nights,” cancel office hours,
do the laundry, iron shirts and wash dishes just so that the dissertation could be
completed in a timely manner. I would especially like to thank him for having a soft
shoulder to cry on, for loving me no matter what, being a good listener, and for
maintaining his wonderful sense of humor. My husband truly is my best friend and is my
“one in a million chance of a lifetime when God showed compassion, and sent to me a
stroke of ‘love’ called [Craig].” I would also like to extend a huge thank you to my
mother, Ada Smith. Thank you, doesn’t seem to say all that I need to say, but I’ll give it
my best. I would like to thank my mother for sacrificing all of her time and energy so
that she could help me whenever I needed her, particularly when it came to taking care of
our “angels,” Angela and Marcus. I will never forget the countless times she would
suddenly and unexpectedly, with no hesitation, volunteer to spend the night and/or pick
the children up from school just so that I could grade papers and/or projects, record exam
scores, prepare lectures, and/or work on my dissertation. I am so thankful that God may
allow my mother to see me, her oldest child, walk across the stage and receive a degree
that she probably thought she would never live to see in her lifetime. “I’ll love her
forever, I’ll like her for always, and forever, and ever my Mommie she’ll be.”
I am also indebted to other members of my family, namely my sister, Sharrone,
and my brother, Michael. I would especially like to thank my sister for driving over 500
miles late one Friday night in the middle of a monsoon so that she could be on hand to
help with the children. What a sacrifice and sign of my sister’s—who is also my very
IV

best friend— unselfish love! A word of thanks are also due to my extended family, Rev.
Leon and Mabel Frisby, my mom and dad, and my brother-in-law, Brian Frisby, who
stressed the value of family and maintaining a Christ-centered home. It has certainly
been evident in my family and throughout my life that “nothing happens to a child of
God without going through the hands of God.”
Throughout the course of this and other life experiences, I have come to realize
that God provides and will send guardian angels to protect me and to keep my feet from
stumbling. To David Brumbaugh and George Stewart, thanks for providing all the
computer support I needed and a “place to hide.” A word of thanks should also be
extended to Noralyn Jones and Lori McRee for taking such great care of and loving my
special angels during the day. Thanks to Kirsten Strausbaugh for being the best office
partner the college had to offer. I would like to thank Tracy Cristal for writing a very
“special letter,” a letter that inspired me one day when I really needed it. I must also
acknowledge some very dear friends, Jim and Alison Karrh, Debbie Perez, and Millie
Rivera-Sanchez. I would like to extend an extra special word of appreciation to Millie,
who gave me the strength and encouragement I needed, particularly when I thought I had
none left. I would especially like to thank Millie for her honesty and integrity. My
words of appreciation to Millie might best be expressed in the words of a song, “Did I
ever tell you that you’re my hero? You’re everything I would like to be.” Proverbs 17: 17
says, “A friend loves at all times.” I can not count the numerous times this scripture came
to life through the acts of unconditional love and forgiveness which was displayed many
v

times by my friends. Thanks to my friends for encouraging me to keep on running the
race that was set before me and for being my special “guardian angel.”
I would be remiss if I did not thank my research assistants, Wendy Allen, Tina
Banner, Steve Carlton, Aaron Charron, Cynthia Contreas, Joy Cooper, Reginald Gay,
David Groomes, Tanya Mortensen, and Christina Smart. While the work load and task
was tremendous and at times overwhelming, these young men and women consistently
displayed unspeakable enthusiasm and cooperation. I am proud to have had the pleasure
of working with them all. Thank you to “my team” for their continued commitment and
devotion.
At this point I would like to extend a quick word of thanks to my church family
who always, no matter what, prayed for me, loved me, and lifted my spirits. God has
said, “never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” and HE NEVER DID! God’s
continued presence in my life became obvious to me through the love of my family,
friends, and church.
Jesus says, “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the
Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him,” (Colossians 3:17). I
would like to thank God for His amazing grace, for making me the person that I am, and
for creating in me a desire to be like and have the mind of Christ. I am so glad that I no
longer have to look for love in all the wrong places. At this moment, I am proud to say
that I found love, forgiveness and grace in one Man, the person of Jesus Christ. Praise
God for the fact that I am a victor in Christ!
vi

TABLE OF CONTENTS
page
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS iii
ABSTRACT xi.
CHAPTERS
1 INTRODUCTION 1
Statement of the Problem Under Investigation 2
Popularity of the TV Talk Show 3
TV Talk Shows: Trash TV or Infotainment? 6
The Benefit of Watching Talk TV 9
The Theoretical Framework to Explain Consumption of TV Talk Shows 9
Contribution to Theory Development and Field of Mass Communication 10
2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE 13
Motives for Media Use 13
Current Research on Uses and Gratifications 15
Limitations of Uses and Gratifications 17
Entertainment Theory 19
Affective Regulation 20
Social Comparison Theory 23
Literature Review on Social Comparison 23
Three Types of Social Comparisons 25
Criticisms of Social Comparison Theory 29
Dimensions that Encourage the Social Comparison Process 33
Possible Outcomes of a Downward Social Comparison 38
Individual Differences in the Social Comparison Process 45
Effects of Threat on Mood States 53
Theoretical Assumptions of the Present Study 57
TV Talk Show Viewers 57
Individual Differences in Downward and Upward Social Comparison
Processes 58
Changes in Life Satisfaction and Mood 58
vii

Effects of Threat to Esteem on Mood States 59
Experimental Predictions 59
3 METHOD 62
Overview of Study 62
Design and Experimental Manipulations 64
Brief Overview of the Experimental Procedures 64
Population and Sample 65
Instrumentation: The Research Tools 66
Selection of the TV Talk Shows 66
Measures of Program Choice and Self-Esteem 69
Feedback Instrumentation: The Balanced Inventory of Desirable
Responding (BIDR) 70
Time: Pre and Post Social Comparison Opportunity 71
Comparison Conditions 72
Measures of Life Satisfaction and Mood State 74
Procedure 76
Debriefing 81
4 RESULTS 83
Preliminary Analysis 83
Reliability of Measurement Scales 83
Manipulation Checks 84
Feedback 84
Competence and Coping Capability of Target 85
Addressing The Experimental Hypotheses and Research Questions 86
The Effects of Downward Comparisons on Life Satisfaction and Mood 87
The Effects of an Upward Comparison on Life Satisfaction and Mood 90
Research Question: Is a Downward Social Comparison Moderated by
Self-Esteem and Type of Feedback? 93
Effects of Threat and Downward Comparison on Mood 94
Additional Analyses 95
Perceived Similarity of the Target 95
Interest in the Topic or Issue 96
Personal Relevance 97
Relationship Among Similarity, Relevance, and Interest 97
Evidence of the Impact of Social Comparison on Domains of Life
Satisfaction 100
Downward Comparison 100
Upward Comparison 104
A Test of the Overall Experimental Design 106
viii

5 DISCUSSION
109
Alternative Explanations for the Findings 110
Experimental Method 110
Self-Affirmation Theory 112
Selective Attention and Biased Recall 114
Idiosyncratic Needs 114
The Effects of Upward Comparisons on Subjective Well-Being 115
Selection of Versus Reaction to Comparison Targets 115
Positive Instance Hypothesis 117
Characteristics of the Target 117
Negative Feedback and the Downward Social Comparison Process 118
Limitations of the Study 119
Theoretical Implications 122
Uses and Gratifications of Media Consumption 123
Affective Regulation and Media Use 125
The Prevalence of Everyday Social Comparisons 125
The Case for Dissimilar Others 127
Factors Predicting Life Satisfaction 127
Societal Implications 130
Television Talk Shows Are “Infotainment” 131
The Antisocial Effects of Watching TV Talk Shows 132
Future Directions 135
Using Downward Comparison to Explain Viewing of Humorous TV
Shows 135
Social Comparison with Other Media 136
Conclusion 138
APPENDICES
A INFORMED CONSENT FORM FOR PARTICIPATION IN
RESEARCH PROJECT 142
B WRITTEN INSTRUCTIONS PROVIDED TO EXPERIMENTAL
PARTICIPANTS 144
C RESEARCH ASSISTANT’S EXPERIMENTAL SCRIPT 146
Downward Comparison Condition: Tape A 146
Downward Comparison Condition: Tape D 151
Upward Comparison Condition: Tape B 157
Upward Comparison Condition: Tape C 163
D WRITTEN FEEDBACK 169
Positive Feedback 169
Negative Feedback 169
ix

No Feedback
170
E PRETEST MEASUREMENT INSTRUMENT 171
Program Choice 171
F ROSENBERG’S SELF-ESTEEM SCALE 173
G THE “BIDR” SCALE 174
H COPING WITH COLLEGE LIFE MEASUREMENT INSTRUMENT 177
I LIFE SATISFACTION MEASUREMENT INSTRUMENT 179
J MANIPULATION CHECK MEASUREMENT SCALE 181
LIST OF REFERENCES 183
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 192
x

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
“WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN:” THE SELF-ENHANCING EFFECT OF
WATCHING TELEVISION TALK SHOWS
By
Cynthia M. Frisby
December 1997
Chairman: Dr. Michael F. Weigold
Major Department: Journalism and Mass Communications
Daytime talk shows have been neglected as a focus of inquiry in mass media
research. However, talk shows are a popular vehicle and may satisfy viewers’ needs to
feel better about themselves. Self-enhancement, or feeling better about oneself and one’s
life, may be one of the primary reasons people watch what some consider to be “trashy”
TV talk programs. An experimental 2 (comparison: upward vs. downward) x 2 (self¬
esteem: high vs. low) x 3 (feedback: positive vs. negative vs. none) x 2 (time: pre-social
comparison opportunity vs. post-social comparison opportunity) factorial design was
used to evaluate predictions made from social comparison theory. Changes in mood and
life satisfaction scores from the pretest to the posttest were used to measure the effects of
exposure to particular comparison targets on an individual’s attitude and affective state.
Data obtained suggest that high self-esteem individuals felt better and experienced greater
xi

benefits after exposure to downward comparison targets. No support was found for an
expected relationship between threat and downward social comparisons. It appears that
threat may not be necessary for people to benefit from self-enhancing comparisons. The
data suggest that downward social comparison may be more prevalent than upward
comparisons. Results of the study are used to speculate about the functions of television
talk shows and may help to explain the popularity of this popular program genre. One
implication of the study is that research could provide insights into the processes that
motivate television viewing preferences and program choice. The theoretical and societal
implications of these results are discussed, as are the future directions for research in
social comparison theory and media consumption.

CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Felecia and Erica are best friends, or were best friends until Erica slept with
Felecia’s boyfriend, Greg. Felecia found this out while having dinner with Erica’s sister,
Candace. Now, Erica is pregnant, but is afraid to tell anyone because she’s not exactly
sure who the father is. So, Felecia, Candace, Greg, Erica, and Erica’s boyfriend, Patrick,
decide to air their dirty laundry on a national television talk show instead of with a
counselor or psychologist. According to Abt and Mustazza (1997), the “purpose of the
confessants’ disclosures is entertainment, not therapy, and that entertainment has been
known to go to bizarre lengths” (p. 98). And millions of people listen in. Why do
viewers faithfully watch television talk shows that seem to focus on other people’s
disclosures and personal problems?
Mass communication researchers long have been concerned with the factors that
influence media use. When people are asked why they spend so much time with the mass
media, particularly television, many respond that they do so in order to be informed
and/or entertained (Rubin, 1981). Some individuals claim to watch television for
information, while others claim that television is a means to help pass time or escape
from personal problems. This research is based on the assumption that television may
play a more complex and more subtle role.
1

2
Statement of the Problem Under Investigation
TV talk shows are dominating the airwaves of daytime television and have
become, according to Abt and Mustazza (1997), “America’s entertainment.” Viewers,
research suggests, have become fascinated with and dedicated to viewing their favorite
TV talk show (Nielsen Media Research, 1997). Remarkably, very little academic
attention has been devoted to the messages contained in talk show programming or the
effects of the messages on viewers’ self-concepts, perceptions of reality, attitudes, and
opinions.
The representation of personal relationships and conflicts in relationships on
television constitutes a substantial part of the content of television talk shows. Talk
shows like Oprah, Montel Williams, Jerry Springer, Sally Jessy Raphael, Ricki Lake, and
Jenny Jones often focus on the formation, maintenance, dissolution of, and intimate
problems within close relationships. This paper will consider various roles television talk
shows can play: (1) to provide an emotional release for viewers; (2) to temporarily
enhance or change viewer mood states; (3) to provide a means of escape, or; (4) to help
viewers cognitively re-evaluate their own interpersonal problems and /or tensions. The
research questions guiding this investigation are: a) Do talk shows entertain by calming
or exciting? b) Do television talk shows attract a certain type of viewer significantly
more than another type of viewer (i.e. individuals low in self-worth). And, why are these
viewers attracted to television talk show programs? c) What are the benefits of watching
TV talk shows? d) Do viewers compare themselves, their life circumstances, and
problems with the guests? And, if so, what is the effect of the comparison?

Popularity of the TV Talk Show
Millions of people each day watch television talk shows (refer to Table 1:1).
Research results reveal that the faithful viewers of television talk shows tend to be men
and women between the ages of 18 and 34 (Simmons Market Research Bureau, 1991).
This target audience constitutes approximately 6% of the total national viewing audience.
This means that more than 600,000 young adults are regular viewers of talk shows.
Table 1:1 Top Ranked TV Talks Shows (1997 Nielsen Media Research)
Rating
Number of Households
(in millions)
Name of Talk Show
1
6.9
The Oprah Winfrey Show
2
4.5
Rosie O’Donnell
3
4.2
Jenny Jones
4
3.9
Sally Jessy Raphael
5
3.8
Regis & Kathie Lee
6
3.8
Maury Povich
7
3.7
Montel Williams
8
3.6
Ricki Lake
9
3.5
Jerry Springer
Note: A single rating point represents 1% or 959,000 households. There are an estimated
95.9 million TV households in the U.S.
These ratings elicit an important question: “Why are so many people attracted to
the talk show genre and the various program hosts?” One reason that has been offered for
the attraction of television talk shows is the type of information they provide. “The tell-

4
all nature of these programs makes them popular with American viewers” (Priest, 1995,
P- 3).
Television talk shows, Keller (1993) argues, attract viewers because they “grab us
emotionally” by employing topics or social issues that encourage anger and other intense
emotions. This emotional effect may explain why shows like Ricki Lake and Jenny Jones
continue to broadcast stories of violent crimes, adultery, incest, racism, sexuality, weight
gain or loss, and complex problems in interpersonal relationships with family members,
friends, or co-workers. The main objective of television talk shows, according to Keller
(1993), is to elicit a viewer’s emotional response. A recent quote taken from a TV talk
show producer helps illustrate this point: “When you’re booking guests, you’re thinking,
‘How much confrontation can this person provide me?’ The more confrontation the
better. You want people just this side of a fistfight” (Gamson, 1995, p. 68).
Ricki Lake, for example, recently received the “Best Talk Show” award at the
United Kingdom National Television Awards. “Ricki Lake’s syndicated talk show has
made her the Oprah of Generation X” (Mr. Showbiz, Star Bios, Internet Homepage). The
3.6 % audience rating for the Ricki Lake show means that this program reaches an
estimated audience of 3 million people (Gamson, 1995). According to the Ricki Lake
home page, the show reflects the evolving tastes of its young adult audience and promises
to deliver original, lively talk for its viewers. The Ricki Lake show also “lets us [viewers]
share other people’s relationship issues in a cutting-edge daytime forum designed to keep
action hot and audience members involved” (Ricki Lake Internet Home Page). It is then
no wonder why this show remains highly ranked (refer to Table 1-1) and continues to

5
attract a large number of faithful viewers among its target audience of 18- to 34-year-old
women. “To these younger people, it [the show] makes a couple of deliciously tempting
promises: that Ricki will let them ‘eavesdrop on other people’s traumas and dramas in a
cutting edge daytime forum designed to keep action hot and audience members involved,’
and that Ricki’s ‘trademark compassion, intellect, and irresistible charm creates an
atmosphere where guests and audience members feel comfortable letting it all hang out
with absolute candor and some surprising results’” (Abt & Mustazza, 1991, p. 75).
Many of the television talk shows, however, cannot compare with the ratings of
the Oprah Winfrey show. Winfrey’s syndicated talk show has stayed in the number one
position for approximately ten years and is described as being in a class all by itself (Abt
& Mustazza, 1997; Nielsen Media Research, 1997). Recently, Winfrey announced that
she was no longer going to produce sensationalized or negative shows (e.g., racism,
welfare reform, etc.). “We started doing confrontational TV....I believe it was important
to introduce these issues and face the truth of who we were...Instead, TV got stuck
thriving on them, and for the worst possible reasons—exploitation, voyeurism, and
entertainment” (quote by Oprah Winfrey as cited in Abt & Mustazza, 1997, p. 1). After
years of focusing on negative topics, Oprah has completely overhauled her program by
employing a celebrity-interview format. Oprah is not the only talk show to change
formats. In November 1995, Geraldo Rivera decided to change the format of his talk
show and turned toward a more entertaining, “nontrashy” show (Abt & Mustazza, 1997).
According to some media analysts, TV talk shows such as Oprah and Geraldo,
which have softened the content of their shows, are now considered to be the “big losers”

6
in reaching younger audiences (Abt & Mustazza, 1997). According to some media
analysts, nice topics do not and will not draw ratings (Abt & Mustazza, 1997; Carter,
1996). Winfrey’s show, for some unexplained reason, has maintained a number one
rating. However, it should be noted that since changing its format, Winfrey’s popular
talk show has experienced a slight decline in audience ratings, going from approximately
10 to 7% of the viewing audience. With respect to viewers between the ages of 16 and
34, the most popular talk shows are Ricki Lake, Jenny Jones, and Jerry Springer. These
three shows tend to focus on topics that encourage extreme emotional responses.
TV Talk. She ws: Trash TV or Infotainment?
Perhaps more than any other brand of media message that we receive, television
talk programs deliberately use such gross manipulation in their attempt to
entertain and supposedly “inform” us. While they employ a deceptive, game-like
atmosphere, the information they provide about “real-life,” claiming that it’s just a
“reflection” of reality, is worse than useless. It’s a dangerous to play with and at
deviance, for it puts us in the habit of ‘entertaining sin’...using the moral errors
and deviance of others for our entertainment and tolerating such behavior as a
normal part of life. (Abt & Mustazza, 1997, p. 83)
During a discussion on TV talk shows, Senator Joe Lieberman (1995) said, “these
shows are indeed cheap, and too often demeaning, exploitative, perverted, divisive, or at
least, amoral.” (October 26, 1995). Most critics of the television talk show argue that
these programs are primarily pornographic and are wildly distorting the viewer’s
perceptions of reality (Abt & Mustazza, 1997; Bernstein, 1994; Lieberman, 1995). “For
the first time in our history, the weird and the stupid and the vulgar are becoming our
cultural norm, even our cultural ideal” (Bernstein, 1994, p. 58). Opponents of television

7
talk shows believe very strongly that these programs negatively affect viewers and are
potentially harmful to society.
A majority of the TV talk shows focus on the misfortunes or problems of others:
“Skinheads, racists, misogynists, youngsters who hate school and society, parents who
hate their children, self-mutilators, cheating lovers, sadomasochistic lovers, incest
perpetrators and ‘survivors,’ transsexuals and bisexuals, nymphomaniacs, dysfunctional
families..., strippers, people with gross eating disorders, cult members, murders” and the
list goes on (Abt & Mustazza, 1997, p. 25). Research conducted on the content and focus
of many of the topics discussed on TV talk shows revealed that, more often than not, the
shows focus human misery and tragedies (Zoglin, 1991). Research conducted by Abt and
Mustazza (1997) revealed that approximately 78% of the topics on TV talk shows are
about sex, behavioral disturbances, and families out of control. Zoglin (1991), a reporter
for Time, argues that the topics on television talk shows are “surrealistic blurs of human
misery, sideshow voyeurism, and sheer lunacy” (p. 79). Some of the typical talk show
topics Zoglin (1991) found in his investigation were:
a) Illegitimate children who found their natural parents but wish they hadn’t.
b) Transplant recipients who claim to have adopted the personalities of their
donors.
c) Women who have been raped by the same man more than once.
d) Guys who like overweight gals.
e) Mothers-in-law from hell.

8
f) Doctors with AIDS.
g) Crack addicts with babies.
Critics contend that these topics create and exacerbate conflict. Take, for
example, what happened on Jenny Jones in 1995 (Abt & Mustazza, 1997; Carter, 1996).
In March of 1995, a young man appeared as a guest on a show about secret admirers.
The admiree, knowing that the show was about secret admirers, expected his admirer to
be female, but was surprised and embarrassed to discover that his admirer was a long¬
time male friend. The friend admitted his secret fantasy as well; tying the admiree up and
spraying whipped cream and champagne all over his body. The shocked, humiliated, and
embarrassed admiree vehemently declared on the show that he was “100% heterosexual.”
A few weeks later, the admiree bought a 12-gauge shotgun and killed the admirer. He
told police that the reason he committed the murder was simply because he was
embarrassed and humiliated by his appearance on the program.
Moreover, television talk shows, critics argue, distort reality. Talk shows do not
reflect the real world or the true context of American life (Bernstein, 1994). Television
talk shows provide viewers with a type of entertainment designed to boost ratings and
viewership (Bernstein, 1994). For example, critics argue that topics such as “moms
having affairs with their children’s friends,” “cross-dressing after dark,” “skinheads,” and
“incest,” may not be newsworthy or may not appear to provide information because they
are “devoted to hyping the hype” (Bernstein, 1994). Others critics agree with comments
made by Bernstein and Lieberman and argue that the emotionally laden topics that seem

9
to permeate television talk shows are nothing but pure garbage, “trash TV,” or “tabloid
sleaze” (Bander, 1996; Bernstein, 1994; Lieberman, 1995; Thomas, 1997).
The Benefit of Watching Talk TV
Many talk show hosts claim that their shows "empower" audience members and
help viewers to solve problems. Donohue, Geraldo, and Oprah offer as “proof’ of this
empowerment the tons of fan mail received each day. These hosts believe their talk
shows actually make a positive difference in people's lives (Abt & Mustazza, 1997;
Munson, 1993) and that this difference often is ignored by critics. Hence, some believe
that television talk shows are simply “a low form of information that is nonetheless useful
because it gets through to those whom 'higher' forms do not reach" (Munson, 1993, p.
146). Viewers may be attracted to television talk shows simply because the programs
help fulfill needs for entertainment.
The Theoretical Framework to Explain Consumption of TV Talk Shows
If you ask the typical television talk show viewer “Why do you watch talk
shows?” he or she may respond by saying “for information” or “because they help me to
find out what is going on in the world” (Frisby & Weigold, 1994). However, talk shows
may serve more covert, unexpressed functions. For example, viewers may be attracted to
talk shows because the guests and the topics being discussed may make them feel better
about themselves and their life circumstances. Such a function is predicted by social
comparison theory.

10
Social comparison theory postulates that individuals have a drive or need to
compare their abilities and opinions (Wheeler, 1991; Wheeler & Reis, 1991; Wood,
1989). According to social comparison theory, people typically employ objective
physical standards (i.e., exam scores, information on salaries, grades) against which to
compare themselves, when such standards unavailable. When such standards are not
available, they compare themselves with other people. Social comparison theory also
suggests that when engaging in a comparison, people chose similar others rather than
dissimilar others as comparison standards.
In real-life, everyday situations, it would be extremely difficult to avoid making
comparisons. Frequently, people may compare themselves with others in their immediate
environment and in the mass media in order to judge their own personal worth.
According to Goethals (1986), people may make comparisons with others who are salient
or available, whether they want to or not. Through a social comparison with guests of the
TV talk show, for example, viewers may: a) gain a sense of who they are, b) reinforce
social or personal values, c) experience greater life satisfaction, and/or d) discover and
understand how others deal with similar personal problems.
Contribution to Theory Development and Field of Mass Communication
What impact do television talk shows have on viewers, particularly viewers
between the ages of 18-34 (the target audience)? There is little scientific evidence for the
impact of these shows on viewers. Despite the number of criticisms and concerns voiced
by some on the topics and the effects that the talk show discussions might have on
younger viewers, very little research has been conducted that investigates the effect these

11
shows may have on viewers. While the topics on these shows may teach viewers in a
very obnoxious way to solve personal problems, these shows also could set or change
societal or cultural norms about social behaviors. Research is needed in order to
determine the effects these shows have on individuals as well as society.
The research conducted has implications for network programmers as well as
mass communication academicians and theorists. This study not only will summarize
recent findings on the effects and popularity of television talk shows, but also will
analyze and specifically identify those unspoken gratifications television talk shows offer.
By examining how people use television and social comparisons with images on
television, the study is intended to investigate a possible media effect: TV talk shows help
viewers feel better about their own lives and life circumstances. This affective response
to television talk show content may consequently serve as a tool for viewers with
different kinds of personal problems to regulate affective states. The focus of the study,
therefore, is on examining the television talk show audience and discovering whether
these shows provide the means for individuals to engage in social comparisons, which
may enable viewers to experience boosts in mood and life satisfaction.
Using social comparison theory to guide the research, it is believed that the
present study will uncover and explain why people watch TV talk shows, particularly
those considered by some critics to be “trash TV.” Findings obtained from the study
should provide information about the functions of television talk shows and the audience
characteristics that may be used to explain the popularity of this program genre. If, as it
has been suggested, viewers watch television talk shows because the comparison with
guests makes them feel better about their own personal problems, the research can be

12
used to provide new insights concerning the psychological, cognitive, and behavioral
processes that motivate television viewing preferences and program choice.

CHAPTER 2
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Research conducted by Frisby and Weigold (1994) suggests that some regular
viewers of TV talk shows believe that TV talk shows provide valuable information by
keeping them informed and up-to-date on societal events, while other viewers, however,
believe that the greatest benefit of watching TV talk shows rests in the fact that the shows
are entertaining. Hence, some regular viewers would argue that these programs are
popular because the content elicits an “exciting” affective response. Several theories in
mass media use may be used to explain media choice and preference.
The present study attempts to identify the effects of viewing television talk shows
and considers the affective consequences of watching television talk shows. The next
three sections discuss mass media theories that have been used to explain the impact that
television and other media vehicles have on consumers. The literature review begins with
a discussion of the uses and gratifications and affective regulation theory of media use
and ends with a discussion of an alternative theoretical framework that was used to guide
the present study.
Motives for Media Use
Uses and gratifications theorists focus on how media satisfy social and individual
needs. Media are considered a source of gratification, and audience members are viewed
13

14
as active seekers and communicators (Rubin, 1994). The uses and gratifications approach
shifts the focus from media effects (e.g., does the media “cause” things to happen in
society?) to examining how people use the media (e.g., what people do with media or the
purposes for which individuals use media). According to Rubin (1994), before examining
media effects or how media impact human behavior, researchers need to determine how
individuals use the media and attain a firm understanding of audience motivations and
behavior. The uses and gratifications paradigm has three objectives: “(1) to explain how
people use media to gratify their needs, (2) to understand motives for media consumption,
and (3) to identify functions or consequences that follow from needs, motives and
behavior” (Rubin, 1994, p. 419).
Uses and gratifications is based on the following assumptions (Rubin, 1986):
1. Individuals use media to satisfy specific needs. Media use is goal directed.
2. Individuals select and actively pursue media channels and content to fulfill specific
needs.
3. Individuals are aware of the needs they anticipate meeting from media and can state
their needs and expectations and their specific reasons for using particular media.
To explain motives for media use, Katz, Gurevitich, and Haas (1973) identified
five distinct and theoretically meaningful categories of audience needs. The five
categories of needs related to media use are: a) cognitive, b) affective, c) personal
integrative, d) social integrative, and e) escapist needs. Cognitive needs relate to using
media for obtaining information, knowledge and understanding of the world. Affective
needs relate to emotional experiences and their pursuit by an individual to satisfy

15
entertainment or pleasure needs. Personal integrative needs relate to the desire of an
individual to gain confidence, stability, or esteem. Social integrative needs relate to an
individual’s desire for affiliation with family and friends, and escapist needs relate to the
individual’s desire for tension release or diversion.
Current Research on Uses and Gratifications
Researchers and uses and gratifications theorists frequently refer to at least six
gratifications of media use; information (also known as surveillance or knowledge),
escape, passing time, entertainment, social viewing/status enhancement, and relaxation
gratifications (Rubin, 1981). Although the variable names for these gratifications may
change from study to study, research in mass media uses and gratifications continues to
confirm that these six gratifications hold up across situations (Conway & Rubin, 1991;
Rubin, 1981; Rubin, 1986).
According to Katz et al., (1973), individuals obtain different gratifications from
different media. Learning and knowing oneself was best served, they found, by print
media. Newspapers, the researchers suggest, satisfy an individual’s needs for status
enhancement or “self-confidence.” On the other hand, watching television was
determined to be most useful for “killing time” and maintaining friendships and family
solidarity (Katz et ah, 1973).
Gratifications of TV Soap Operas and Game Shows
Viewing of television soap operas and game shows, according to research, is
related to relaxation, passing time, entertainment, and social viewing motives (Rubin &
Rubin, 1982; Rubin, 1985; Rubin & Perse, 1988). In a study of uses of daytime television

16
soap operas by college students, Rubin (1985) found four distinct motives for watching
daytime serials: orientation, avoidance, diversion, and social utility.
Orientation motives refer to watching television to learn about oneself, others, and
to learn about social issues and the world. Watching television for avoidance motives
means that an individual specifically watches television to forget about problems and to
get away from a task or friends/family. Diversion motives refer to watching television for
the specific purpose of being aroused or stimulated. For instance, a diversion motive
would be fulfilled if one wishes to watch television to “calm down” or pass time. Passing
time refers to watching television because it is something to do and because it simply fills
up the time. And finally, social utility motives refer to watching television specifically to
aid in social interactions with others. This means that the information obtained from
viewing television makes one feel better about oneself because it provides facts to back
up opinions.
Regular viewers of TV news shows, documentaries, and talk shows, on the other
hand, identified information as an important viewing gratification of these programs
(Rubin & Rubin, 1982). After reviewing the literature on the gratifications obtained from
watching television, it is possible to conclude that TV news programs are fulfilling
information needs while programs such as soap operas, quiz shows, and magazine shows
are satisfying viewer needs for entertainment, passing time, and escape.
Gratifications of Television Talk Shows
In a study on gratifications of television talk shows, Frisby and Weigold (1994)
found five gratifications obtained from viewing television talk shows. Subjects were

17
asked to watch one of three television talks show at any time during an ordinary week.
Immediately after watching the show, participants answered questions about their talk
show viewing motives.
According to the data, viewers claim to watch TV talk shows in order to feel
good, or forget about problems (affect management), because the shows are on at home
(passive exposure), to learn about the issues of the day or learn about the world
(surveillance), for something to do (pass time), and because friends watch them (social
viewing). In addition, analysis revealed that regular viewers were more likely than
nonviewers to state that learning about issues was a major gratification obtained from
viewing television talk shows.
Limitations of Uses and Gratifications
Research employing a uses and gratifications theoretical perspective requires
asking individuals to subjectively report on and identify their particular experiences. The
uses and gratifications approach to media use assumes that people are aware of the needs
they anticipate from media and, if asked, can promptly and specifically state reasons for
using certain media. The technique most often used to assess the specifics of media use
and motives for media use is the self-report questionnaire or survey (Zillman & Bryant,
1986).
Many of the uses and gratifications studies rely on questionnaires or surveys (see
for example, Conway & Rubin, 1991; Katz, Gurevitch, & Haas, 1973; Rubin, 1981). One
explanation for such heavy reliance on these specific measurement instruments may be
the fact that surveys are quick and easy and yield a great deal of information that may be

18
relevant to the relationship among psychological or emotional needs and characteristic
purposes and motives for using certain media.
Data obtained in many of the studies on media use and gratifications are generally
analyzed using factor analyses or tables. Most times, the evidence collected in the studies
provide support for the six well-known gratification categories (i.e., information,
entertainment, escape, social, passing time, and relaxation). However, some argue that
this categorization of variables, may be a fundamental weakness of the uses and
gratifications approach because the conclusions generally restate published findings and
typically provide broad explanations for media use. Very little research has been
identified that relates specific motives to specific audience satisfactions and needs. The
studies, therefore, have been criticized for being largely exploratory and nontheoretical in
nature (Zillman & Bryant, 1986).
One problem with using questionnaires or surveys on media use is that the data
are often inconclusive (Zillman & Bryant, 1986). Respondents often are responding to the
researcher’s questions and are not asked open-ended questions or questions that will let
them say what they want to say. Moreover, some critics argue that respondents may be
unaware of their motives or may be unwilling to disclose their “true motives.”
Are media audiences so reflective that they can provide a rational explanation for
their media use? Would a survey yield the same six gratifications if respondents were
asked questions which extended beyond the six gratifications mentioned above? For
example, suppose people were asked to respond to a question like, “I watch Ricki Lake
because the guests are usually worse off than me and seeing that makes me feel better.”

19
Or, “I watch Jenny Jones because I compare myself with the guests, and suddenly realize
I am in a much better situation.” How would people respond? How likely is a response
like, “I sure do, and boy do I feel great when I see the guests make fools of themselves”?
Or are individuals likely to be hesitant, embarrassed, and/or reluctant to admit such a
motive? Would a “uses and gratifications” question such as this prompt a socially
desirable response (i.e., strongly disagree or even “no way”)?
Consumers may be unaware of their reasons and may be unable to articulate why
certain media contents are chosen over other forms. And, with regard to explaining
television consumption, particularly motives for consuming “bad” or morbid television
programs, the uses and gratifications theoretical approach may not tap into the actual
motives for media use.
Entertainment Theory
According to Zillman and Bryant (1986), entertainment can be defined as “any
activity designed to delight and, to a smaller degree, enlighten through the exhibition of
the fortunes or misfortunes of others, but also through the display of special skills by
others and/or self’ (p. 303). With this definition of entertainment in mind, it seems clear
that consumers may fulfill specific needs for entertainment through comedies, tragedies,
and drama programs (Bryant & Zillman, 1984; Zillman & Bryant, 1986).
Are TV talk shows popular among viewers because the program content produces
an “exciting” affective response? And who benefits more from exposure to entertaining
programs like television talk shows? Research suggests that reactions to entertaining
programs can be positive or negative, depending on an individual’s idiosyncratic needs

20
(Zillman & Bryant, 1986; Zuckerman, 1979). Under this assumption, it is possible to
speculate that certain viewers watch TV talk shows to regulate affect. “Thus, for
under stimulated, bored persons, exposure to certain exciting television programs can be
seen as having the benefit of returning them [viewers] to a hedonically superior, and,
hence, desirable state” (Zillman & Bryant, 1986, p. 307). One research question guiding
the present study concerned whether or not TV talk shows are attracting a certain type of
viewer significantly more than another type of viewer (i.e. low self-esteem viewers). This
and other effects of individual differences in selective exposure to TV talk shows will be
discussed in a later section of this paper (e.g., refer to section titled, Self-Esteem and
Downward Social Comparison).
Affective Regulation
“It [affective regulation] is, in fact, the effect of entertainment consumption. It is
the primary effect that is sought out and pursued for the benefits that it entails—
benefits such as being distracted from acute grievances, having boredom removed,
being cheered up, being given great excitement, being helped to calm down, or
being fed pacifying messages” (Zillman and Bryant, 1986, p. 320).
Bryant and Zillman (1984) provide another behavioral approach that might clearly
explain why people use media: affective regulation. Media use from this perspective is
selective and deliberate. Moreover, the affective regulation paradigm does not require
respondents to provide explicit reasons or comparisons of why or how they made
program choices (Zillman & Bryant, 1986). Program choice and exposure to certain
programs is conducted “mindlessly” and spontaneously. “It can be projected that these
choices are situationally variable and serve ends which respondents need not be and
probably are not aware of’ (Zillman & Bryant, 1986, p. 306).

21
Research on media use for affective regulation suggests that people select
television in order to regulate their affective states. Viewers seek out specific media for
very specific benefits, such as being distracted from serious problems and/or grievances,
having boredom removed, and being cheered up or calmed down. These benefits may be
comparable to the “escape” motive associated with uses and gratifications (Zillman &
Bryant, 1986)
In a study related to using media to regulate affect, Potts and Sanchez (1994)
found that television viewing does serve as a means of escape and to regulate or enhance
mood. Depressed viewers tended to engage in “strategic” television viewing. The
researchers argue that mood guides strategic television viewing by changing a negative
mood, or maintaining a positive one (Potts & Sanchez, 1994).
Bittmar (1994) also found strong correlations between depression and
gratifications obtained from viewing television. In this study, subjects were screened with
a clinical interview and were selected for participation based on their responses during the
interview and to the MMPI. Those subjects who were identified as depressed and met
criteria for depressive disorders were invited to participate in the study. Non-depressed
subjects were identified also by responses to the MMPI and clinical interview.
Results showed that among male and female college students, depressed women
were more likely than any other group to watch more soap operas and depressed men
were more likely to watch situation comedies. Based on the data, Dittmar concluded that
television may offer a certain “coping style” that offers depressives a method of
“vicarious living.” Depressed individuals may use characters on television to “provide

22
emotional gratification while at the same time avoiding the risks associated with real
interpersonal relationships” (Dittmar, 1994, p. 325).
Affective Regulation and Viewing TV Talk Shows
To what degree does affective regulation determine or affect people's motives for
viewing talk shows? To answer this question, Frisby and Weigold (1994) examined
correlations between motives for talk show viewing and feelings experienced while
watching the show. The sample comprised 89 people who viewed TV talk shows at least
once a week. The participants received instructions to watch (in their own home or dorm)
one episode of Oprah, Donahue, or Geraldo. Prior to viewing, subjects completed
Rosenberg's self-esteem scale and received a booklet containing instructions and all other
dependent measures. Verbal and written instructions emphasized that while viewing the
program, subjects were to record all thoughts in spaces provided in the booklet.
Additionally, they indicated any feelings experienced during each thought on an
accompanying set of scales.
Data revealed that regular talk show viewers (i.e., people who indicated watching
TV talk shows more than twice a week) experienced significantly more positive, happy
thoughts while viewing talks shows. Since much of the content on a TV talk show
involves tragic events or trashy topics, one explanation for the increase in positive
thoughts among regular viewers could be that the guests who are observed suffering
misfortunes or problems might be providing viewers with an opportunity to say, “Gee, I
thought I had it bad,” and this thought causes them to rejoice or ultimately feel more
optimistic (a positive feeling) about their own personal circumstances.

23
Social Comparison Theory
Exposure to tragic events and/or bad news almost invites social comparison
among viewers (Zillman & Bryant, 1986). Viewers may be encouraged to compare and
contrast their own situation with the situations of the “suffering parties they witness, and
... this contrasting eventually produces a form of satisfaction” (Zillman & Bryant, 1986,
p. 317). Affect is enhanced because viewers, seeing the misfortune of others, become
appreciative of their life circumstances and situations. According to Festinger’s (1954)
social comparison theory, when people are uncertain about their abilities and opinions,
they evaluate themselves by making comparisons with similar others. People compare
themselves with others for a variety of reasons: to determine relative standing on an issue
or related ability, to emulate behaviors, to determine norms, to lift spirits or feel better
about life and personal situations, and to evaluate emotions, personality, and self-worth
(Suls & Wills, 1991; Taylor & Loebel, 1989).
The present study will explore the notion that talk shows may be popular with
audiences because of the affective consequences that follow from audience social
comparisons. Social comparison theory may help to explain and uncover an important
motive for watching television talk shows, a motive that people may be unable or
reluctant to express openly.
Literature Review on Social Comparison
Social comparison theory may help to account for the attraction and popularity of
television talk shows. The theory assumes that individuals have a need to evaluate

24
themselves and that they do so via comparison with others. It is argued here that social
comparisons may be elicited by television content. It is possible that some television
content may afford individuals with opportunities to protect or enhance their self-esteem.
The present study will examine the notion that television talk shows may be popular with
certain audiences because, it is assumed, these programs help viewers self-enhance or feel
better about themselves and their life circumstances.
Theoretical Assumptions
As originally formulated, social comparison theory was concerned with self-
evaluation. The theory had five major theoretical assumptions (Festinger, 1954; Suls,
1977; Wheeler, 1991):
1. People have a “drive to know.” People are motivated by a need to know that their
opinions are correct, and they need to know what they are and are not capable of
doing.
2. Social comparison arises when evaluation of opinions or abilities are not obtainable
by objective measures or nonsocial ways (e.g., exam scores, number of points scored,
reaction time, time it takes to finish a race or marathon, etc.).
3. When objective measures are not available, individuals will evaluate their opinions or
abilities by comparing with others.
4. Individuals will not make comparisons with others who are different or who are
perceived as different on relevant dimensions. This similarity hypothesis, according
to Suls (1977), is the most widely cited and tested theoretical assumption. It is
believed that comparisons with similar others provide more knowledge and more

25
useful information (Festinger, 1954). That is, when people compare with dissimilar
others, the only information that they gain, learn, or can be certain of, is that their
performance or opinion is unique (Wood, 1989). Without a similar other, individuals
cannot determine or accurately asses their abilities.
5. Importance and relevance of the target dimension will affect the comparison process.
Three Types of Social Comparisons
More recently, social comparisons have been described as serving two additional
motives besides self-evaluation: self-enhancement, and self-improvement (Wood, 1989).
The following sections will describe research and theory related to each of these three
motives.
Self-Evaluation
The most useful comparisons are those that inform and provide accurate
information about where one stands in relationship to the dimension under evaluation
(Wood & Taylor, 1991). The need for accurate information is a self-evaluation function
of social comparison. When an individual is familiar with the dimension under
evaluation, similar others help the individual accurately interpret his or her own standing
on the dimension under evaluation (Wood, 1989). Research on self-evaluation typically
presents subjects with a choice among various tasks grouped by level of ability. Evidence
suggests that subjects tend to select the tasks that they perceive will help them to
accurately assess their abilities (Campbell, 1986; Crocker, Thompson, McGraw, &
Ingerman, 1987)

26
According to the literature, self-evaluation is most evident when people make
comparisons with similar others (Raynor & McFarlon, 1986; Molleman, Pruyn, &
vanKnippenberg, 1986; Trope, 1986). Molleman, Pruyn, and van Knippenberg (1986)
interviewed more than 500 cancer patients who were asked to indicate how likely they
were to interact with other cancer patients who were much worse, slightly worse, similar,
slightly better off, or much better off. Results showed that subjects preferred interacting
with other patients who were similar. For cancer patients, interacting with patients who
have similar prognoses was less negative then interacting with patients who are much
worse or much better off.
Self-Improvement
A self-improvement function results from an individual’s interest or desire to feel
efficacious, inspired, and motivated. Comparisons with others who are superior to or
better off than oneself are called upward comparisons. Individuals engaging in upward
comparison may learn from others, be inspired by their example, or become highly
motivated to achieve a similar goal.
According to Wood (1989), self-improvement comparisons are clearly visible in
everyday life. Wood (1989) argues that upward comparisons occur because they lead to
self-improvement, particularly when the dimension under evaluation is relevant, highly
desired, and when the individual is already motivated to achieve a goal. Self-
improvement is the main effect of upward comparison targets because they motivate
individuals to do better and teach individuals how to perform better (Seta, 1982; Wood,
1989).

27
To investigate the impact of social comparison processes on coactors’ task
performance, Seta (1982) conducted two experiments. In first study, 81 female subjects
were paired with a coactor whose performance was identified as inferior, identical, or
slightly superior. Subjects were led to believe that they were participating in a reaction
time study and that the task involved pressing four buttons. After 30 minutes working on
the task, subjects were asked to fill out a two-item questionnaire that also served as a
manipulation check of the subjects’ perceived discrepancy in performance and ability
level. A second study was conducted to replicate these procedures and results. Results
from both studies indicated that subjects’ performance on a task improved when they
were in the presence of another individual whose performance was perceived to be
slightly better.
According to Wood (1989), upward comparison targets are those most typically
sought for purposes of social comparison. Festinger (1954) also believed that comparison
choices will typically be oriented toward superior, similar others (e.g., upward
comparisons). People who are doing better than the self on a particular dimension are
most likely to provide information that will facilitate improvement on that dimension.
Research indicates, however, that upward comparisons lead people to evaluate
themselves more negatively (Wood & Taylor, 1991). Very few empirical studies have
been conducted or could be identified to support the notion that upward comparisons are
always self-enhancing. Rather, studies often show that that upward comparisons can be
both self-enhancing and self-deflating. “There has been much less research explicitly
devoted to self-improvement as a goal of social comparison than to the other comparison

28
goals” (Wood & Taylor, 1991, p. 29). One reason could be that self-improvement
comparisons are risky and may force individuals to face insecurities or discover inferior
dimensions of which they were unaware. Another explanation for the lack of research and
empirical evidence of this effect could be because of the emphasis on similarity.
Similarity, in this instance, could prove to be particularly painful when the superior other
is close or very similar (Tesser, 1991).
Self-Enhancement
People harbor unrealistically positive views of themselves, and these positive
illusions often result in comparisons that make people feel better about themselves or
their circumstances (Regan, Snyder, & Kassin, 1995; Wood & Taylor, 1991).
Consequently, comparisons with others who are thought to be doing better, regardless of
how informative the comparison is, can be highly threatening. When self-esteem is
threatened, an individual, motivated to protect the weak or threatened ego, may seek
downward comparison. Self-enhancement occurs as a result of downward comparisons—
comparisons with similar others who are inferior or less fortunate—especially when the
dimension is relevant to the self (Wills, 1981). The basic principle of downward
comparison is that people feel better about their own situation and can enhance their
subjective sense of well-being when they make comparisons with others who are worse
off or less fortunate.
The self-enhancing benefit of downward comparison were proposed by Wills
(1981). He determined that when people experience misfortune and/or threat, they are
motivated to compare themselves with others who are inferior or less advantaged. This

29
type of comparison typically is used to improve one’s mood. When subjective well-being
has decreased, an individual can restore it by comparing with another individual who is
worse off. The more favorable the comparison between the individual and the target, the
more likely the person is to feel better about his or her own situation.
Criticisms of Social Comparison Theory
Similarity
As mentioned previously, similar others are important when the goal is self-
evaluation (Taylor, Buunk, & Aspinall, 1990). For self-evaluation comparisons to occur,
individuals compare themselves with others who are similar on the dimension under
evaluation. For example, swimmers would rather compare themselves with another
swimmer because this type of comparison is more informative and less ambiguous
(Taylor et ah, 1990).
Festinger (1954) argued that social comparisons will only occur when an
individual makes comparisons with others who are similar with respect to the same skin
color, stature, opinions, abilities, etc. However, many social comparison theorists
disagree with this idea. The first to argue against comparison with similar others was
Deutsch and Krauss (1965). These theorists argued that similarity is not necessary
because people often seek out variety, novelty, and difference in social encounters
instead.
Many laboratory studies that focus on similarity tend to use similar experimental
procedures. Similarity dimensions are determined by the investigator, who also
determines and selects the comparison dimension under evaluation. The investigator then

30
defines the dimension for the subject by providing the subject with information about
how they compare with others on the experimentally defined dimension. Similarity,
therefore, becomes operationally defined as how close the target comparison dimension is
to the subject.
However, in naturalistic situations, similarity may be much more ambiguous and
even harder to define. As Taylor et al. (1990) argue, a victim of stress may have no idea
about what self-enhancement is or how they stand in terms of other people going through
the same stressors. Therefore, similarity for this person may be defined not by how close
another is to him or her on specific dimensions, but whether or not that person has
experienced the same event or has been confronted with a similar type of stress. In this
instance, similarity is not defined by objective standards such as age, gender, ethnicity, or
income, but is defined by a particular experience. This notion of similarity is considerably
different from the similarity assumption formulated by Festinger’s earlier ideas and
assumptions.
A case in point: A first-year faculty member focused on tenure learns that an
article has not been accepted for publication at a specific journal; he or she may seek
other first-year or beginning professors who are also in the same “publish or perish”
situation. For this faculty member, comparisons with another beginner may prove much
more useful than comparisons with a victim of incest, a scorned and rejected
spouse/lover, or victims of chronic diseases such as breast cancer or AIDS. While these
individuals might be similar to the faculty member with regard to age, gender, status, and
other demographic characteristics, they may not provide the comparer with the

31
information he or she needs to determine effective coping strategies, ways to be
successful in academics, or help with getting articles published. These three instances
represent very different motives and also illustrate the role dissimilar others play with
respect to self-enhancement and self-evaluation.
Mettee and Smith (1977) found that in many situations, dissimilar others are
preferred for comparisons because they are often better sources of information. However,
comparisons with a similar other often times could produce unfavorable information- a
painful effect. Therefore, comparisons with dissimilar others help ease the pain. Mettee
and Smith (1977) argued that in noncompetitive situations, comparisons with dissimilar
individuals allow identifications with this person and self-enhancement. Because of the
threat to one’s self-esteem that comparisons and evaluations with similar or superior
others may cause, Wills (1981) argues that individuals have more to gain by making
comparisons with those who are disadvantaged or dissimilar.
Threat
According to theory, downward comparisons are most useful when individuals are
threatened and are motivated to see themselves as superior to others (Wills, 1981).
Downward comparisons may occur when individuals are reminded of how their
circumstances could or might have been worse, and this information therefore makes an
individual feel better and less threatened (Wills, 1991). These comparisons help
individuals cope by reducing distress and allowing individuals to see themselves and their
problems in a better, more positive light (Wood 1989).

32
Studies indicate that downward comparison and the self-enhancing effects of
downward comparison are less evident without some type of threat to the self (Brown,
Collins, & Schmidt, 1988; Gibbons, 1986; Gump & Kulik, 1995). Gibbons (1986) found
evidence that supports the notion that downward comparisons are most likely when
subjects feel bad.
The fact that downward comparisons occur when individuals are threatened
supports the idea that “downward comparison is primarily a habit of people who are
‘most unhappy’ and is most likely to occur when they have experienced a ‘decrease in
subjective well-being’” (Gibbons, 1986, p. 146). Careful review of the literature on self¬
enhancement shows that the tendency to engage in downward comparison is less evident
after participants received positive feedback than after having received negative feedback
(Brown et. al., 1988; Wood, Giordano-Beech, Taylor, Michela, & Gaus, 1994; Wills,
1981).
However, some researchers have challenged the notion that threat is a necessary
precursor for downward comparison. For example, Wood, Taylor, and Lichtman (1985),
found little evidence to support the idea that downward comparisons increase with threat.
Using breast cancer patients, the researchers examined the role of threat in the downward
comparison process by correlating several variables with the comparisons made by the
patients. Respondents were asked to comment on their cancer experience, treatment,
attributions for cancer and beliefs about controllability, life changes, changes in close
relationships, their fears, emotional reactions, and comparison processes.

33
The results obtained in this study failed to support the prediction that downward
comparison was positively related to threat. The researchers found that for breast cancer
patients, poor prognosis, a definite threat, was unassociated with the social comparison
process. The researchers concluded that “the experience of breast cancer itself raises
threat to a ‘ceiling’ and that objective sources of threat may not match patients
perceptions of what is threatening (Wood et al., 1985, p. 1180).
The effects of threat on the social comparison process is inconclusive. One
explanation for the contradiction in findings may be explained by the fact that downward
comparisons may be related to the magnitude and impact of the threat. According to
Wood et al., (1985), a need to engage in a downward comparison may increase rapidly as
threat increases. And as threat to the self subsides, the need for downward comparison
subsides, and social comparison shifts to self-evaluation or self-improvement. For
instance, Wood et al., (1985) contend that the role of threat may be somewhat paradoxical
in that as an individual’s circumstance worsens, opportunity to engage in downward
comparison dwindles because, according to the researchers, the number of others who are
more disadvantaged dwindles.
Dimensions that Encourage the Social Comparison Process
Ambiguity
A careful review of the literature suggests that because people are motivated to
see themselves in a positive light and to see themselves as superior to others, when
situations are ambiguous, individuals will perceive similar others as dissimilar in order to
self-enhance (Sherman, Presson, & Chassin, 1984; Schulz & Decker, 1983). Self-

34
enhancement therefore is achieved for the individual by cognitively reinterpreting a
comparison on another “relatively ambiguous target” dimension (Taylor, Buunk,
Aspinwall, 1990). Schulz and Decker (1985), for instance, found support for the idea that
when the self is threatened by poor performance on one attribute, people view themselves
more positively by making comparisons on other dimensions.
Using spinal cord injury victims, Schulz and Decker (1985) found that these
people thought they were better off than nondisabled individuals. The researchers found
that individuals selectively focused on specific attributes that make them appear more
positive and advantaged. For example, instead of focusing on physical abilities, the
participants in this study focused on and made comparisons about intelligence attributes.
Therefore, based on the results of these and other studies, it can be concluded that some
individuals base their comparisons on surrounding attribute comparison targets (e.g.,
problem severity and coping success), and these comparison targets provide the comparer
with different types of information (Gibbons & Gerrard, 1991). This also may be used to
explain how downward comparisons help people cope with personal problems.
Comparisons with dissimilar targets in ambiguous situations, therefore, enable
people to make “cognitive reinterpretations,” and ultimately engage in downward
comparison (see Gump & Kulik, 1995). In fact, Buunk (1995) found that social
comparison is fostered by uncertainty and frustration and not by negative affect, threat to
self-esteem, or health problems.
Research suggests that positive beliefs about the self are difficult to maintain
when the comparison dimensions are unambiguous (VanYperen, 1992). Using 88 major

35
league soccer players, VanYperen (1992) sought to examine the relationship between
ambiguity of the dimension of comparison as well as the player’s self-perception of being
a better player. The players were asked to compare themselves with the average
professional soccer player (a vague comparison) and the average teammate (a more
specific comparison). First, the participants had to compare themselves with respect to
their ability and then they had to compare with respect to playing the ball by head, also
known as heading the ball,” which according to the researcher is a very concrete, specific,
unambiguous soccer ability.
Subjects were asked to indicate how much value they attached to the specific
skills and also were asked to indicate on a five-point Likert scale what they perceived to
be the difference between their average teammate and the average professional soccer
player. They then were asked to identify differences based on two other skill-related
dimensions: soccer ability and heading the ball ability.
Results suggested that the more value subjects attached to a dimension, the more
they engaged in a downward comparison and considered themselves superior on the
dimension. Importance of the dimension in this condition serves a self-enhancement
motive. Main effects were found for both the dimension of comparison and comparison
target. Subjects generally viewed themselves as better soccer players (the ambiguous
dimension) than as better headers (the specific dimension). Consequently, they
considered their soccer ability to be better than that of the average professional player, but
their heading ability, a specific dimension, to be worse than that of their average
teammate. Results seemed to suggest that importance and ambiguity play an important

36
role in determining the type of social comparison. Self-enhancement seems most likely
when the dimension is important and ambiguous (VanYperen, 1992).
Perceived Self-Efficacy
Major, Testa, and Bylsma (1991) proposed that a primary determinant of upward
or downward comparison is the control an individual perceives he or she has over the
situation relative to the comparison other. The degree of perceived control people feel
they have over particular situations (i.e., physical attractiveness, level of income, etc.)
tends to change the meaning of the comparison response as well as the affective
consequences.
Upward comparisons work best when people are attempting to change problem
behaviors (Major et. al., 1991). When making comparisons, individuals can cognitively
reinterpret the situation and believe that their behavior is changeable. Social learning
theory also supports this notion. Positive models who successfully perform desired
behaviors increase self-efficacy and tend to help others improve their behavior. Seta
(1982) found, for example, that subjects who were allowed to perform tasks with a
slightly superior co-actor later demonstrated similar superior performances. Therefore,
upward comparisons are employed in situations when individuals perceive that improved
performance is possible.
Problem Stability
Cash, Cash, and Butters (1983) exposed women to idealized advertising images
featuring either an attractive or unattractive model. Results revealed that women exposed
to attractive models rated their own level of attractiveness lower than did women who

37
were exposed to the unattractive models. Physical appearance is therefore likely to be a
comparison dimension that is perceived as “relatively unchangeable” (Major et. al.,
1991). Some social comparison theorists argue that downward comparisons occur
because people perceived that a particular situation (the level of their hostility or physical
attractiveness) is unchangeable (Goethals, 1986).
Wills (1991) argues that increases in positive affect as a result of downward
comparison processes depend on three conditions: a) personality similarity must be high;
b) information must suggest that the comparison’s situation and unfortunate state is
temporary, and c) the situation must be perceived as controllable. Downward comparison,
Wills argues, should occur only when the person is experiencing an unchangeable,
uncontrollable problem.
Wills goes on to argue that problem stability has a significant effect on
comparison choice and outcome of the comparison. If the dimension under evaluation is
changeable and under personal control, and, if the individual perceives that he or she is
better off than the comparison target, downward comparison can enhance well-being.
Responses to downward comparison may include increased positive affect, elevated self-
evaluations, greater satisfaction with one’s outcomes, and increased self-relevance of the
comparison dimension (Majoret al., 1991). “If two downward comparison targets are
provided representing controllable and uncontrollable problems respectively, the
prediction is that there will be a preference for the former comparison” (Wills, 1991, p.
66). Further elaboration and experimental evidence of this theoretical assumption is

38
needed in order to determine the moderating role of control on the effects of downward
comparison.
Up or Down?: Summing up the Determinants of Social Comparison
If the target dimension under comparison is perceived by an individual to be
uncontrollable and unchangeable, then a downward comparison in this case may hurt an
individual’s self-esteem instead of enhancing it (Major et. ah, 1991). “Learning that
someone is worse-off than oneself not only reveals that you are not as bad off as others,
but also suggests that it might be possible for things to get worse” (Major et. ah, 1991, p.
257).
It is possible to speculate that the main determinant of whether people engage in
an upward or downward social comparison is the extent to which people believe the
situation is uncontrollable and fixed (Major et. ah, 1991). When individuals perceive that
they have little control over, or little ability to change the relevant comparison dimension,
an upward comparison should occur because this target provides information that tells the
comparer how to survive. Downward comparisons, on the other hand, are most likely to
occur when participants feel that the situation is under personal control. In this instance,
downward targets may inform individuals of their ability to be better or in more control
than individuals in similar situations.
Possible Outcomes of a Downward Social Comparison
The present study is designed to demonstrate that television talk shows help
viewers feel better about themselves and their life circumstances. By viewing these
programs regularly, affect is regulated and emotions are released through the downward

39
comparison process with talk show topics and guests. Therefore, the following sections
will briefly discuss and detail published evidence attesting to motives aimed at enhancing
self-esteem.
Research suggests that social comparisons are used to enhance one’s self-esteem
(Hackmiller, 1966; Taylor & Brown, 1988). The following list will briefly summarize the
possible outcomes of a downward social comparison. Social comparison research
(Gibbons & Gerrard, 1991; Wills, 1981; Wills, 1991) shows that:
1. Comparison with a less fortunate other decreases negative affect and enhances
subjective well-being. Negative affect is reduced because the perception of
one’s own personal circumstances is changed as a result of downward
comparison (Wills, 1991).
2. Downward comparisons may positively affect an individual’s satisfaction with
personal relationships and/or living circumstances. A downward comparison
may suggest, “My life isn’t so bad. Things could be worse.”
3. Downward comparisons enhance self-esteem and subjective well-being, and
this enhancement leads almost immediately to an increase in positive mood
state.
4. Realizing that there are others who are worse off or who do not have the same
type of coping skills is encouraging. This encouragement has direct effects on
optimism.
Do people prefer to make comparisons with worse-off, less fortunate others?
Hackmiller (1966) was one of the first researchers to demonstrate downward social

40
comparisons. Subjects were told that the study would assess hostility toward one’s
parents. They then were given feedback that they had high scores on hostility. Results
indicated that subjects preferred to compare themselves with others who scored “higher”
on the hostility trait as compared to individuals who scored “lower.” Psychologically, this
meant that subjects looked for others who were worse than they were on the hostility
measure (Wheeler, 1991). The Hackmiler (1966) study suggested that when provided
with a choice, individuals prefer to compare themselves with someone who is worse off
than they are.
More evidence supporting the notion that downward comparisons are made with
others who are worse off comes from Taylor, Wood, and Lichtman (1983) The
researchers interviewed several women with breast cancer and asked them to comment on
how well they were coping with cancer in comparison with other breast cancer patients.
Results showed that 80% of the women indicated that they were doing much better than
other women with breast cancer. Furthermore, respondents imagined that there were less
fortunate others, a phenomenon specifically related to downward comparison. Affleck
and Tennen (1991) also found that respondents preferred information about less fortunate
others. People will affiliate with others who are equally unfortunate (Wills ,1981).
Enhanced Self-Esteem
How does downward social comparison affect self-esteem? Morse and Gergen
(1970) conducted a study in which subjects completed Rosenberg’s self-esteem inventory
either in the presence of a socially desirable person (i.e., well-dressed, well-mannered,
etc.) or in the company if a socially undesirable person (i.e., sloppy dress, clumsy, ill-

41
mannered, etc.)- Believing they were interviewing for a position as a research assistant,
subjects were asked to wait for the interview in the company of another applicant, “Mr.
Clean” or “Mr. Dirty.”
Results showed that when individuals were confronted with the socially
undesirable confederate, “Mr. Dirty,” self-esteem increased. However, subjects in the
“Mr. Clean” condition experienced a decrease in self-esteem. The data obtained in this
study suggest that self-esteem is affected by social comparison processes. Moreover, the
Morse and Gergen (1970) study showed that downward comparisons enhance and
positively affect an individual’s level of self-esteem.
Strengthening the notion that downward comparisons enhance self-esteem is a
study conducted by Brown, Novick, Lord, and Richards (1992). These researchers
conducted four experiments designed to determine the effects of physical attractiveness
on self-appraisal and esteem. Female subjects were led to believe that they were
participating in a study on impression-formation and viewed a photograph of an attractive
or unattractive target. After completing a questionnaire that assessed their general
impression of the target and an assessment of the model’s attractiveness, subjects were
asked to complete a second questionnaire that contained five items pertaining to the
subjects’ perceptions of their own attractiveness. Results suggest that self-esteem was
enhanced when subjects were exposed to unattractive female targets. In addition, females
in the unattractive model condition rated themselves as more attractive than females in
the attractive model target condition.

42
Reis, Gerrard, and Gibbons (1993), also interested in testing the relationship
between self-esteem and downward comparison, designed a2x2x2x3 mixed factorial
experiment. The investigators selected a highly involving target dimension for women:
contraceptive methods. Respondents answered questions on a pretest measure concerning
attitudes about and their personal use of contraceptive methods and their attitudes about
what were effective and ineffective contraceptive methods. One hundred and twenty
women completed the revised Feelings of Inadequacy Scale. Low and high self-esteem
participants were selected from the bottom and top thirds of the testing distribution.
Subjects also completed a mood scale before and after the comparison manipulation. The
mood scale was composed of adjectives such as hopeful, discontented, happy,
discouraged, dissatisfied, insecure, optimistic, and gloomy.
Participants were told that the study was concerned about group processes and
that they had been selected because their responses on the mass testing questionnaire
indicated that they were similar to one another. Then they were told that they would make
statements about themselves and would hear information about another member of the
group, as they would in a actual discussion group.
Subjects were then taken to individual rooms where they recorded a statement
about their family background, school, and leisure activities. They were asked to make
their statements similar to comments they would make in an actual discussion group
meeting. Then, subjects were asked to tape a short statement about their personal sexual
behavior and contraceptive use. After completing the audiotapes, the subjects rated the

43
effectiveness of their own contraceptive behavior and also finished the first mood
assessment scale.
Social comparison processes were manipulated by asking the participants to listen
to a pre-recorded conversation on social and contraceptive behavior of another group
member. The tape was in actuality a single prepared statement describing what the
researchers called a “fairly typical college woman.” After listening to the tape, subjects
completed a set of questions designed to assess how similar the target was to themselves
and the typical college woman.
Subjects were randomly assigned to listen to one of two conversations: effective
vs. ineffective target conditions. In the effective target condition, the statement indicated
that the woman used oral contraceptives and was conscientious about taking them every
day. In the ineffective condition, the woman reported that she used the rhythm method
but admitted that she was very erratic in monitoring her safe days. There were then three
levels of comparison: upward, downward, and lateral (subject was ineffective/effective or
both target and subject were effective and ineffective). Ineffective subjects were not
exposed to downward comparison targets and effective subjects were not provided with
upward comparison opportunities. Results indicated that subjects who made comparisons
with the ineffective target demonstrated more esteem improvement than those who
compared with the effective target.
Enhanced Subjective Well-Being
According to Wills (1981), the basic principle of downward comparison is that
subjective well-being will be enhanced by comparison with others who are worse off or

44
less fortunate. The definition of a less fortunate other is one who is experiencing negative
circumstances (Wills, 1991). Negative affect is reduced because the individual perceives
that his or her situation is much better than originally considered. A downward
comparison may suggest, “My life isn’t so bad because [what is happening to the target
suggests that] things could be worse.” The present study will examine the notion that
comparisons with “inferior” media images lead to greater enhancement of subjective
well-being (e.g., mood state and perceptions of life satisfaction).
Subjective well-being is considered an attitude with three basic components:
cognition or one’s assessments or evaluations of an object (e.g., life-as-a-whole, self¬
perceptions, etc.), positive affect, and negative affect (Emmons & Diener, 1985).
According to Emmons and Diener (1985), positive affect reflects the degree to which one
experiences joy and happiness in various domains of life, and negative affect involves the
unpleasant emotions one experiences (e.g., stress, anxieties, fears, etc.). Individuals may
be satisfied as long as they feel that they are doing better than others, clearly evidence of
downward social comparisons.
According to Andrews and Robinson (1991), assessments of subjective well¬
being may include feelings of stress, social support, internal control (i.e., belief that one
can control one’s own fate), and external control of a performance (i.e., how well a
person performs at home, work, or in social roles). With respect to many social
psychological issues, it has been found that these concepts predict subjective well-being,
particularly as assessed by measures of depression and quality of and/or satisfaction with
life (Andrews & Robinson, 1991).

45
Life Satisfaction as a Measure of Subjective well-being
Life satisfaction measures focus primarily on the affective component with
relatively little focus on the cognitive component. Several investigators have found a
positive relationship with the affective component and a personality trait referred to as
extroversion, which is exhibited by individuals who are extremely optimistic, active, and
exhibit high levels of self-esteem (Costa & McCrae, 1988). Costa and McCrae (1988)
found that personality traits such as extroversion and emotionality were positively related
to reported levels of happiness and subjective well-being. This finding indicates that
certain variables are either components of or causally related to subjective well-being.
Subjective well-being can be assessed in a variety of ways. For the purposes of
this paper, subjective well-being and life satisfaction will measure how satisfied an
individual is with life-as-a-whole as well as how satisfied individuals are with specific
domains of life satisfaction such as relationships with family and friends, mood, feelings
of independence and control, and level of social support.
Individual Differences in the Social Comparison Process
Self-Esteem refers to people’s positive and negative evaluations of themselves
(Robinson, Shaver, Phillip, & Wrightsman, 1991). Literature on self-esteem typically
describes high self-esteem people as people who feel good about themselves, are
generally happy, healthy, and can adapt to very stressful situations (Blascovich &
Tomaka, 1991). On the other hand, people who feel poorly about themselves, tend to be
and are relatively anxious, pessimistic about the future, and are prone to failure, have low
self-esteem. Because they expect to fail, low self-esteem individuals feel anxious and will

46
exert little effort when they are confronted with problems or challenges. Self-Esteem is
assessed by summing evaluations of one’s self-worth or value. It is an affective
evaluation that focuses on approval and importance. Self-Esteem for the purposes of this
paper will focus on the individual’s evaluation and attitude about his or her self-worth
and importance.
Who engages in downward comparison? Low self-esteem individuals, according
to Wills (1981), are the people who are most likely to benefit from a downward
comparison. The basic principle in downward social comparison as originally proposed
by Wills (1981) is that a general improvement in mood, subjective well-being, and
optimism will be demonstrated by low self-esteem individuals. Studies on individual
differences in social comparison tend to show that low self-esteem people are most likely
to engage in and benefit from downward comparison (Gibbons & Gerrard, 1989; Gibbons
& Gerrard, 1991). One explanation for this may be that low self-esteem people are
generally more insecure and uncertain about their abilities (Gibbons & Gerrard, 1991).
In a study of eating disorders among college students, Gibbons and Gerrard
(1989) found that low self-esteem people engage in downward comparisons more than
high self-esteem people. More importantly, the data suggested that low self-esteem
individuals reported significant improvement in their mood states, level of optimism, and
life satisfaction. The amount of their improvement was significantly greater than that of
the high self-esteem individuals, which suggests that people look for and seek out a type
of “support group” so to speak or others with similar problems.

47
Brown et. al., (1988) conducted two studies to explore the effects of self-esteem
on responses to downward social comparison. The researchers hypothesized that both
high and low self-esteem people engage in downward comparison, but the difference is
that high self-esteem individuals engage in more direct forms of self-enhancement (i.e.,
derogating the target) while low self-esteem individuals will engage in more indirect
forms of self-enhancement (i.e., feeling better about their self-perceptions). Sixty-two
subjects were asked to estimate the number of objects or dots they saw on a dot-
estimation task performance, a task which demonstrated that different people tend to
consistently overestimate or underestimate the correct number of dots. Subjects were then
told that psychologists place no value on whether they are overestimators or
underestimators. Instructions went on to inform subjects that underestimater and
overestimaters tend share similar characteristics.
After completion of the task, another experimenter then handed out a self-esteem
measure, The Texas Social Behavior Inventory. After completing the TSBI, another
experimenter entered the room and divided the subjects into two groups: those who
overestimated the dots and those who underestimated. Assignment to the groups was
actually done by random assignment. Results indicated that people with high and people
with low self-esteem sought self-enhancement in different ways. The researchers found
that people with high self-esteem evaluate their own group’s productivity and creative
lists as being more favorable than outgroups. In a second experiment, Brown et al.,
replicated the same procedures that were used in study one. This time, however, subjects
were led to believe that it was better to be an overestimator (for some conditions, the

48
underestimator) than an underestimator (overestimator). An analysis of variance once
again indicated that high self-esteem people are most apt to display favoritism when
directly involved in group processes. Once more, low self-esteem subjects showed no
evidence of in-group favoritism when evaluating the creativity lists.
Taken together, the findings from both studies provide support for the notion that
all individuals strive to enhance their feelings of self-worth, but different people self-
enhance in different ways. High self-esteem individuals do engage in self-enhancement,
as the research tends to suggest, but for these individuals, self-enhancement was achieved
by confirming their positive self-views with positive feedback or group favoritism. Low
self-esteem individuals, conversely, sought self-enhancement by confirming negative
self-views with others who they perceived to be similar.
In a recent study, Wood, Giordano-Beech, Taylor, Michela, and Gaus (1994)
examined the possibility that low self esteem people not only protect their egos, but also
look for and specifically seek out opportunities to self-enhance. The researchers
conducted 3 studies designed to determine if low self-esteem individuals actively seek
downward comparison opportunities. In experiment one, a pre-test was conducted
approximately 12 weeks before the experiment was to begin. Five hundred and seventy-
four students completed measures of the Multidimensional Self-Esteem inventory, a 77-
item scale consisting of a global self-esteem scale, as well as subscales that tape into
competence and body appearance.
Subjects were selected on the basis on their overall score in the pretest. To test the
hypothesis, the researchers designed a 2 (self-esteem: high, low) x 2 (success, failure), x 2

49
(sex: male, female) experimental study. Participants were randomly assigned to the
success or failure condition. They were informed that the study was concerned with
personality characteristics and career interests. The cover story also led subjects to
believe that they would participate in the study with another same-sex subject who shared
the same career interest.
Success or failure was manipulated by presenting the comparison subject’s
potential for professional success. The experimenter informed the subject of their
partner’s scores and went on to explain to the subject that they were to use this
information as a basis to form their impressions. The experimenter then left the subject’s
own scores within reach, saying “we won’t need these since you are the rater.” The
success condition was operationalized as one in which the subject’s own scores were
considerably higher than the other subject’s. The failure condition, therefore, was when
the subjects scores were considerably lower than the other subjects. Subjects were told
that their score was similar on all dimensions with the other target’s, except for one
dimension.
The experimenter left the room and allowed the subject 5 minutes to compare the
discrepant test scores. When the experimenter returned, subjects were asked to read a
handwritten essay supposedly written by the other subject. This was also to help subjects
form an impression of their “partner.” The essay was composed and written in such a way
that there were both likable and unlikable characteristics.
Upon completion of reading the essay, subjects rated the other subject’s ability
and potential for success in his or her future career (1 = no ability 7 = excellent ability).

50
They then were asked to rate themselves, as well as the typical student. In order to
measure comparison selection, subjects were asked to select, from a list of 13 tests (social
popularity, appreciation of the fine arts, intelligence, ability in school, physical
attractiveness, creatively, ability to cope, overall competence, leadership ability,
sensitivity to the feelings of others, political awareness, problem solving, and athletic
ability), three tests for the other subject to complete and three tests they wanted to
complete. This measure was also employed to support information provided in the cover
story.
Finally, subjects completed the Profile of Mood States questionnaire. Using a
five-point scale (1 = not at all to 5 = extremely) subjects rated the mood they were in
when making impressions of the other subject. The researchers informed the subjects that
mood can significantly affect how people form impressions, “so we need to control for
your mood” (p. 71).
Results of Study One indicated that low self-esteem people made comparison
selections that would benefit their self-esteem. That is, low self-esteem people, the data
revealed, engaged in comparisons when they succeeded rather than when they failed.
When they failed, low self-esteem subjects avoided making comparisons with successful
targets. In addition, results did not indicate changes in mood as a result of downward
comparison. In fact, low self-esteem people did not demonstrate any particular benefit of
downward comparisons. The researchers reconciled this finding by explaining that
downward comparison must be coupled with a negative mood induction or threat in order
to trigger mood improvement after downward comparison (Wood et ah, 1994).

51
Research, therefore, suggests that low self-esteem subjects exhibit more positive
mood change and greater life satisfaction if they subsequently engage in a downward
comparison as opposed to upward or self-evaluation comparisons (Gibbons & Gerrard,
1989). High self-esteem subjects on the other hand, fail to exhibit increases in life
satisfaction if they engaged in downward comparisons. One explanation for this,
according to Major, Testa, and Bylsma (1991), could be that high self-esteem subjects
have higher perceived control on more optimistic outlooks and are more likely than the
lower self-esteem subjects to perceive that they could become members of the same
group. “Thus it might be useful to include standard measures of life satisfaction with
measures tapping the individual’s perception of being different (in an undesirable
manner) from most others” (Wills, 1991, p. 57).
According to the literature, persons low in self-esteem should gain the most
benefit from downward comparison opportunities (Wills, 1981). Evidence of the
downward comparison is expected to be found on measures of mood and satisfaction with
life. Based on the literature review, may be concluded that downward comparisons, for
low self-esteem individuals, provide information that says, “even if I can not change the
situation, it looks like things can’t get any worse.” Downward comparisons therefore
communicate optimism about the future, encouragement and hope about the future, and
proclaim that coping and getting through difficult situations is possible.
Hypothesis: In the downward comparison condition, individuals who are low in
self-esteem will report and exhibit evidence of downward comparison after
exposure to a worse-off other.

52
According to research, it is the low self-esteem subjects who will be more affected
by information that is self-enhancing. For example, persons low in self-esteem engaging
in downward comparison with another who is having more trouble coping or
experiencing more serious problems should show significant changes in life satisfaction
scores and decide that their own personal problems were not as bad as they had thought.
And, in addition, it is expected that when placed in upward comparison conditions, low
self-esteem individuals will react negatively and as a result, this condition will lower life
satisfaction scores, across time. This condition, for example, may inform subjects low in
self-esteem that they are: (a) not coping well, (b) not good copers, and are not like typical
students, and (c) coping worse than they thought.
Hypothesis: In upward comparison conditions changes in life satisfaction at Time
2 will not be demonstrated for individuals low in self-esteem. In fact, it is
expected that lower life satisfaction scores will be observed.
What happens when people who are high in self-esteem are confronted with
downward and upward targets? Based on data collected by Gibbons and Gerrard (1989),
it appears as if high self-esteem subjects, when placed under conditions of downward
comparison, demonstrate considerably less mood improvement than subjects low in self¬
esteem. According to Gibbons and Gerrard (1989), simply recognizing that there are
worse off others does not improve the mood states of high self-esteem individuals. What
does improve mood states for high self-esteem people is evidence of the target’s coping
success. In other words, because high self-esteem people respond favorably to evidence
of coping success, it is expected that subjects high in self-esteem will show increases in
mood, only under conditions of upward comparison (Gibbons & Gerrard, 1989).

53
Hypothesis: In upward comparison conditions positive changes in life satisfaction
and mood at Time 2 will observed for individuals high in self-esteem. Life
satisfaction scores and mood states for low self-esteem people, on the other hand,
will show considerably less improvement after exposure to the upward targets
than subjects high in self-esteem.
Effects of Threat on Mood States
To determine the effects of a threat to self-esteem and upward and downward
social comparison on the mood states of high and low self-esteem individuals, Gibbons
and Gerrard (1989) queried approximately 700 undergraduate students J Seventy-three
subjects were selected from the pool on the basis of their self-esteem scores. Using a
median split, participants then were placed into one of two groups: high or low self¬
esteem. Subjects were then assigned to a downward or upward comparison condition.
The subjects completed several questionnaires: the Janis-Field Feelings of
Inadequacy Scale, which is a popular self-esteem measure, a mood assessment scale, and
a scale to assess coping strategies. Mood was computed by summing the subjects’
responses to 6 adjectives. The 6 adjectives were: calm, content, secure, hopeless,
depressed, sad. Subjects completed the mood scale twice, before and after the
experimental manipulation. Changes in mood were assessed by comparing sums of the
positive adjectives versus sums of the negative adjectives with responses to pre-test. To
assess coping, subjects answered questions such as, “How well are you dealing with the
stresses that you face on a daily basis?” and “Do you think you are handling the
difficulties of college life very well?”
1 The Gibbons and Gerrard (1989) study helped formulate and determine the research
method and procedures for the present experimental study.

54
Subjects were then told that the purpose of the study was to determine how
college students were adjusting to college life. They were asked to think carefully about
their coping strategies, personal problems, and difficulties encountered in adjusting to
college. The subjects then read statements written by a group partner. The statements,
however, were actually bogus statements written by the researcher. The statements
indicated that the author was having few problems and very little difficulty adjusting (the
upward comparison condition) or that the author was having very few specific problems
but a lot of trouble adjusting in general (downward comparison condition).
The researchers discovered that when threatened, especially when asked about
problems in adjustment, low self-esteem individuals demonstrated more interest in and
were more affected by self-enhancing information. Data also suggested that low self¬
esteem subjects made downward comparisons and experienced a significant improvement
in mood.
A review of the literature on downward social comparison revealed that low self¬
esteem subjects will report significant mood improvement. Data obtained from some
studies, however, suggest that downward comparison increases mood only when low self¬
esteem subjects experience a threat (Brown, Collins & Schmidt, 1988; Gibbons, 1986;
Gump & Kulik, 1995). Therefore, it is speculated that downward social comparisons are
most likely when people feel bad.
Low self-esteem individuals, the literature suggests, have more difficulties
adjusting and subsequently are vulnerable to all types of “threats” to ego or self-esteem.
Friend and Gilbert (1973) suggested that threatened subjects as compared to

55
nonthreatened subjects were less likely to compare with a better-off other, were more
likely to compare with worse off others, and were most likely to exhibit downward
comparison when under threat or high in fear of negative evaluation. It is possible that
social comparison with another person whose problems are not severe but who is having
difficulty is most likely to yield mood enhancement.
In their investigation, Gump and Kulik (1995) sought to determine the effects of a
model’s “HIV” status on self-perceptions. Audiotaped instructions informed participants
that the study was concerning sexual behaviors in the college population. Subjects then
listened to a 3-minute interview about the sexual behaviors of a purportedly real college
student. The interview was designed so that the interviewee answered questions about
her experiences with sexual partners, number and length of intimate relationships, and
about the time when sexual intercourse entered into the relationship (e.g., after the first
date, after marriage, etc.). The interview made extremely clear that the person was
heterosexual, almost always used condoms, had known the sexual history of all partners,
and had dated for a long period of time before engaging in intercourse. No mention was
made of HIV during this initial interview.
After listening to this initial interview, subjects received another set of
instructions. This time, however, subjects were informed that the interview they heard
was also concerned with how some people put others at high risk for contracting HIV.
Before listening to a second interview with a different person, subjects were provided
with general information about HIV. Subjects were randomly assigned to one of two
conditions: listening to interviews with a “HIV” positive individual or a “HIV” negative

56
individual. They then were asked to rate their similarity after knowing whether the model
was HIV positive or negative. Assessments were also made on the extent to which
subjects perceived HIV as a relevant risk, and, in addition, they were asked to rate, on a
scale from 0 to 100, their a) concern with contracting the virus, b) concern with
contracting the virus in the next two years, and c) the probability that they are HIV
positive. A control group was used and they rated their similarity to the model in part I.
They did not listen to the tape or information in part II and thus had no knowledge of the
model’s HIV status (part II).
An analysis of variance revealed that subjects believed that they engaged in safer
sexual behaviors than the “HIV” positive model. Data obtained in this study suggest that
exposure to the model’s HIV status influenced subject’s perceptions of their relative
safety. Even though subjects listened to the same interview, results revealed that
participants rated their HIV behaviors and traits as more dissimilar to those of another
person. Interestingly, subjects found the HIV target to be dissimilar, if and only if, that
person was believed to be HIV positive rather than HIV negative. Based on the data,
Gump and Kulik (1995) concluded that “mediational analyses suggested that there was
some ‘blaming’ or devaluing the victim, in that subjects perceived the identical behaviors
and traits as riskier if the model was believed HIV positive rather than negative” (p. 832).
It appears as if individuals, when facing threatening information, will augment
perceptions of their own behaviors and characteristics and engage in a downward
comparison with a target perceived to be worse off. It is possible that the similarity bias

57
demonstrated in this study also serves a self-protective function (just like downward
comparison) with respect to feelings of threat susceptibility (Gump & Kulik, 1995).
Research Question: Is threat a necessary precursor for downward social
comparison? Is evidence of downward social comparison most likely under
conditions of threat or negative feedback?
Theoretical Assumptions of the Present Study
TV Talk Show Viewers
Who benefits more from exposure to entertaining programs like television talk
shows? Based on the literature review, it is assumed that low self-esteem people watch
television shows to regulate affect. It is possible that exposure to exciting TV talk shows
enhances the self-perceptions of low self-esteem people. The present study hopes to
determine whether or not TV talk shows attract a certain type of viewer significantly
more (i.e., low self-esteem people) than another type of viewer (i.e., high self-esteem
viewers).
Consistent with prior research, it is expected that under conditions of downward
comparison, persons low in self-esteem will experience a greater boost in mood and
feelings of life satisfaction after exposure to the inferior targets than persons high in self¬
esteem. Borrowing a theoretical assumption from Zillman and Bryant’s (1986)
entertainment theory, it was assumed that individuals low in self-esteem watch television
talk shows and engage in downward comparisons in an effort to feel better about their
own lives and personal problems.

58
Individual Differences in Downward and Upw ard Social Comparison Processes
Research suggests that persons low in self-esteem will gain the most benefit from
downward comparison opportunities and evidence of the downward comparison is
expected to be found on measures of mood and satisfaction with life (e.g., Gibbons &
Gerrard, 1989; Wills, 1981). Conversely, based on data collected by Gibbons and Gerrard
(1989), it is expected that high self-esteem subjects, under conditions of downward
comparison, will demonstrate considerably less mood improvement after exposure to
incompetent targets than subjects low in self-esteem. High self-esteem people, these
researchers found, respond more favorably to evidence of a target’s coping success.
Therefore, the present study expects to find that subjects high in self-esteem will show
increases in mood, only under conditions of upward comparison (Gibbons & Gerrard,
1989).
Changes in Life Satisfaction and Mood
If viewers are found to engage in a social comparison with a media image, what
are the effects of the social comparisons on mood state and perceptions of life
satisfaction? One assumption of the present study involves assessments of the subjective
well-being concept. The present study defined and conceptualized subjective well-being
in terms of perceptions and evaluations of one’s satisfaction with life. Life satisfaction,
therefore, has been conceptualized in this study as an individual’s satisfaction with life-
as-a-whole. And since the study is also interested in the relevant factors related to life
satisfaction (i.e., mood states; satisfaction with social relationships, freedom or control,
etc.), life satisfaction has also been conceptualized in terms of the related domains.

59
In addition, it is assumed that positive increases in mood state and life satisfaction
scores will be most obvious when low self-esteem people are confronted with another
target who is having more trouble coping or experiencing more serious problems
(Gibbons & Gerrard, 1989). On the other hand, when placed in upward comparison
conditions, low self-esteem individuals, it is assumed, will react negatively. As a result, it
is speculated that upward comparison targets will negatively affect life satisfaction scores
for low self-esteem people because it is believed that this condition may inform subjects
low in self-esteem that they are: (a) not coping well, (b) not good copers, and are not like
typical students, and (c) coping worse than they thought.
Effects of Threat to Esteem on Mood States
A review of the literature on downward social comparison revealed that low self¬
esteem subjects report significant improvement in mood after experiencing a threat to
self-esteem. Specifically, some research suggests that threat is necessary for a downward
comparison to for low self-esteem subjects (Brown, Collins & Schmidt, 1988; Gibbons,
1986; Gump & Kulik, 1995). Therefore, it is speculated that downward social
comparisons are most likely when people low in self-esteem feel bad.
Experimental Predictions
The present study hopes to demonstrate that television talk shows help viewers
feel better about themselves and their life circumstances. By viewing these programs
regularly, affect, it is presumed, is regulated and stress-related emotions are released

60
through the downward comparison process with talk show topics and guests. In order to
fulfill the purposes of this study, several predictions were formulated.
Different predictions were made for the downward and upward comparison
conditions. First, in the downward comparison condition, it was expected that people
would experience greater changes in life satisfaction and mood. More specifically, it was
predicted that in the downward comparison condition changes in life satisfaction would
be greater at Time 2 for low self-esteem people than for high self-esteem individuals.
And, it was expected that, when given negative feedback, people low in self-esteem in the
downward comparison condition would experience greater changes in life satisfaction at
Time 2 than high self-esteem people. In contrast, it was expected that in the downward
comparison condition, increases in life satisfaction at Time 2 would not be evident for
people high in self-esteem. From this, the following experimental and statistical
hypotheses were formulated:
Hypothesis #1: In the downward comparison condition, people with low self¬
esteem will report greater changes in mood and life satisfaction at Time 2 than people
with high self-esteem. Statistical tests will be conducted that will test the following
experimental predictions:
• In the downward comparison condition, changes in pre- and post-test life
satisfaction scores will be found for individuals low in self-esteem.
• In the downward comparison condition, changes in life satisfaction at Time 2
will not be observed for people high in self-esteem.

61
It was also expected that changes in life satisfaction at Time 2 will be more
evident for high self-esteem people in the upward comparison condition. Thus, it was
expected that high self-esteem subjects would show more positive changes in life
satisfaction and mood only after making comparisons with upward targets.
Hypothesis #2: In the upward comparison condition, persons high in self-esteem
will experience greater boosts in life satisfaction and mood at Time 2 than persons who
are low in self-esteem.
From this hypothesis, two experimental predictions were formulated:
• In the upward comparison condition, of changes in pre- and post-test life
satisfaction scores will be found for individuals high in self-esteem.
• In the upward comparison condition, changes in life satisfaction at Time 2 will
not be observed for people low in self-esteem.
Research Question: Is a Downward Social Comparison Moderated by Self-Esteem
and Type of Feedback?

CHAPTER 3
METHOD
Overview of Study
Social comparisons made with others who are superior to or better off than
oneself are referred to as upward comparisons. Individuals engaging in upward
comparison may learn from others, be inspired by their examples, or become highly
motivated to achieve similar goals. Upward comparisons, research suggests, are invoked
when individuals are motivated to change or overcome problems (Major, Testa, Bylsma,
1991). Self-improvement is the main effect of an upward comparison because the targets
serve as role models and teach and motivate individuals to achieve or overcome similar
problems (Seta, 1982; Wood, 1989). According to literature on social comparison, an
effective upward comparison target is one who is extremely competent and is proficient
and skillful in terms of coping with personal problems (Major et al., 1991; Seta, 1982).
On the other hand, when a social comparison involves a target who is inferior,
incompetent and/or less fortunate, the comparison is referred to as a downward
comparison (Wills, 1981). The basic principle of downward comparison is that people
feel better about their own situation and enhance their subjective well-being when they
make comparisons with others who are worse off or less fortunate. According to theory,
downward comparisons help individuals cope with personal problems by allowing them
62

63
to see themselves and their problems in a better, more positive light (Wood 1989).
Downward comparisons are most likely to occur when people engage in a social
comparison with a target who is incompetent and less fortunate (Sherman, Presson, &
Chassin, 1984; Schulz & Decker, 1985).
The current dissertation has two goals. The first goal is to explore how various
social comparison opportunities affect feelings of subjective well-being and the second
goal to determine if persons low in self-esteem differ from people high in self-esteem
with regard to subjective well-being under conditions of upward and downward
comparison. Subjects were randomly assigned to comparison conditions: (upward or
downward comparison condition) and to the type of feedback received (positive,
negative, or no feedback). Mood was assessed before comparison and immediately after
the comparison opportunity.
The objective of the dissertation is to demonstrate that social comparisons may be
elicited by television content. It is possible that some television content may afford
individuals with an opportunity to protect or enhance their self-esteem. The present study
will examine the notion that television talk shows may be popular with certain audiences
because, it is assumed, these programs help viewers self-enhance or feel better about
themselves and their life circumstances. It is therefore hypothesized that affect is
regulated and stress-related emotions are released via downward comparisons with TV
images, namely TV talk show guests.

64
Design and Experimental Manipulations
An experimental 2 (comparison: upward vs. downward) x 2 (self-esteem: high vs.
low) x 3 (feedback: positive vs. negative vs. none) x 2 (time: pre-social comparison
opportunity vs. post-social comparison opportunity) factorial design was used to test the
experimental predictions, answer the research questions, and evaluate predictions made
by social comparison theory. Participants also made attributions concerning college life
and the extent to which television shows accurately depict problems related to the
“typical college student.”
Brief Overview of the Experimental Procedures
Individuals were asked to participate in a study purportedly concerned with
portrayals of college life on popular television talk show programs. Subjects then viewed
a segment of a recent television talk show and received information suggesting that a talk
show guest (a) is successfully dealing with relationship problems (i.e., upward
comparison condition) or (b) is not dealing well with relationship problems (i.e.,
downward comparison). Effects of these comparisons on the individual’s life satisfaction
and mood also was assessed.
The two comparison conditions, upward and downward, were created through ten-
minute videotape vignettes taken from two popular television talk shows. The focus of
both shows was on a discussion of a problem in the relationship problem between two
guests. Threat was created by informing subjects that they had failed a personality test;
no threat participants learned that they successfully had passed the test. And, in the no

65
feedback condition, participants did not receive information or test results from the bogus
personality test.
The present research provided information about the functions of television talk
shows and the audience characteristics that may be used to explain the popularity of this
program genre. This research also provided insights concerning the psychological,
cognitive, and behavioral processes that motivate television viewing preferences and
program choice. It is believed that downward social comparison may be one of the
primary reasons people watch talk shows considered by some to be “trash TV.”
Population and Sample
The sample was drawn from selected undergraduate students enrolled in three
introductory undergraduate courses at a large southeastern university.^ All individuals
received course credit in exchange for their participation and were not aware of the
primary purpose of the study until the experiment ended.
Questionnaires were administered to approximately 410 individuals during a mass
pretesting session. Measures included the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale and a 10-item
measure that was used to assess media use information such as how often people watch
television talk shows. Two hundred and thirty-two female viewers were selected on the
basis of their self-esteem score and talk show viewing frequency. Because data obtained
in a preliminary study revealed that males and nonviewers of TV talk shows felt
extremely different about the guests appearing on the show compared to female viewers,
2 Regular viewers, those who watch talk shows at least 3 times a week, were selected for
participation.

66
it was determined the experiment should control for these gender and viewing effects by
primarily focusing on female respondents who watch talk shows on an occasional or
regular basis (i.e., more than 3 times a week). 3 Participants were run in groups of
approximately 12 to 15 people each.
Instrumentation: The Research Tools
Selection of the TV Talk Shows
To determine whether individuals low in self-esteem are most affected by
downward comparison targets and persons high in self-esteem are most affected by
upward comparison targets, a diverse sample of talk show segments was needed.
Therefore, five 60-minute talk shows were carefully selected for study. Specific criteria
established the selection of the talk shows.
The criteria used to select the talk show programs were: audience ratings and
popularity, program content, demographics of program panelists, and the show’s
discussion topic. A more detailed discussion of the analysis of the program content will
follow.
3 An ANOVA conducted on the data obtained in preliminary study revealed a significant
interaction among Viewer X Self-Esteem X Comparison condition X Target Guest
Segment F (2, 120) = 4.83, p >.010. The data suggested that differences in viewing
frequency and gender affected perceptions of the guest’s competence level. In other
words, regular viewers and nonviewers, and, high and low self-esteem respondents
differed significantly in their ratings of the guest’s competence. Nonviewers rated
upward comparison targets as more incompetent (M = 6.1) than did viewers (M = 3.8)
while downward comparison targets were perceived as more competent by nonviewers
(M= 5.9) than viewers (M = 6.2).

67
Secondary data sources also were used to determine audience ratings, popularity,
and program content. The sources used in the analysis were Nielsen ratings and a content
analysis of the weekly television guide on the topical issues being discussed (i.e., the
show’s topic had to focus on an interpersonal relationship problem). The Nielsen ratings
and the content analysis help to identify five popular talk shows. Based on information
obtained from the Nielsen ratings, it was determined that the talk shows which appeal to
the 18 - 34 year old age group are Ricki Lake, Jenny Jones, Maury Povich, Jerry Springer
and Montel Williams. Therefore, these five shows were selected and recorded for roughly
three months.
A total of 48 one-hour talk shows was recorded and reviewed.^ Content analysis
of each talk show was conducted to determine the demographics of the guests, the type of
topic, and relevance of the topic to a young viewing audience. The content analysis was
conducted separately by the principal investigator and three undergraduate research
assistants. 5 Data analysis suggested that two of the 48 talk shows focused on a young
“college-aged” audience.
Content analysis of the topics identified three shows of particular interest for
college students. A description of the shows is as follows: (1) “You Dumped Me, But
Look at Me Now,” a Ricki Lake show focused on the survival or successful way several
young women persevered through the breakup of a serious relationship; (2) “Masters of
4 Twelve of the shows were from Ricki Lake-, Twelve were from Maury Povich, Ten
shows were from Montel Williams, Nine shows were taped from Jenny Jones, and Five
shows were taped from Jerry Springer.
5 Intercoder reliability for the talk show categories was r = .89

68
Their Domain and She’s my Servant,” a Jenny Jones show featuring women who are
unhappy in their relationships with men who will not allow them to answer the phone,
drive a car, go to college or establish careers; and (3) “Friendship Court,” a Ricki Lake
show featuring mini-courtroom vignettes of controversies and problems in seven different
man-to-man or woman-to-woman relationships.
The Ricki Lake and Jenny Jones programs were broadcast early in the Spring of
1996. These two talk shows were deemed appropriate for the experiment because these
shows featured: a) “college-aged” or young-looking guests, b) problems in interpersonal
relationships, c) the show’s host or guest discussing how well the guest was dealing with
the relationship problem (i.e., triumphantly or is not handling the break up well), and/or
d) the guests were considered to be inspirational or very incompetent^.
Next, the researcher watched each of the three shows and recorded information in
a spreadsheet table about the segment (i.e., the guest’s name(s) and total time segment
aired before commercial break). Commercials were edited out of the tape. Each one-
hour show was divided into 36 individual segments.7 A number was assigned to each
segment, and a random numbers table was used to select and order the segments. Of the
6 A preliminary research study was conducted and found that the manipulation and
stimuli were in line with theoretical assumptions of social comparison theory. Downward
talk show guest targets were viewed as being very incompetent while upward targets were
perceived as very competent, successful copers. Respondents in the preliminary study
found the upward comparison targets to be more competent than downward comparison
targets F( 1,22) = 221.14,/? < .0001. There was also a significant difference in the two
comparison opportunities and target guest segment F(l, 22) = 9.80, p < .0005.
7 A segment refers to the part of the program that is broadcast without commercials.

69
36 segments, four segments from each show were randomly selected to be used in the
experiment.
Measures of Program Choice and Self-Esteem
During the mass pretesting session, participants received a pretest questionnaire
packet that asked respondents to identify demographic information such as age, gender,
and ethnicity. To obtain data concerning program choice and viewing preferences,
respondents also indicated how often they watch certain television programs (1 =
frequently, 2 = occasionally, 3 = rarely, 4 = never) and how often they typically watch
television (1 =0-1 day/week, to 4 = every day). Participants also indicated how often
they watch particular shows like nightly news shows, soap operas, music videos, situation
comedies, television magazine shows, real-life drama shows, talk shows, and drama
shows.
Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem scale also was included in pretest. Items on this scale
asked respondents to indicate the extent to which they agree or disagree (1 = strongly
agree, 2 = agree, 3 = neutral, or 3 = disagree, 4 = strongly disagree), with statements such
as, “ I feel that I have a number of good qualities,” “I take a positive attitude toward
myself,” and “I certainly feel useless at times.” The scale was selected for three reasons:
(a) ease of administration and scoring, (b) brevity, and (c) it is relatively straightforward
in terms of the positive or negative feelings individuals may have concerning their self-
worth and value.
Rosenberg’s (1965) Self-Esteem scale is a widely used scale. The scale, which
also was used in the Morse and Gergen (1970) “Mr. Clean, Mr. Dirty” study, contains 10

70
items that have been reported to have high face validity, high internal consistency, and
high test-retest reliability and could be expected to produce an adequate estimation of an
individual’s level of self-esteem (Blascovich & Tomaka, 1991).
Feedback instrumentation: The Balanced Inventory of Desirable Responding
(BIDR)
Feedback was manipulated by providing positive or negative feedback. Upon
arriving at the lab, and after signing the informed consent form, participants completed a
“bogus” personality scale, which supposedly predicts an individual’s social intelligence,
adequacy, and sensitivity level. The experimenter left the room while participants
completed the scale.
In reality, participants completed an actual, validated scale: The Balanced
Inventory of Desirable Responding (BIDR). The BIDR was selected because it measures
two factors, self-deception and impression management. Self-deception involves the
extent to which people provide self-reports that are honest but positively biased. This
measure was included so that the researcher could identify the extent to which some
people with a propensity for self-deception may have denied having psychologically
threatening thoughts or feelings when confronted with the talk show guests (Paulhaus,
1988; Robinson et al., 1991).
Another reason the BIDR scale was selected for inclusion in the present study is
because it also contains measures to tap into self-enhancement. It was assumed that this
particular measure would identify, if necessary, whether participants avoided a social
comparison in an attempt to maintain an unrealistic positive view of their self-concepts.

71
The BIDR’s, it was believed, would identify the extent to which respondents
overestimated and overrated their positive behaviors and underreported performance of
their undesirable behaviors (e.g., I never swear). Respondents rated their level of
agreement with 40 statements on a seven-point scale.
This scale is extremely appropriate for the present study because it could be used
in additional and/or future analysis to identify which one of the factors, self-deception or
impression management, was responsible for unexpected effects. The scale was intended
to determine the role self-deception and impression management played in avoiding a
social comparison with media images encountered in everyday life. That is, this scale
was used to assess the extent to which people avoided social comparison opportunities
and denied having psychologically threatening thoughts or feelings.
Time: Pre and Post Social Comparison Opportunity
Posttesting was conducted on measures of mood and life satisfaction. Changes in
mood and life satisfaction scores from the pretest to the posttest were used to measure the
effects of exposure to particular comparison targets on an individual’s attitude and
affective state. Analyses of mood change scores indicated whether or not self-esteem
interacted with the type of comparison and feedback. This analysis was also used to
determine if the results of the study were consistent with the hypotheses and predictions
made by downward social comparison theory. The pre and posttest analyses determined
how downward and upward comparison opportunities portrayed in the media affected
particular participants.

72
Comparison Conditions
All individuals completing the pretest were randomly assigned to one of two
conditions (i.e., upward, downward). 8 The experimenter remained blind to the subject’s
level of self-esteem. The downward comparison condition involved two different
segments. One segment involved Amber and her friend, Desiree. In this condition,
participants viewed an 8-minute segment of the show entitled “Friendship Court.”
During this segment, subjects were provided with the following information.
Amber is very upset with Desiree, her best friend, because Desiree violated her
trust. Amber and Danielle are college roommates and used to be best friends, until
Danielle slept with Amber’s boyfriend. Producers informed us that Amber seems
to have some trouble coping with her problem and, according to the talk show’s
producer, has stopped attending classes, is allowing her grades to suffer, and
seems to be consumed with getting revenge.
In another downward comparison condition, participants viewed an 8- minute
segment of a talk show titled, “Masters of their Domain,” featuring a guest named
Michelle. Respondents were provided with the following information.
Talk show producers sent us a brief description of the segment you have been
asked to evaluate. This segment concerns women who are trapped in relationships
with men who feel that they are “Master’s of their Home.” The segment that you
are being asked to watch focuses on Michelle and Bob.
Talk show producers sent us this tape because they said fan mail from young
women in similar relationships was tremendous after this show aired. It seems as
though Michelle used to be a college student, but because of Bob, she is no longer
attending the university. She also used to work part-time at a bar, the place where
she met her husband Bob. They are married, and producers inform us that
Michelle is not coping well at all. She is extremely unhappy in her relationship to
Bob. Bob is extremely jealous and controlling and as a result, Michelle is
unhappy and is upset because Bob treats her like a servant. She wants to do
things that will make her happy like go back to school and finish her degree, but
8 A preliminary study determined appropriate talk show targets.

73
as you will see, she seems to be so stuck in her relationship that fulfilling her
dream of going back to school is not very likely.
Two levels of the upward comparison condition^ involved guests who were
described as successfully handling and dealing with a serious interpersonal relationship
problem. In one segment, participants learned that Desiree was:
... a young female college student, who used to date Jeff. Jeff broke up with
Desiree and as a result she reported to the show’s producer’s that the breakup was
extremely traumatic for her. She was so devastated that the producers said she
could not handle things: she stopped attending classes, her grades suffered, and
she eventually had to drop out of school for a semester. But, according to the
show’s producers, she quickly bounced back and since that time has reported that
she has not had many conflicts or relationship problems. Producers tell us that
she has now gone back to school and is about to graduate college with high
honors. She is presently pursuing a career in law and is involved in an extremely
happy relationship with a young man who is attending medical school. She
successfully handled her problem, as you will see on the tape, and asked to come
back on the show to show Jeff that he did her a favor by breaking up with her. As
you watch Desiree, consider whether or not you think her problem is an accurate
and realistic representation of the life and problems of a typical college student.
Another upward comparison segment featured a young African-American female
who appears confident and successfully triumphed and coped with several problems (i.e.,
weight loss, attitude change, facial looks, etc.). This target guest appeared on the same
Ricki Lake show as the former upward comparison target. Verbal instructions informed
participants of the following:
The segment you will see was titled, “You dumped me, but look at me now.” In
this segment, Natalie, a female college student, was described as an excellent
coper. She successfully handled her relationship problems and asked to appear on
the show because she wanted to re-unite with an ex-boyfriend. Basically,
9 Data analysis revealed no significant differences in the two upward comparison
segments and the two downward comparison condition. Thus, one upward comparison
guest was not found to significantly differ from the other guest, and as a result, the
segments were collapsed to form one variable for the upward comparison condition. The
same was true for the downward comparison condition.

74
producer’s tell us that Natalie was so devastated when her then boyfriend
Maurice broke up with her that she almost contemplated dropping out of college.
But, as you will see, Natalie has overcome several adversities like losing weight,
graduating college, and other goals. Producers tell us that Natalie is and feels
extremely confident and is very happy and content. She merely wanted to appear
on the show and tell Maurice, “Look at me now.”
As you watch Natalie, consider whether or not you think her problem is an
accurate and realistic representation of the life and problems of a typical college
student. Please keep in mind as you are watching the show, what the guest is like,
what types of problems they are having, and also give some thought to how the
guest compares with you. Be sure that you evaluate this show so that you can
make insightful comments about the program’s ability to reach and relate to
college students in your age group.
Measures of Life Satisfaction and Mood State
Because the goal of this study was to explore how mediated social comparison
opportunities affect feelings of subjective well-being, a measurement scale known as the
Affectometer was selected. Based on research, it was determined that the Affectometer
would identify whether feelings of subjective well being included feelings of stress,
satisfaction with relationships and amount of social support one receives, satisfaction
with role performance or self-presentations, and the extent to which people perceive life
problems to be controlled by other people or controlled by chance (Kammann & Flett,
1983). “If a study is to compare the subjective well-being of different groups of
respondents and/or monitor changes in subjective well-being over time, it may be
important not only to measure subjective well-being itself but also to measure some of
the relevant factors that are presumed to affect subjective well-being” (Andrews &
Robinson, 1991, p. 106).

75
The Affectometer by Kamman and Flett (1983) measures changes in subjective
well-being, namely life satisfaction. The Affectometer is a measure of the individual’s
general happiness containing items to assess the overall positive and negative feelings
toward various life situations. It is a 40-item scale with items such as, “My life is right
on track,” “My future looks good,” “I like myself,” and “I feel like a failure” (1 = not at
all, 2 = occasionally, 3 = some of the time, 4 = often, 5 = all of the time). The 40-item
scale was selected on the basis of its ability to measure assessments of life-as-a-whole
and with regard to specific life concems/domains.
Four items from the scale were selected to represent 10 different life satisfaction
domains: confluence, optimism, self-esteem, self-efficacy, social support, social interest,
freedom, energy, cheerfulness, and thought clarity. Items measuring confluence were
“My life is right on track,” “I wish I could change some part of my life,” “Satisfied,”
“Discontented.” Items measuring optimism were, “My future looks good,” “I feel as
though the best years of my life are over,” “Optimistic,” and “Hopeless.” The self-esteem
domain of life satisfaction was measured by asking respondents to indicate the extent to
which they agreed or disagreed with the following statements: “I like myself,” “I feel
there must be something wrong with me,” “Useful,” and “Insignificant.”
To represent the self-efficacy domain of life satisfaction, the Affectometer
contained the following four items: “I can handle any problems that come up,” “ I feel
like a failure,” “Confident,” “Helpless.” Social support, the 5th domain, was assessed in
items like, “1 feel loved and trusted,” “I seem to be left alone when I don’t want to be,”
“Understood,” and “Lonely.” Another domain referred to as Social Interest measured the

76
extent to which people indicated that they “feel close to people around [them].” Other
items tapping into this domain asked respondents to indicate the extent to which they
“have lost interest in other people and don’t care about them,” “Loving,” and
“Withdrawn.”
Freedom, a domain of life satisfaction, used the following measures to determine
the extent to which people felt events were externally or internally controlled. Measures
included the following items: “I feel I can do whatever I want to,” “My life seems stuck
in a rut,” “Free-and-easy,” and “Tense.” Cheerfulness was measured by asking the
following questions, “I smile and laugh a lot,” “Nothing seems very much fun any more,”
“Good-natured,” and “Impatient.” Thought-clarity, the final domain of life satisfaction,
focused on stress levels and asked respondents to indicate the extent to which they agree
or disagree with the following statements, “I think clearly and creatively,” “My thoughts
go around in useless circles,” “Clear-headed,” and “Confused.”
High scores on the overall Affectometer measurement scale were used to indicate
extreme happiness and satisfaction (200), while low scores indicated low happiness and
low life satisfaction (40). The Affectometer correlates between .63 and .75 with
measures of happiness and emotionality (Andrews & Robinson, 1991).
Procedure
Ten days prior to participation in the study, respondents completed a
questionnaire in a mass pretesting session. The pretest included The Rosenberg Self-
Esteem Scale and 10 items to assess demographic information as well as television
program viewing preference and frequency.

77
Each participant received an informed consent form, detailing general instructions
of the study along with a fictional purpose of the study. Subsequently, in an effort to
facilitate honest responding during the experiment, respondents were asked to use a four-
digit phone number as their code number for the experiment. Participants were assured
of their confidentiality and were instructed not to place their names on any of the
questionnaires.
After the mass testing session, the experimenter gathered the informed consent
forms and entered all data into SPSS. The investigator then selected the participants who
indicated that they watch television talk shows occasionally or always (i.e., 3 or more
times a week), and were female. Participants then were split into high and low self¬
esteem groups and were randomly assigned to one of two comparison conditions (i.e.,
upward or downward comparison).
To reduce the error due to differences between persons, the experimenter used
self-esteem scores to match participants before randomly assigning them to treatments.
Once an overall median score was obtained for self-esteem, the participant’s scores were
tallied and they then were placed into a block that corresponded to the experimental
group (i.e., high self-esteem versus low self-esteem). Then, the first four individuals,
those with the highest scores, were randomly assigned to one of the four experimental
session while the next four in the second block were randomly assigned one of four

78
sessions. 10 This process continued until all participants were assigned to an
experimental condition.
On arriving to the experimental group session, the participants were greeted by a
female experimenter 11 who informed them, once again, of the fictional cover story (i.e.,
the study involves assessments concerning the manner in which television programs
adequately and realistically depict personal problems for today’s college student).
Participants then were told that they had been selected because their responses during the
mass testing indicated that, as a group, they were fairly similar to one another. This
information was used to increase both the likelihood and impact of comparison with the
talk show guest.
After receiving these verbal instructions, participants were instructed to locate a
folder lying on their desk. On the front of the manila folder participants read a brief
overview of the experimental instructions (actually another version of the informed
consent protocol) that detailed the upcoming events of the one-hour study. After reading
In other words, to be sure all individuals receiving a score of 49, for example, would
be assiged in each conditions, individuals were “blocked” on the basis of their esteem
score. The four highest scores (i.e., over 48) were randomly assigned to one of four
conditions. The next group of scores (i.e., 45-47) were assigned to one of four conditions,
and so on.
11 The experimental techniques and instructions were standardized because the study
employed approximately 10 research assistants. Concern was taken to standardize the
sex and age of all research assistants. The researcher selected all female confederates
who were approximately 21-23 years of age. Confederates acted as experimenters and
were told to appear “professional.” Several training sessions with experimenters were
conducted in which each research assistant was afforded an opportunity to practice
reading experimental scripts, complete pretest measures, as well as determine timing and
duration of all experimental techniques.

79
these instructions, respondents were told to open the folder, take out the first sheet of
paper, and write their four-digit code on the top of the first page.
Soon afterward, participants were asked to complete the personality scale (the
BIDR) and were informed that the scale would be used to predict their social sensitivity
and concern for others. This scale, they were told, is used to predict which individuals can
adjust well to problems and adversity. Once the participants finished the test, one of the
experimenters collected their tests and left the room so that respondents would be led to
believe that the results were being scored by a computer program.
The main experimenter then asked participants to open the manila folder and
locate the paper labeled, “Coping with College Life in the 90s.” This survey asked
participants to respond to open-ended questions such as, “What do you think is the best
thing about being the age you are now?” and “ What problems do you think the average
college student faces in the 90s?” During this phase of the study, respondents also
completed the emotion-focused vs. problem-focused scale and identified how well they
adjust to or cope with college-related problems.
After approximately 12 minutes, an experimenter returned to the room and
informed the participants, via sheets of paper, of their overall results. Upon returning,
respondents were provided with the following information about their respective
performance on the test: a) score and rank based on test taken (i.e., their score exceeded
the average score and, as a result, they ranked second in a group of seven, or their score
or score was lower than the average result and they ranked sixth in a group of seven).

80
Respondents were informed that there were 40 possible points on the “social
sensitivity” test. In the positive feedback condition, participants received, via type¬
written sheets of paper, information that read:
There were a total of 40 possible points on the social sensitivity scale. The
average score from adult populations (adults aged 18-34) is 35. Data analysis
revealed that your social sensitivity score is above-average. Compared to other
students taking this test, you rank in the upper 95th percentile. This means that in
terms of social sensitivity, your score exceeded the scores of 95% of most people
in your age group who have taken a similar test.
In the negative feedback condition, participants received sheets of paper that read:
There were a total of 40 possible points on the social sensitivity scale. The
average score from adult populations (adults aged 18-34) is 35. Data analysis
revealed that your social sensitivity score is below-average. Compared to other
students taking this test, you rank in the lower 35th percentile. This means that in
terms of social sensitivity, 65% of most people taking the test obtain scores higher
than your score.
In the no feedback condition, participants were told:
The computer testing service just informed us of technical difficulties with the
computer program. As a result, we are unable to provide the results of your
sensitivity test. As soon as the results are received we will inform you of your
score.
After distributing feedback sheets, the experimenter instructed the participants to
answer the pretest measure, which consisted of the life satisfaction measures and a mood
scale. After the subjects completed the mood scale, the experimenter then verbally
instructed the participants and provided background information on the talk show they
were going to watch. Verbal instructions informed each group that they were
participating in a study concerned with college students and the problems they face in the

81
1990s. They were told to make explicit why they were watching a talk show, that they
were going to watch and evaluate a segment of a television talk show in order to
determine if television talk show programs adequately depict the life and problems of
young people in the 1990s.
Next, participants randomly assigned to the upward or downward comparison
condition watched one 4- to 8-minute talk show segment. The experimenter started the
tape and left the room. After the segment ended, the experimenter returned and instructed
participants to return to the manila folder and locate the next set of questionnaires. This
survey contained items that were used as the manipulation check and indicated how the
participants perceived the guest’s competence and degree of overall similarity.
The questionnaire also measured the effectiveness of the positive and negative
feedback and assessed level of similarity between the subject and the talk show guest.
After completing this posttest measure, the experimenter asked respondents to complete a
final questionnaire assessing life satisfaction and mood. After completing these
measures, respondents were escorted to a group debriefing session and were officially
dismissed.
Debriefing
Immediately after the experimental session, the principal investigator debriefed
the participants. To receive credit, respondents returned to an informational, “post
experimental group meeting” followed by an individual interview. At this time, all
participants were fully informed of the study’s true purpose and hypotheses. The
investigator explained why deception was used in this study, provided background

82
information on downward social comparison and how this theory might be used to
explain how television talk shows enhance viewer mood and help people feel better about
their persona] problems.

CHAPTER 4
RESULTS
Before the results on the theoretical issues pertaining to social comparison
processes are presented, in the section that follows a number of preliminary analyses will
be reported and discussed. The preliminary analyses examine the reliabilities of the
measurement scales used in assessing the independent and dependent variables, and
examine checks of the manipulations for the feedback and for the comparison targets.
Preliminary Analysis
Reliability of Measurement Scales
The following section briefly will discuss the results of data analysis conducted
on the reliabilities of the self-esteem and life satisfaction measurement scales. Participant
responses to the 10-item self-esteem scale were summed to provide an overall esteem
score. Possible esteem scores range from 10 to 50. The average self-esteem score for the
sample used in this study was 42.4. A median split was used to classify high self-esteem
versus low self-esteem participants.
Of the 101 subjects, approximately 51 individuals scored 0-42 and were
classified as low in self-esteem while 50 were classified as being high in self-esteem.
The mean for low self-esteem participants was, M= 37.7, SD = 4.1, and high self-esteem
83

84
subjects was, M = 46.9, SD = 2.3. The self-esteem scale was checked for reliability.
Analysis revealed that the scale had an alpha coefficient of a=.88.
The Affectometer, the instrument used to measure life satisfaction taps into
assessing satisfaction with 10 life satisfaction domains: a) positive and negative feelings
toward life situations ; b) satisfaction with relationships; and c) the amount of social
support one receives. Responses to the items measuring these factors were then summed
to provide an overall measure of an individual’s life satisfaction. Possible scores on the
Affectometer range from 40 (very dissatisfied) to 200 (very satisfied). Correlation
coefficients among the 40 life satisfaction statements and adjectives were high (i.e., a
=.69, .71, .63, etc.), so they were combined to form a single index of life satisfaction (a
= .91). Four items from the Affectometer were used to measure transient mood states
(i.e., sad, happy, tired, alert). Reliability analysis of these items revealed an alpha of .66.
12
Manipulation Checks
Feedback
The manipulation check for feedback assessed responses to the questions “How
did the results of the social sensitivity test make you feel?” Participant responses were
collected on scales that ranged from 1 = very bad to 7 = very good. Data analysis
revealed that the positive feedback manipulation made participants feel better, M = 5.2
12 Reliability analysis of the remaining life satisfaction subscales revealed the following
alpha coefficients: Confluence a = .75; Optimism a = .64; Self-esteem a = .65; Self-
efficacy a = .67; Social support a = .81; Social interest a = .62; Freedom a = .62;
Cheerfulness a = .64; and Thought-clarity a = .71.

85
than the negative feedback, M = 3.4, F(l,61) = 29.1, p < .0001) There were no other
significant main effects of self-esteem ( all 2 > -5) or significant interactions self-esteem,
type of comparison, and feedback ( all p >.6).
Competence and Coping Capability of Target
To examine the relationship among self-esteem, type of comparison condition,
feedback, and the nature of the subjects’ responses to questions concerning the talk show
guest, an analysis of variance (ANOVA) was executed. Two levels of comparison
condition (upward targets versus downward targets), two levels of self-esteem (low
versus high), and three levels of feedback (positive versus negative versus no feedback)
were analyzed as the independent variables. The dependent variables analyzed were
attributions of target guest’s competence (1 = very competent, 7 = very incompetent).
Data analysis revealed the expected main effect of comparison condition or
perceptions of the guest’s competence, F(l, 89) = 72. 3,p< .0001. As expected, upward
targets were judged to be significantly more competent (M -3.3, SD 1.9) than the
downward targets (M = 6.5, SD = 2.1 ). There were no other significant main effects of
or interactions among the independent variables (all p > .2).
13 The feedback manipulation question, “How did the results of the test make you feel,”
was administered to 31 participants assigned to the “no feedback” condition. Data
obtained from these participants were discarded in the manipulation check because it was
observed that some “no feedback” participants responded to manipulation check question.
These individuals were omitted from data analysis as experimenters were not clear on
what participants were responding to when answering this question.

86
Addressing The Experimental Hypotheses and Research Questions
Based on the experimental rationale and the theoretical implications of social
comparison theory, data analyses were conducted in stages. The first step in the process
was to conduct a preliminary assessment of the findings. An alpha level of .05 was used
for all statistical tests. Next, in order to estimate the effect of viewing talk show targets,
data were submitted to a two (self-esteem: high versus low) X two (comparison
condition: upward versus downward) X three (feedback: positive versus negative versus
none) X two (Time: Pre- versus post-test measure of life satisfaction and mood)
unweighted means analysis of variance, with the last factor treated as a within-subjects
variable.
A repeated measures ANOVA was initially run on both of the dependent
variables, life satisfaction and mood. The analysis revealed no significant main effects of
the comparison condition or feedback variables (all p > .35). A significant main effect
was obtained of the self-esteem variable on overall life satisfaction, F(l, 89) = 51.7, p <
.0001. No other significant main effects or interactions were found on either measure (all
pN>.7).
Next, planned contrasts, designed to test the hypotheses, were performed within
levels of the comparison conditions. Data were subjected to a repeated measure ANOVA
for each comparison condition. An interaction of time was expected in each comparison
condition. That is, it was expected that mood and life satisfaction would be enhanced
from pre- to post-measurement for high self-esteem subjects only under conditions of
upward comparison while enhancement only should be found for low self-esteem

87
subjects under conditions of downward comparison. A planned comparison in the
downward comparison condition was used to determine the effects of downward targets
on mood states and perceptions of life satisfaction for high and low self-esteem people.
The Effects of Downward Comparisons on Life Satisfaction and Mood
Hypothesis #1: In the downward comparison condition, people low in self-esteem
will experience greater boosts in life satisfaction than people who are high in self-esteem.
From this hypothesis, two predictions were made:
• In the downward comparison condition, participants low in self-esteem will
display an increase in the life satisfaction scale from Time 1 to Time 2.
• In the downward comparison condition, participants high in self-esteem will
not show an increase in life satisfaction from Time 1 to Time 2.
Hypothesis #2: In the downward comparison condition, people low in self-esteem
will experience greater boosts in mood than people who are high in self-esteem.
From this hypothesis, two experimental predictions were made:
• In the downward comparison condition, participants low in self-esteem will
display an increase in mood from Time 1 to Time 2.
• In the downward comparison condition, participants high in self-esteem will
not show an increase in mood from Time 1 to Time 2.
Life Satisfaction
The first hypothesis dealt with enhancement of subjective well-being or life
satisfaction, as moderated by level of self-esteem, for a downward comparison, or an

88
“inferior” comparison target. The data revealed a significant main effect of the self¬
esteem variable on perceptions of life satisfaction, F(l, 55) = 40.9, p < .0001. Consistent
with information presented in the Gibbons and Gerrard (1989) study, low self-esteem
individuals reported being less satisfied with life circumstances than did high self-esteem
subjects.
Table 4-1: Changes in life satisfaction as a function of self-esteem within the downward
comparison condition.
Time
Time 1
Time 2
Overall Mean
Change
Self-Esteem
Low
(n=32)
130.9a
(SD= 15.08)
131.8a
(SD= 16.53)
.9
High
(n=27)
150.5b
(SD= 15.65)
153.9C
(SD= 12.03)
3.4
158.2
(SD= 15.65)
161.2
(SD= 12.90)
Note: The total possible points on the life satisfaction scale was 200. Means with
different subscripts across rows and down columns differ at p < .05.
Data analysis also revealed a significant main effect of time (i.e., changes in life
satisfaction from Time 1 to Time 2), F (1, 55) = 5.24, p = .02. As Table 4-1 shows,
participants reported greater life satisfaction at Time 2 (M = 131.2, SD = 11.9) than at
Time 1 (M = 151.2, SD = 14.7). The effect of the downward comparison on life
satisfaction scores taken at Time 1 and Time 2 was further qualified by an interaction of
levels of self-esteem and changes in life satisfaction (i.e., pre- and post-test measurement

89
of life satisfaction ), F (1,51) = 3.4, 2 =.06. Review of the cell means presented in Table
4-1 suggests that in the downward comparison condition, high self-esteem people
experienced and reported more increases in global assessments of life satisfaction than
persons low in self-esteem (see Table 4-1).
Mood
To assess the effects of comparison targets on mood state, the same analysis of
variance was performed on the mood data. A similar pattern of results appeared for
changes in mood. The analysis revealed a significant effect of time (i.e., positive changes
in mood scores obtained at Time 1 and Time 2), F(l, 53) = 58.5, p < .0001. Consistent
with prior studies, a comparison made with a less competent other enhanced life
satisfaction and resulted in a positive increase in mood state.
Table 4-2: Changes in mood state as a function of self-esteem within the downward
comparison condition.
Time
Self-Esteem
Time 1
Time 2
Overall Mean
Change
Low
(n=32)
18.4a
(SD = 2.2)
20. lb
(SD = 1.9)
1.7
High
(n=27)
18.7,
(SD= 1.6)
21.5C
(SD= 1.9)
2.8
18.5
(SD= 1.9)
20.7
(SD - 1.9)
Note: Means with different subscripts across rows and down columns differ at p < .05

90
The effect of time on mood scores was further qualified by an interaction of self¬
esteem and time (i.e., changes in mood states from Time 1 to Time 2), F(l, 53) = 3.9,p
=.05. Comparisons conducted of the row means presented in Table 4-2 revealed a
significant increase in the mood states of both high, t (26) = -8.1,p < .0001 and low self¬
esteem participants, t (31) = -3.9, p < .0001 (refer to Table 4-2). However, unexpectedly,
data analysis revealed that high self-esteem people experienced greater improvement in
mood after making comparisons with downward targets than did people with low self¬
esteem, t(57) = -2.0, p =.05. 14
The Effects of an Upward Comparison on Life Satisfaction and Mood
Hypothesis #3: In the upward comparison condition, persons high in self-esteem
will experience greater boosts in life satisfaction at Time 2 than persons who are low in
self-esteem in the same condition.
From this hypothesis, two experimental predictions were formulated:
• In the upward comparison condition, participants high in self-esteem will
display an increase in the life satisfaction scale from Time 1 to Time 2.
• In the upward comparison condition, low self-esteem people will not show an
increase in life satisfaction from Time 1 to Time 2.
14 Regression analysis revealed a standardized B = .14, SE of B =.07, (5 = .31, p =.02,
suggesting a slight positive association between the self-esteem variable and changes in
mood, F(l, 57) = 5.8, p = .02. R2 = .09.

91
Hypothesis #4: In the upward comparison condition, persons high in self-esteem
will experience greater boost in mood at Time 2 than persons who are low in self-esteem
in the same condition.
• In the upward comparison condition, participants high in self-esteem will
display an increase in mood from Time 1 to Time 2.
• In the upward comparison condition, low self-esteem people will not show an
increase in mood from Time 1 to Time 2.
Life Satisfaction
The analysis of the data obtained in the upward comparison condition revealed a
significant main effect of self-esteem on perceptions of life satisfaction, F( 1,41) — 29.5, p
< .0001. Perceptions of life satisfaction did not change as a function of time, F(l, 41) =
.44, p =.51. Nor was an interaction found for level of self-esteem and changes in the life
satisfaction scores taken at Time 1 and Time 2, F (1, 41) = .78, p = 38.^
Table 4-3: Changes in life satisfaction as a function of self-esteem within the upward
comparison condition.
Time
Self-Esteem
Time 1
Time 2
Low
127.26 a
129.6 a
(n = 18)
(SD= 16.3)
Ü
II
is
High
146.4 b
146.1 b
3
II
NJ
(SD= 12.6)
(SD= 15.0)
Note: Means with different subscripts across rows and down columns differ at p < .05
15 Regression analysis also did not show a significant relationship between self-esteem
and change in life satisfaction, F (1, 41) =2.03, p =16

92
Analysis of the time variable did not reveal main effects of changes in life
satisfaction scores as a result of comparisons and exposure to upward targets (refer to
Table 4-3).
Mood
Data suggest that both low and high self-esteem persons reported feeling an
enhancement of mood as a function of time, F (1,36) = 21.9, p < .0001.16 Comparisons
of the means obtained at Time 1 and Time 2 revealed that low self-esteem people felt
better after watching an upward target, t(17) = -2.5, p < .01, as did high self-esteem
people, t(23) -4.9, p < .0001.
Table 4-4: Changes in mood as a function of self-esteem within the upward comparison
condition
Time
Self-Esteem
Low
18.3 a
20.2b
(n = 18)
7/3
Ü
II
(SD = 3.1)
High
18.7a
20.9 b
(n = 24)
(SD= 1.9)
(SD = 2.5)
Overall Means
18.5 a
20.6 c
7/2
Ü
II
b\
(SD = 2.5)
Note: Means with different subscripts across rows and down columns differ at p < .05
Overall, data obtained in the upward comparison condition found that comparison
with successful targets enhanced mood states (refer to Table 4-4). Contrary to hypothesis
four, this effect occurred for both low and high self-esteem people.
16 Regression analysis of the standardized esteem scores and differences in mood from
Time 1 to Time 2 revealed a Beta weight of .14, F (1,41) = 4.19, p =.05. R2 = .10.

93
Research Question: Is a Downward Social Comparison Moderated by Self-Esteem
and Type of Feedback?
Do downward comparisons occur most when individuals self-esteem is
threatened? According to research, “downward comparison is primarily a habit of
people who are ‘most unhappy’ and is most likely to occur when they have experienced a
‘decrease in subjective well-being’” (Gibbons, 1986, p. 146). The literature on self¬
enhancement, however, does not clearly show that the tendency to engage in downward
comparison is more evident after participants receive negative feedback (Wood, Taylor,
& Lichtman, 1985).
Table 4-5: Changes in life satisfaction scores as a function of type of threat and level of
self-esteem within the downward comparison condition.
Feedback
Positive
Negative
No Feedback
Self-
Esteem
11
12
11 12
11
12
Low
147.5
149.6
145.9 144.4
149.5
152.8
(2.1)
(-1.5)
(2,2)
n= 11
n =8
n = 6
High
172.9
179.4
168.4 171.2
169.5
174.8
(6.5)
(2.8)
(5.3)
n= 10
n= 11
n = 6
Note: Values enclosed in parentheses represent the overall mean change score.
Results obtained in the present study also failed to support the prediction that
downward comparisons were affected by threats to self-esteem. As reflected in Table 4-

94
5, the expected interaction of Self-Esteem, Feedback, and Time was not significant within
the downward comparison condition, F (2, 53) =.13,p =.876. 17
Effects of Threat and Downward Comparison on Mood
A planned comparison was used to test the effects of threat and downward
comparison targets on low self-esteem persons. This analysis also did not reveal the main
effects of time or the expected interaction among Self-Esteem, Feedback, and Time, F (2,
36) = .69, p =.509 (refer to Table 4-6). It appears as if threat did not affect the outcomes
of a downward social comparison.
Table 4-6: Effects of Threat and Downward Comparison Targets on Mood States
Feedback
Positive
Negative
No Feedback
Self-
Esteem
11
T2
T1 12
11
12
Low
17.8
21.4
19.4 18.5
18.8
20.4
(1.9)
(-2.6)
(2.4)
n= 11
n =8
n = 6
High
18.5
20.9
19.2 20.9
18.4
20.9
(2.7)
(1.7)
(2.4)
n= 10
n= 11
n = 6
Note: Values enclosed in parentheses represent the overall mean change score.
17 Regression analysis was conducted to further examine the effects of threat and self¬
esteem on life satisfaction and mood states. Analysis did not reveal a positive or negative
association of the effects of threat and self-esteem on changes in life satisfaction state,
F(2, 54) = 2.7, p =.08. Nor was an association found for mood, F(2, 54) = 2.7, p =.07. In
addition, regression analysis did not reveal other significant effects of threat on specific
domains of life satisfaction and mood states (all p > .6)

95
Additional Analyses
Perceived Similarity of the Target
Wills (1991) argued that increases in positive affect as a result of downward
comparison processes depend on similarity. Downward comparison, he argues, should
only occur when a person is making a comparison with a similar other. It is very possible
that similarity and relevance of the problem the target guest was discussing on the show
had a significant effect on the outcome of the comparison. Further analysis of the
experimental data was conducted in order to determine the moderating role of similarity
and personal relevance on the effects of downward comparison.
To examine the relationship between the nature of the comparison target and the
similarity and relevance dimensions, a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was
conducted with level of self-esteem (high or low) and type of comparison (upward or
downward) as the independent variables. The analysis revealed that perceptions of the
similarity of the talk show guest and the personal relevance of the show’s topic depended
upon whether the target was portrayed as competent (upward) or incompetent
(downward), all p < .001.
Participants were asked to indicate overall how similar or dissimilar the guest was
to their self-perceptions. The response scale ranged from 1 = very similar to 7 = very
dissimilar. Participants in the downward comparison condition found the guest to be
more dissimilar (n = 59, M = 6.7, SD = .88) than guests in the upward condition (n = 42,

96
M = 5.4, SD = 1.8), F( 1, 89) = 20.0, £ < .0001. On the whole, participants in this study
found the guests to be fairly dissimilar (n =101. M = 6.1, SD = 1.5).
Data analysis also indicated that self-esteem did not influence perceptions of the
guest’s similarity, F(l, 89) = .51, £ = .48. Nor was there a Self-Esteem x Comparison
interaction F[l, 89) = .40, £ = .53. It appears then that subjects’ ratings on the similarity
of guest dimension were different as a function of the guest and comparison condition.
Interest in the Topic or Issue
Did interest in the television talk show segment differ with respect to the type of
comparison and/or level of self-esteem? Data were subjected to a 2 (self-esteem: high or
low) x 2 (comparison opportunity: upward or downward) ANOVA, using a measure of
interest in the topic as the dependent variable. On a response scale that ranged from 1 =
very interesting to 7 = very uninteresting, participants were asked to indicate “How
interesting was the topic or issue being discussed on the show to you?.”
The analysis did not show significant main effects of self-esteem on interest in the
show’s topic, F (1, 89) = .73, £ =.39. This finding suggests that self-esteem did not
influence the viewer’s level of interest in the show. Data analysis also did not reveal a
significant interaction among self-esteem, comparison condition, and interest in the show
F (1, 89) = .000, £ =.99. Thus, it must be noted that the four groups, high and low self¬
esteem people in the upward and downward comparison conditions, did not differ in
terms of their interest in the show. For these reasons, it appears that neither self-esteem
or the type of comparison target affected or influenced interest in the show. In particular,
data obtained in this study seem to suggest that participants found the topic which was

97
discussed on the shows to be moderately uninteresting (n = 101, M = 4.5, SD = 2.0).
This effect of interest in topic was not moderated by type of comparison or whether it was
an upward or downward target.
Personal Relevance
Personal relevance was measured by asking respondents to indicate (on a scale
from 1 to 7, with 1 = very irrelevant and 7 = very relevant), “How relevant was the talk
show topic to you and your present life circumstances?” Main effects were not found for
relevance of the topic and self-esteem, p = .99. Instead, a significant main effect of the
comparison condition on the subject’s perception of the show’s relevance was discovered
F(1, 89) = 6.4, p < .01. Individuals in the downward comparison condition found the
topic to be more irrelevant (M = 1.7, SD = 1.6) than those people in the upward
comparison condition (M = 2.7, SD = 2.1). These data suggest that respondents in this
study found the topic to be fairly irrelevant when compared to their own personal
circumstances.
Relationship Among Similarity, Relevance, and Interest
Did similarity, relevance, or interest in the guest play a role in responses to the
show? Change scores were determined by subtracting the life satisfaction and mood score
obtained at Time 2 from the scores obtained at Time 1. Pearson correlations were
calculated to determine the relationships among several variables from the perceptions of
similarity with the target to interest in the talk show topic to the personal relevance of the
problem under discussion.

98
Data analysis revealed a positive relationship for similarity and interest in the
topic, (n_=101, r =,41, p < .0001). It appears, then, that when the guest was perceived as
being similar, participants found the show to be more interesting than when watching a
dissimilar guest. Data analysis revealed a negative relationship between perceived
relevance and interest in the show’s topic (r = -.37, p < .0001), suggesting that even when
the participants of the study participants found the show’s topic to be very irrelevant, they
still perceived the show to be fairly interesting.
Table 4-7: Correlates of comparison dimensions on changes in life satisfaction and
mood.
Better or
Worsea
Problem
Severity
b
Interestc Relevance
Similarity2
Changes in
life
satisfaction
Chgs in
Mood
Better
-.15
.03 .13
_33***
-.08
-.01
Problem
Severity
-.17 -.11
.15
.08
.02
Interest
-.37***
.32**
.04
.002
Relevance
79***
-.08
-.15
Similarity
.11
.22*
Change in
life
satisfaction
.03
Note: Effect sizes are observed r values. * Indicates statistical significance at the p < .05,
** p < .001 level, *** p < .0001
a = How much better or worse would [you] handle a similar problem response scale, 1=
much better to 7 = much worse.
b = perceptions of guests problem severity scale, 1 = serious to 7 = insignificant
c = interest scale, 1 = very interesting to 7 = very uninteresting
d = relevance scale, 1 = very irrelevant to 7 = very relevant.
e = similarity scale, 1 = very similar to 7 = very dissimilar

99
Correlational analysis also revealed a significant relationship between the
similarity variable and relevance of the topic or problem (r = .79, p < .0001), suggesting
that when viewers found the guest to be similar, they also thought that the problem under
discussion very irrelevant (refer to Table 4-7). Thus, the more dissimilar the talk show
guest, the more relevant the topic was for viewers.
The most interesting relationship was found between the perceptions of the
guest’s coping success and the participant’s self-perceptions of coping success.
Participants were asked “Given the way (guest’s name) has handled the problem, how
much better or worse would you handle a similar problem if you were in a similar
situation?” The response scale ranged from 1 = much better to 7 = much worse. As
Table 4-7 reflects, it appears as if the more dissimilar participants found the guest to be,
the better they felt they would handle a similar problem (r = -.33, p < .001). The more
similar the guest, respondents indicated that they would handle a similar problem much
worse than the guest portrayed on the talk show. It is also possible that viewers felt they
would handle the problem better than the guest in the downward comparison condition.
Did perceptions of the guest’s similarity, relevance and interest in the show’s
topic affect changes in mood and life satisfaction? As the data in Table 4-7 shows, a
relationship was not found for level of guest’s similarity, personal relevance, interest in
the show, and changes in life satisfaction (all p > .5). A relationship was found, however,
for mood. A positive relationship was found between the overall perceived similarity of
the guest and a change in mood from Time 1 to Time 2 (r = .22, p < .05). This
relationship between change in mood score and similarity of the guest suggests that

100
participants felt better after seeing a media image they perceived to be similar to their
self-perceptions.
Could perceptions of similarity, level of interest in and relevance of the show’s
topic have affected the data obtained in and results of the upward comparison condition?
Is it possible that perceived similarity of a “successful” competent coper influenced the
overall change in life satisfaction scores? That is, how did similarity of the guest affect
or influence life satisfaction? If research on upward comparison is correct, it is possible
that the more similar the target and the more personally relevant the topic, the more
participants could have cognitively attempted to “avoid” any or all negative consequences
of the upward comparison.
To determine if this relationship occurred in the upward comparison condition, a
correlational analysis was run on the data obtained when participants were exposed to the
competent, “upward” target. In the upward comparison condition, the relationship
between the better or worse variable and the similarity variable was r = -.28, p =.07.
While this effect did not reach statistical significance, it is possible that when viewers
found upward targets to be similar and the topic to be personally relevant, the
combination of these two factors may have encouraged viewers to protect their egos and
maintain more positive self-views and concepts (Tesser, 1991).
Evidence of the Impact of Social Comparison on Domains of Life Satisfaction
Downward Comparison
Did upward and downward targets encourage viewers to make comparisons on
surrounding dimensions of life satisfaction? And, if so, what dimensions or domains

101
were most affected by the comparison process? Recall that, after exposure to downward
targets, data analysis revealed that high self-esteem people experienced a boost in
perceptions of life satisfaction. It is possible that the downward comparison process may
have encouraged a comparison in which high self-esteem people compared their life
situations with the talk show guest and this global comparison could have affected other
attributes or dimensions of life satisfaction.
Between-Subjects Main Effects
A repeated measures ANOVA was conducted in the downward comparison
condition in order to determine how the 10 dimensions of life satisfaction were affected
or unaffected by the independent variables. The ANOVA revealed a significant main
effect of self-esteem for the confluence domain, F (1, 57) = 23.8, p < .0001. Level of
self-esteem, however, was not found to interact with changes in the confluence scores
taken at Time 1 and Time 2, F(l,57) = .12, p =.74. Main effects of level of self-esteem
were also found for the following domains of life satisfaction: Optimism, F(l, 56) = 31.4,
P < .0001; Self-efficacy , F(l, 57) = 17.6, p < .0001; Social support F(l, 57) = 20.9, p <
.0001; Social interest, F(l, 57) =5.87, p < .01; Cheerfulness, F(l, 57) = 8.4, p < .001;
Freedom, F(l, 56) = 12.4 , p < .001; and Thought clarity, F(l, 55) = 31.0, p < .0001.18
Main effects of time (i.e., changes in confluence scores taken at Time 1 and Time
2) were also obtained, F (1, 57) =27.2, p < .0001. These data suggest that participants felt
their lives were more on track and headed in the right direction after exposure to the
18 Results for the main effects obtained for 2 domains, self-esteem and mood, will not be
reported in this section as they have been previously discussed.

102
downward targets. Means presented in Table 4-8 suggest that in the downward
comparison condition, both low and high self-esteem people reported greater satisfaction
and happiness with the direction of their lives after being exposed to the incompetent
targets. A post hoc comparison was conducted on level of self-esteem and changes in
confluence at Time 1 and Time 2 . Data analysis revealed that low self-esteem people
reported feeling greater satisfaction with life at Time 2, F(l,31) = 10.4, p <.001, as did
high self-esteem people, F (1, 26) = 20.2, p < .0001.
Table 4-8: Changes in life satisfaction domains as a function of self-esteem within the
downward comparison condition.
Level of Self-Esteem
Low Self-Esteem
High Self-Esteem
Domains
T1
T2
T1
T2
Confluence
13.3a
14.1b
15.9C
16.9d
Optimism
16.2 a
16.4 a
18.7 b
18.5 b
Self-esteem
15.7 a
15.8 a
18.2 b
18.4 b
Self-efficacy
16.0 a
16.0 a
17.9 b
17.9 b
Social Support
13.6 a
14.4 a
16.9b
17.5 b
Social Interest
17.7 a
17.5 a
18.3 b
18.9 c
Cheerfulness
14.7 a
14.9 a
16.0 b
16.9 c
Freedom
13.4 a
13.5 a
15.4 b
16.1 c
Thought-Clarity
14.3 a
14.8 a
17.3 b
17.5 b
Note: Means with different subscripts across rows differ at p < .05.
A main effect of time was also found for the cheerfulness domain, F(l, 57) = 5.4,
P =.03. High self-esteem people reported feeling more good-natured and patient after

103
exposure to the downward targets. Comparisons further revealed that high self-esteem
people felt more cheerful and friendly after exposure to the downward targets F_(l, 26) =
6.4, p < .01. For low self-esteem people, however, post hoc data analysis revealed that
the cheerfulness domain of life satisfaction remained relatively unaffected after exposure
to downward targets, F (1, 31) = .79, p = .4.
Another life satisfaction domain affected by exposure to a downward comparison
target was the freedom domain, F(l, 57) =3.93, p =.05. Data indicate that viewers felt
more independent after watching incompetent guests. Comparisons of the row means
revealed that it was high self-esteem people who felt significantly more free and
independent after watching the downward targets, F (1, 26) = 5.6, p <. 05. No change
occurred for low self-esteem people, F (1, 31) = . 16, p = .7.
A final main effect of time was revealed for the thought-clarity domain of life
satisfaction. Data indicated that after watching the inferior, incompetent talk show guest,
both high and low self-esteem viewers reported feeling more clear- and level-headed at
Time 2 than they did at Time 1, F(l, 55) = 4.0, p =.05.
Interactions of Self-Esteem and the Dependent Variables
While a main effect of time was not found for the social interest variable, a two-
way significant interaction was obtained for level of self-esteem and time, F(l,57) = 8.27,
p < .001. It appears as if levels of self-esteem interacted with and modified the social
interest variable. A post hoc multiple regression analysis was then conducted in order to
decompose and understand this interaction.

104
Using multiple regression, changes in life satisfaction within each of the ten
domains served as the criterion by which the self-esteem predictor measure was
evaluated. Regression analysis revealed a positive linear relationship between level of
self-esteem and changes in the social interest domain of life satisfaction, F(l,57) = 14.1, p
< .001. The standardized beta was .45 suggesting that after exposure to downward targets
high self-esteem people felt more loving and sociable than did low self-esteem people, t
(1,57) =3.8, p < .001, R2 = .22.
Data analysis indicated that self-esteem had some impact on changes in specific
domains of life satisfaction after exposure to downward comparison targets. Contrary to
social comparison hypotheses, the group most affected by downward targets was high
self-esteem people. Data revealed that high self-esteem people felt better about their
lives, expressed more interest in getting to know people, felt more freedom and thought-
clarity after being exposed to a target who was described as being “incompetent” or
unable to cope with a particular problem in a personal relationship.
Upward Comparison
A repeated measures ANOVA was conducted in order to determine which of the
ten dimensions of life satisfaction were most affected or unaffected by upward targets.
As in the downward comparison condition, the major goal of this stage of data analysis
was to examine the domains of life satisfaction that were most affected versus those that
remained relatively unaffected by comparisons with the talk show guests (i.e., personal
relationships; optimism, social support, etc.).

105
Between-Subjects Main Effects
Table 4-9: Changes in life satisfaction domains as a function of self-esteem within the
upward comparison condition.
Level of Self-Esteem
Low Self-Esteem
High Self-Esteem
Domain
T1
T2
T1
T2
Confluence
13.7a
13.6a
17.0b
15.8b
Optimism
15.6 a
16.8 a
17-7 b
17.8 b
Self-esteem
15.2 a
15.5 a
18.0 b
17.9 b
Self-efficacy
15.1 a
15.4a
17.6b
18.0 b
Social Support
13.6 a
13.9 a
17.0b
16.9 b
Social Interest
15.8a
15.9 a
17.6 b
17.6 b
Cheerfulness
13.7 a
13.8 a
15.8 b
16.0 b
Freedom
13.7 a
13.8 b
15.3 a
15.4 a
Thought-Clarity
14.7a
14.8 a
15.9 b
16.2 b
with different subscripts across rows dif
rer at p < .05.
Data analysis revealed a significant main effect of self-esteem on Confluence, F
(1, 39) = 5.6, p < .05. Main effects of self-esteem were also found for the following
domains of life satisfaction: Optimism, F(l, 39) = 11.9, p < .001; Social support F(l, 40)
=16.0, e < .0001; Social interest, F(l, 40) =8.2 p < .01; Freedom, F(l, 38) = 4.2 , p < .05;
and thought clarity, F(l, 38) = 3.6, p =.05.19 Main effects were not found, however, for
other domains of life satisfaction (all p >.51).
19 Results for the main effects of the 2 life satisfaction domains, self-esteem and mood,
will not be reported as they have been previously discussed.

106
Unlike the findings obtained in the downward comparison condition, data analysis
conducted in the upward comparison condition revealed that exposure to upward targets
did not significantly affect the remaining nine life satisfaction domains (refer to Table 4-
9).20 No other significant main effects or interactions were found for time (i.e., changes
in these domains after exposure to upward targets), (all pf> .3)21
A Test of the Overall Experimental Design
Data were submitted to a 2 (self-esteem: high versus low) X 3 (feedback: positive,
negative or no feedback) X 2 (comparison condition: upward versus downward) X 2
(Time: Pre versus post test) analysis for the dependent variables of life satisfaction and
mood. The following section will discuss the major findings of this data analysis.
The overall factorial design of the present study assessed the effects of self-esteem
and feedback on the social comparison process. It was expected that under conditions of
downward comparison, persons who are low in self-esteem would experience greater
changes in mood and life satisfaction at Time 2 than would high self-esteem individuals.
High self-esteem individuals, on the other hand, were expected to experience greater
20 Mood, one of the 10 domains, has been excluded from this additional analysis.
21 A multiple regression was conducted on the data using the standardized esteem scores
as a predictor variable and the ten domains of life satisfaction as the criterion variables.
Data analysis revealed an unexpected negative association between self-esteem and
changes in optimism, F( 1,39) = 6.3, p =.02, R = .14. It appears as if low self-esteem
people felt more optimistic about the future than did people who were high in self¬
esteem. It is interesting to note that the upward targets both discussed overcoming a
problem with “low self-esteem.” In fact, one of the guests was quoted as saying, “now
I’m a better person. My self-esteem is higher than it was when I was with him.” This
may explain why low self-esteem people felt more optimistic; the upward target may
have informed LSE people that “things can get better.”

107
changes in mood and life satisfaction at Time 2 under conditions of upward comparison
than would low self-esteem individuals.
Table 4-10: Changes in Life Satisfaction as a Function of Comparison Condition and
Self-Esteem.22
Type of Comparison Condition
Upward
(n=42)
Downward
(n=59)
Self-Esteem
Time 1
Time 2
Time 1
Time 2
Low
146.2
149.6
147.9
149.6
(n=50)
High
167.4
168.3
170.3
175.0
(n=51)
Overall Mean
158.3
160.3
158.1
161.2
Note: * Denotes statistical significance at the p < .05 level.
Further analysis did not reveal the expected interaction among type of comparison
condition, self-esteem, and life satisfaction (refer to Table 4-11). That is, significant
changes in life satisfaction scores as a result of level of self-esteem and type of target
were not found, F(l, 81) =.19, p =.17. Based on theoretical assumptions of social
comparison theory, simple interactions of self-esteem and type of comparison target were
expected. While high and low self-esteem people were found to differ in their
perspectives and attitudes to life satisfaction, F (1, 81) = 51.74, p < .0001, a simple
interaction was not found. Low self-esteem people, when compared to high self-esteem
people, did not experience greater increases in life satisfaction after being exposed to
22 Numbers reflect overall score in life satisfaction. Maximum score on the life
satisfaction scale was 200.

108
downward targets. Furthermore, under conditions of upward comparison, high self¬
esteem people, according to the data, did not experience greater changes in life
satisfaction at Time 2 than people low in self-esteem, F( 1,81) = 1.37, p =.25.
Significant main effects of time or changes in life satisfaction from Time 1 to
Time 2 were found, F(l, 81) = 6.53, p = .01 (refer to Table 4-10). This evidence suggests
that participants felt much better about their life circumstances after being exposed to
both upward and downward comparison targets. This main effect of changes in life
satisfaction was further modified by an interaction between self-esteem and the type of
comparison condition, F(l, 81) = 3.21, p =.06. Consistent with the findings reported
earlier, data analysis revealed that one’s level of self-esteem and type of comparison
target affected perceptions of and changes in life satisfaction.
To determine how the means differed, two separate post hoc comparison tests
were conducted on the self-esteem variable; one test was done in the downward condition
and another was later conducted in the upward comparison condition. This post hoc
analysis was done so that the researcher could identify exactly where changes in life
satisfaction scores differed. Data analysis again revealed that when placed under
conditions of downward comparison, high self-esteem people experienced greater boosts
F(l, 26) = 9.40 p =.005 in life satisfaction than low self-esteem individuals, F(l, 23) =
.20, p =.658 in the upward comparison condition. This analysis, it should be noted, is
consistent with earlier findings: high self-esteem individuals experienced greater boosts
in mood and life satisfaction when confronted with downward targets.

CHAPTER 5
DISCUSSION
Social comparison theory predicts that when confronted by downward social
comparison opportunities, persons low in self-esteem will feel better about themselves.
Before discussing the implications of the results obtained in the present study, it may be
useful to review the original experimental predictions and assess how well the results
related to the expectations.
First, self-esteem was expected to influence the effects of social comparison.
Specifically, it was expected that low self-esteem persons would experience greater
boosts in mood and life satisfaction when confronted with downward comparison targets,
and high self-esteem individuals would benefit more from and experience greater changes
in mood when confronted with upward comparison targets. The findings, however, did
not support this hypothesis. It was, in fact, the high self-esteem individuals who felt
better after making downward comparisons when compared with low self-esteem
individuals. And high and low self-esteem individuals were not found to differ in their
responses to the upward comparison targets. While changes were not found in
perceptions of life satisfaction, changes in mood were experienced for both high and low
self-esteem individuals after watching an upward target.
Negative feedback also was expected to exacerbate the effects of a downward
social comparison. It was predicted that, under conditions of threat, persons who are low
109

110
in self-esteem would demonstrate a greater effect of a downward comparison. No
support was found for the expected relationship between threat and downward social
comparisons. Given the experimental evidence collected, threat apparently was not a
necessary precursor in order to magnify the tendency for persons to make self-enhancing
comparisons. The fact remains that both high and low self-esteem individuals both
showed evidence of mood enhancement under conditions of downward social
comparison.
In the following sections, each of these contradictory findings will be discussed in
greater detail. The discussion of alternative explanations will be followed by a brief
discussion of the limitations of the study along with a discussion of the theoretical and
societal implications of the present study. The chapter will then conclude with a
discussion of future directions for research in social comparison theory and media
consumption.
Alternative Explanations for the Findings
Experimental Method
Why did people who are high in self-esteem appear to benefit more from a
downward comparison? According to Wood and Taylor (1991), studies that find
evidence to support the notion that people who are low in self-esteem make fewer
downward comparisons typically employ evaluation or comparison ratings. Conversely,
studies finding evidence to support the notion that low self-esteem individuals make more
downward comparisons tend to employ measures that allow participants to select or

Ill
choose comparison targets. The results obtained in the present study are consistent with
Wood and Taylor’s (1991) hypothesis and alternative explanation for the contradiction in
findings.
Downward social comparison theory predicts that, compared to high self-esteem
people, low self-esteem individuals tend to engage in and show more evidence of a
downward comparison (Wills, 1981). The present study, however, found the opposite
relationship. This study found a significant relationship between high self-esteem and
self-enhancing effects after exposure to downward comparison targets. As previously
mentioned, this contradiction may be explained by the fact that low self-esteem
individuals were not afforded the opportunity to choose targets.
According to prior research, experimental procedures that allow low self-esteem
individuals to choose or select the target tend to yield results more consistent with prior
research because this methodology allows low self-esteem individuals to demonstrate
their preference for information about others who are worse off. In this study,
participants were not allowed to choose targets because program choice or preference for
comparison targets was not a focal part of the experimental manipulation.
The respondents employed in the present study were solicited to participate in a
study purportedly concerned with how well they thought they were adjusting to college
relative to the typical college student. This “cover story” essentially encouraged
participants to make comparisons with other college students. Furthermore, participants
were asked to identify common problems experienced by “the typical college student.”
Then they were asked to determine how well those common problems experienced by the

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average student related to problems they experienced or were presently experiencing. It
is exactly this experimental procedure, according to Wood and Taylor (1991), that almost
instantly makes high self-esteem persons, who already rate themselves fairly high,
enhance their claim(s) of superiority.
Self-Affirmation Theory
Self-affirmation theory might also be used to explain why high self-esteem people
experienced greater benefits after exposure to downward targets. It is possible that high
self-esteem people selectively attended to, recalled, and accepted information that
confirmed preexisting positive self-conceptions (Swann, 1990). The fact that high self¬
esteem people felt better after making downward comparisons when compared to low
self-esteem people may be explained by the fact that the information obtained from the
downward target was extremely discrepant from the self-concepts of high self-esteem
people. In other words, high discrepancies between the self-concepts of high self-esteem
people and characteristics of the comparison target (i.e., highly dissimilar, inferior,
incompetent, incapable, etc.) may have simply enhanced the desire for high self-esteem
people to self-enhance, a desire which was eventually brought to fruition and reflected in
their self-assessments of mood state and perceptions of life satisfaction after exposure to
the downward targets. Thus, when high self-esteem people watched the segment
featuring the downward talk show target, this aspect of the study allowed them to affirm
positive self-concepts and the benefit of this “affirmation of self’ was an increased
understanding of and perceived control over life situations (Steele, 1988).

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Both high and low self-esteem people experienced greater mood enhancement
after exposure to the upward targets. It is possible that some aspect of the upward target
(e.g., the problem, the success of the target, etc.) could have been threatening for the
target. To avoid the comparison, viewers may have constructed or distorted the social
information, projecting their own characteristics onto the TV talk show guest. Self-
affirmation theory contends that people will often cope with threats to self-esteem by
thinking of other unrelated more positive aspects of the self-concept. This then may also
explain why the upward comparison condition did not yield the same measurable impacts
(i.e., no significant changes in life satisfaction) like those obtained in the downward
comparison condition (i.e., increases in life satisfaction and mood).
Steele (1988) argues that when subjects are allowed to think about other areas of
their self-concepts that are important, threat will diminish and the self is subsequently
enhanced. One explanation for the fact that life satisfaction scores did not change as a
result of exposure to upward targets might be because participants of the study thought of
unrelated experiences and other positive aspects of their existing self-concepts, a
cognitive process that may have allowed them to affirm a more positive self-concept.
This process may have biased and distorted the social information transmitted by the
upward or superior target. This, then, may explain why life satisfaction and mood states
were not negatively affected by comparisons with upward (better off) others. Future
research could be used to examine whether or not people who are high in self-esteem are
motivated to watch TV talk shows by a desire to affirm existing self-concepts.

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Selective Attention and Biased Recall
Another reason high self-esteem people seem to benefit more from the downward
comparison could be that they selectively focused on and made comparisons based on
particular self-defining attributes. It is possible that motivations biased the thinking
processes of high and low self-esteem people (Kunda, 1990). Thus, high self-esteem
people chose to socially compare on attributes or dimensions that made them appear and
feel more advantaged (Taylor & Brown, 1988; Wood, 1989). Thus, the incompetent,
inferior targets could have motivated high self-esteem people to search memory for
beliefs and self-concepts that enhance their existing claims of superiority
High self-esteem people may have recalled more of their past successes than
failures, and they could have used this knowledge in order to complete the comparison
rating measures after exposure to dissimilar, inferior comparison targets (Kunda, 1990).
Data obtained suggest that high self-esteem people selectively focus on dimensions that
seem to be related to positive attributes of high self-esteem people (i.e. friendly, feeling in
control, confident in ability to maintain and sustain social relationships). Prior beliefs
about themselves, their efficacy, as well as control over their future may have biased high
self-esteem people to enhance their claims of superiority (Taylor & Brown, 1988).
According to Taylor and Brown (1988), “people generally select, interpret, and recall
information to be consistent with their prior beliefs” (p. 202).
Idiosyncratic Needs
Research suggests that reactions to entertaining programs can be positive or
negative, depending on an individual’s idiosyncratic needs (Zillman & Bryant, 1986;

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Zuckerman, 1979). Under this assumption, it is possible to speculate that TV talk shows
may help viewers maintain or affirm their positive self-evaluations. For this group of
people, TV talk shows, it can be hypothesized, produce a type of excitement that helps
high self-esteem people feel better about their own lives and circumstances.
The Effects of Upward Comparisons on Subjective Well-Being
Upward comparisons, according to social comparison literature, should occur
when the dimension under evaluation is relevant, highly desired, and when the individual
is highly motivated to achieve a goal (Wood & Taylor, 1991). Research further suggests
that upward comparisons are impossible to avoid, and, high self-esteem people will
typically make upward comparisons to enhance self-esteem.
Previous studies on social comparison suggest that high self-esteem participants
will display greater evidence of self-enhancement only under conditions of upward
comparison. However, the present study found little evidence to support this notion.
Why? Again, the reason that the present study did not find support for the effects of
upward social comparisons has to do with methodological issues and procedures
involving comparison or evaluative rating measures (Collins, 1996).23
Selection of Versus Reaction to Comparison Targets
The results obtained in the present study addressed only the occurrence of upward
and downward comparisons and not the preference regarding the content of information.
Perhaps if the study had allowed participants to choose the target and talk show, low self-
23 See previous discussion explaining differences in experimental procedures that allow
participants to select targets or use comparative rating measures.

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esteem individuals would have selected the downward guest and the high self-esteem
individuals would have selected the upward talk show target. Wood and Taylor (1991),
however, argue that the literature and research on social comparison process tends to
focus on and overemphasize affiliation for and selection of comparison targets.
The selection approach, according to Wood (1996), is the most frequently used
procedure employed in social comparison research. Selection studies focus on identifying
the comparison targets people prefer and choose to affiliate with. Social comparison
researchers utilizing this approach expect to answer questions like “With whom do people
compare themselves?” and “Under what conditions do people seek comparisons?”
(Wood, 1996). Research procedures generally involve threatening one’s self-esteem.
After the threat manipulation, participants are then allowed to select or choose his or her
preferred comparison target. The researcher then evaluates the participant’s self-reported
preference and concludes that a social comparison has occurred. However, according to
Wood (1996), studies that force participants to seek, select, or identify preferred
comparison targets do not accurately reflect the cognitive processes (i.e., the extent to
which people think about the social information or how the react to social information)
involved in social comparison research.
One strength of the present study is that it focused on the effects of and reactions
to a forced or encountered social comparison target. And as a result, the researcher took
a different experimental approach and focused on and encouraged participants to make
comparative ratings before and after presentation of a comparison target. Future research
in the area of mass media messages could incorporate a selection approach along with

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procedures to assess effects of social information. How different would the data obtained
in the present study be, for instance, if low self-esteem people were allowed to select the
talk show target and segment?
Positive Instance Hypothesis
If participants made comparisons with the upward targets, the comparison target
probably served more as a positive reminder of the attribute in question (Thornton &
Arrowood, 1966). The “positive instance” hypothesis refers to the notion that an
individual can understand an attribute better by looking at and evaluating someone else
who is better on some attribute. Upward comparison targets in the present study may
have reminded the viewers of a similar experience or desire and this reminder could have
offered a type of inspiration or warm feelings, but not a motive for a comparison
involving self-enhancement or ego-protection. Thus, the upward targets employed in the
present study may not have held the type of inspiration that motivated people to feel
inferior and ultimately change or replicate the same goals or behavior. The fact still
remains that the upward comparison condition did not have the expected negative effect
on mood and life satisfaction for persons high or low in self-esteem.
Characteristics of the Target
According to Collins (1996), upward comparisons should negatively influence
mood when one feels inferior to the target. Moreover, research on upward comparison
suggests that upward comparisons are most likely to occur when the dimension under
evaluation is relevant, highly desired, and when the individual is highly motivated to
achieve a goal. Recall that the dimension under evaluation was fairly irrelevant for

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participants in the present study. And, in addition, it should be noted that when the
dimension under evaluation was fairly relevant, participants found the targets to be very
dissimilar. This finding, therefore, implies that individuals in this study may not have
been motivated to achieve or replicate the behaviors of the upward target.
The study found that, for the most part, participants did not feel inferior to the
upward target, which may suggest why a negative mood change was not observed in the
upward comparison condition. According to the literature, upward comparison targets
produce positive affect in the form of positive mood change when people are fairly
satisfied with the self (Taylor and Lobel, 1989). This explanation is therefore consistent
with the findings of the present study. Evidence obtained in the present study shows that
exposure to better-off others may not have a negative impact as some theorists might
believe. Instead, the present study illustrates that upward targets can have a positive
impact on mood without hurting a person’s mood or global cognitions toward life
satisfaction.
Negative Feedback and the Downward Social Comparison Process
When individuals low in self-esteem perceive that they are experiencing problems
which are changeable and/or controllable, downward comparisons will increase self¬
esteem and subjective well-being evaluations. Specific personal problems experienced
by the sample were not measured. This fact could explain differences in the way high
and low self-esteem people responded to downward comparison targets. It is possible that
high self-esteem people viewed relationship problems as more internally controllable than
low self-esteem people. Future research could manipulate the talk show topic and

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provide a specific problem that centers around school work, including grades and
budgeting study time, as well as relationship difficulties.
Research in this area could explore the extent to which personal relevance,
problem severity, and similarity moderate the effects of social comparison process.
Responses might have been significantly different if the experiment included a very
specific “college-life” program. Consider how different the responses would have been in
the upward comparison condition if, for example, the upward target was described as
getting better grades than the participants. By adding and examining the types of
problems people experienced, there is a possibility that differences in the problems
experienced by people high and low in self-esteem would lead to a difference in the way
people responded to the upward and downward targets.
Limitations of the Study
Experimental people were randomly assigned to treatments and some individuals
did not show up for the experiment that was scheduled for them. Attrition might have
affected the study in that the individuals who did not show up for the experiment could
have differed in some way from the people who completed the study. Did the nature of
persons remaining in the experiment differ between conditions? Analysis was conducted
the tested whether or not the percentage of attrition was equal in all groups. Results
indicated that attrition did not differ across groups, which further leads to the conclusion
that bias in that aspect was controlled, and that forces leading to attrition were basically
of the same degree in all the experimental groups (Cook & Campbell, 1979).

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There are other limitations of the study that warrant discussion. First, the sample
was fairly small. Low power and small cell sizes may have resulted in an inability to
observe true differences existing in the population, particularly in the data analysis and
conclusions on the effects of threat on downward social comparison.
A second limitation concerns the nature of the sample studied. The sample was
taken from one college within a large university. This sample is not representative of all
television talk show viewers. One might expect those who attend college to be more
motivated to engage in a type of social comparison (i.e. downward, upward, or lateral)
than those who do not (i.e. housewives, teenagers, etc.). Thus, the selection biases that
affect the nature of the present sample are due to self-esteem, in that low self-esteem
participants in this study may not adequately represent individuals who are actually low
in self-esteem (i.e. scores lower than the mean of 42).
A third limitation of the study concerns the number and type of talk shows
employed in the study. It is difficult to determine from the present study whether
downward social comparisons will occur when watching other TV talk shows (i.e. Oprah,
Sally Jessy Raphael, Rosie O’Donnell) or if the effect was specific to the talk shows used
in the study (i.e., Jenny Jones and Ricki Lake), or the topics from the shows that were
selected.
Another limitation might be found in the complicated experimental stimuli; the
TV talk show segment. Did viewers actually engage in a social comparison with the
guest or were other factors working for or against the social comparison process? It is
possible that after exposure to the talk show segments, participants’ mood may have

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improved and affected the comparative and mood ratings. This effect could have
occurred despite any type of social comparison with the guest.
Other features of the TV talk show also may have distorted and painted a
misleading picture of the effects of the social comparison process (Wood, 1996). For
example, this study used comparison targets who were complete strangers to the
participants. This aspect may have lead to an effect that is very different from
comparisons people make with friends and relatives (Wheeler & Miyake, 1992).
However, according to some social comparison theorists, a social comparison “does not
require direct, personal contact with a specific other person ... even fictional characters
[media images] may represent meaningful standards of comparison” (Wood, 1996, p.
522).
It is worth noting that, although extreme measures were taken to select segments
that focused on and attempted to encourage participants to engage in a comparison with
the guest, each of the talk show segments featured many emotional outbursts from
audience members, interactions with and sometimes negative feedback from the TV talk
show host, interactions with and criticisms from other panel members.
The emotional outburst from audience members from time to time may have also
influenced viewer affective response to the content or topics of television talk shows.
Audience reactions to media images also “explains why ludicrous laugh tracks in
comedies have worked for so long; if others are laughing, we are more prone to find the
situation funny ourselves” (Abt & Mustazza, 1997, p. 40). Future research could explore
the effects of audience reactions and responses to talk show guests on attitudes and self-

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perceptions of viewers. It is possible that the audience, people who, according to Abt and
Mustazza (1997), are made to believe that they are somehow different from and superior
to the guests, may have encouraged viewers to avoid or even distort the social
comparison with the guest. It is highly speculative, but possible that the studio audience
encouraged high self-esteem people to engage in a downward social comparison, a
comparison which allowed them to enhance their existing claims of superiority.
It may also be speculated that a viewer’s admiration for the host could affect
viewer affective response to the content. The ability of the host to interact with the
audience and guests in a familiar way might influence attitudes toward the show. Talk
show hosts such as Oprah, Ricki Lake, and Jerry Springer are popular because, according
to Abt and Mustazza (1997), they appear interested, knowledgeable, concerned, sensitive,
and are ‘appropriately’ upset with guests. These qualities might also affect mood states
and other responses to the TV talk show. To test effects of the audience, talk show host,
and other factors on social comparison processes, future studies could, for example,
experimentally manipulate camera angles or edit versions of the talk show.
Theoretical Implications
“Encountering a television program about a fellow victim, a newspaper story
about a fellow victim, or a second-hand story recounted by a friend or relation,
[individuals] may be virtually forced to use this social comparison information for
self-evaluation because it is the only information available.” (Taylor, Buunk,
Aspinwall, 1990 , p. 81.)

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Uses and Gratifications of Media Consumption
Research on media uses and gratifications has been criticized for its heavy
reliance on surveys or other measurement instruments that ask people to subjectively
report on their media experiences. The present study employed an experimental research
approach in order to explain uses and gratification of watching TV talk shows. The
strength of this study for the field of mass communications lies in its ability to provide
empirical support for the entertainment motive of the uses and gratifications paradigm.
One contribution this study makes is that it identifies the effects of television
content on individual viewers. In a society where people are extremely busy, some
people are never too busy to watch their favorite television show(s). This study may be
used to explain the gratifications obtained from viewing certain media content, namely
TV talk shows on viewer attitudes and mood states.
Rubin (1994) stated that future research on uses and gratifications of media should
focus on answering questions concerning the specific information audience needs and the
various ways these needs may vary among different groups, situations, and social
conditions. The present research provides this information by identifying specific
gratifications obtained from viewing television talk shows programs.
Critics of the uses and gratifications approach argue that research using this
theoretical paradigm often replicate the conclusions and findings of published studies.
Critics also argue that the information contained in the published articles on uses and
gratification tend to show and conclude that most media content fulfills audience needs
for information, entertainment, relaxation, escape, passing time, and parasocial

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interaction. The problem with these studies becomes crystal clear: can one TV program,
for instance, fulfill all six needs at the same time? Data provided in the present study
suggests that one gratification obtained from watching television talk shows is an overall
positive feeling (i.e. entertainment) about their own personal circumstances.
Since much of the content on television talk shows involves tragic events or
trashy topics, the evidence contained in the present study offers one explanation for why
viewers continue to watch this type of media content. The study offers some evidence to
support the idea that viewers may like watching the misfortunes or problems others are
experiencing. Perhaps this is because the information can be used to provide viewers
with an opportunity to rejoice or feel better about their own personal relationships and/or
problems.
The information contained in this research is important for mass media
researchers, network programmers, as well as uses and gratifications theorists. Not only
does the data help to describe who watches what, but the results also provide an
explanation for why people watch the shows they do.
When talk show viewers are asked “Why do you watch TV talk shows,” most will
say that they watch these programs to feel good, for information, or to forget about
problems (Frisby & Weigold, 1994). In fact, regular viewers of TV talk shows tend to
believe that television talk shows provide information that helps them learn about the
world and other newsworthy events or situations. The results obtained in the present
study clearly provide support for the notion that TV talk shows provide information. But
data obtained in the study seem to suggest that the information obtained from talk shows

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helps people to evaluate their own life and problems, and this information simply helps
them feel better about their own lives and personal problems.
Affective Regulation and Media Use
Perceptions of life satisfaction and mood for individuals high and low in self¬
esteem became much more positive over time only when people were confronted with
downward social comparison targets as opposed to upward targets. Change in life
satisfaction was evident on the overall satisfaction measure, including evaluations of
mood and affect. Affect was enhanced for viewers after seeing the misfortune of others.
The prediction that the effect would be stronger among low self-esteem
individuals was not supported, however. Instead both high and low self-esteem
individuals showed more evidence of mood elevation or boosts in life satisfaction after
downward comparisons. There are several important theoretical implications of this
finding. First, enhancement of mood after viewing talk show guests might provide
support for the idea that frequent viewing of “trashy” TV talk shows is simply a type of
“enjoyable entertainment” for viewers. Watching a television show about the misfortune
of another seems to have played a significant role in altering the self-perceptions of life
satisfaction for all participants of the study. These results offer further support for the
idea that comparison targets portrayed in the media may affect the life satisfaction and
mood states of some kinds of people.
The Prevalence of Everyday Social Comparisons
“People are ambivalent about downward social comparison because it presents
conflict with normative prescriptions” (Wills, 1991, p. 53). Research suggests that one

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result of downward comparisons is an increase in subjective well-being. “Simply put,
this basic principle of downward comparison theory suggests that people should feel
better about their own situation or about themselves if they find out there are others who
are worse off’ (Gibbons & Gerrard, 1991, p. 318). The data obtained in the present study
imply that everyday encounters with media images may provide viewers with social
information, information that encourages them to think about the information and engage
in an automatic, spontaneous social comparison that ultimately effects mood and other
aspects of subjective well-being (Wheeler & Reis, 1991; Wheeler & Miyake, 1992). The
information obtained in the present study could be used to better understand how
comparison processes in general operate in naturalistic, everyday media environments
(i.e., the effects of a passive or spontaneous social comparison with media images on
viewer attitude and affect) and how these comparisons affect individuals’ attitudes
(Wheeler & Miyake, 1992; Wills, 1991).
A study conducted on TV talk shows also found an increase in positive thoughts
for regular viewers (Frisby & Weigold, 1994). In their article, “Gratifications of Talk,”
the researchers concluded that viewers may have engaged in some type of downward
social comparison and that the TV talk shows could have provided viewers with an
opportunity to say, “Gee, I thought I had it bad. My life is not nearly as bad as those
people.” The data collected in the present study seems to provide some support for the
conclusions obtained in the Frisby and Weigold (1994) study: the social comparison
process may have encouraged the positive thoughts viewers expressed after watching TV
talk shows. The social information obtained from watching TV talk shows may

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encourage positive thoughts, thoughts which ultimately lead viewers to rejoice or
ultimately feel more optimistic about their own personal circumstances.
The Case for Dissimilar Others
Consistent with findings of Mettee and Smith (1977), the present study found that
dissimilar others are used for social comparison. Recall that most participants found the
guests to be fairly dissimilar when compared to their self-perceptions. The evidence that
dissimilar others provide viewers with self-enhancing information. Support for this idea
was revealed in the mood enhancing effects of the downward and upward comparison
conditions. After exposure to downward targets, both high and low self-esteem
individuals experienced significant changes in their perceptions of satisfaction with life
and affective states. It appears as if participants found greater enjoyment and satisfaction
after comparison with an inferior other who was dissimilar. This demonstrates that
watching inferior others might be encouraging and entertaining at the same time.
Factors Predicting Life Satisfaction
Emmons and Diener (1985) suggest that social comparison (i.e., the individual’s
perceptions of how he or she compares to others) is a major predictor of an individual’s
life satisfaction, particularly among college-aged students. In their article, the researchers
suggested that future research should “uncover the direction of influence between social
comparison and subjective well-being [life satisfaction]” (p. 162). The present study
found a positive influence of television talk show guests, particularly incompetent guests,
on life satisfaction scores for high self-esteem people.

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Evidence collected in the present study provides some reason to believe that
downward targets affected certain life satisfaction domains (i.e. confluence, freedom,
cheerfulness, affection for establishing and maintaining relationships with family and
friends), while upward targets affected other life satisfaction domains (i.e. efficacy and
optimism or hope for the future). While this conclusion is highly speculative and one
should use extreme caution in interpreting these results, the fact remains that under
conditions of downward comparison, high self-esteem people expressed greater
enhancement in five of the nine life satisfaction domains: mood, cheerfulness, freedom,
thought-clarity, and in the “social interest” life satisfaction domains. It is possible that
high self-esteem people chose to socially compare on these attributes because these may
be the attributes that affect self-esteem, but a comparison on these attributes seems to
have helped them feel more advantaged and superior than downward targets. Thus, when
high self-esteem people were exposed to a target who was described as being inferior and
having problems in a relationship, they reported feeling more independent, cheerful, and
happy about their own lives. And, more importantly, high self-esteem people reported
feeling much better about their personal relationships.
Conversely, low self-esteem people~a group that is very pessimistic about the
future and future success—seemed to be most affected after exposure to a target who was
described as overcoming a problem related to low self-esteem. This analysis revealed
the specific life satisfaction domains most vulnerable to comparison with downward and
upward targets. And, in addition, data also revealed the domains that remained relatively
unaffected after exposure to particular comparison targets. Based on the evidence

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collected in the present study, it seems reasonable to conclude that different comparison
targets elicit comparisons on different facets of life satisfaction.
For instance, data analysis provided some insights into why people high in self¬
esteem seem to benefit more from watching the incompetent, inferior talk show guests. It
may be speculated that the target guest elicited a comparison based on the life satisfaction
domain titled “social interest.” The research findings on the effects of level of self¬
esteem and downward comparison targets on the social interest domain of life satisfaction
variables suggest that high self-esteem people became more interested in other people and
developing a relationship with other people after watching a downward target who was
described as having a severe relationship problem. This finding appears to be consistent
with prior studies on social comparison and life satisfaction.
Consistent with research conducted by Emmons and Diener (1985), the present
study found some support evidence for the idea that life satisfaction domains for college
students center around relationships with family and friends (i.e. social support, social
interest, optimism, etc.). Data suggest that these life satisfaction domains may have
influenced the level of satisfaction and mood enhancement that was derived from
comparison targets. It is possible that participants in this study were happier after
exposure to talk show guests because they perceived that they were better off in their
relationships, and it was this comparison that produced the heightened life satisfaction
and mood scores for both high and low self-esteem people.
Future research could be used to determine or identify exact life satisfaction
domains in which people make comparisons with a diverse set of media images. For

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example, when viewers watch soap operas, research could determine if: a) this particular
type of media content elicits a social comparison, and if so, the directional preference (i.e.
upward, downward, or lateral). That is, are viewers most likely to be inspired to replicate
a behavior demonstrated by a particular media image (upward) or will they feel better
about themselves and their own personal relationships after exposure to other types of
media content (downward)? It is possible to speculate that various television programs
might elicit different social comparison processes. Thus, situation comedies may
encourage a more downward social comparison by making the audience members feel
better via portrayals of worse off others. And, on the other hand, local and world-wide
news shows could incite a social comparison, but the dimension of life satisfaction most
affected by the comparison process may be much different than the comparison
dimension elicited by the content of situation comedies.
Societal Implications
“In our information age it’s especially true that the messages we receive from the
various media we are exposed to require constant questioning. If we passively sit
back and receive unexamined messages, failing or refusing to consider not only
what is said to us but how and why, we are open to the grossest kinds of
manipulation, passing itself off as ‘entertainment’”(Abt & Mustazza, 1997, p. 83).
People use and are attracted to media. They read the newspaper daily, subscribe
to or purchase specific magazines, watch television, listen to the radio, and enjoying
using computers and laptops (i.e. particularly “large screens”). The media literally can
captivate millions of people at any given time and on any given day. Fascination with the
media can lead to a variety of societal (i.e., cultivation, agenda-setting, and spiral of

131
silence) and individual (i.e., development of materialistic and individualistic values,
aggression, violence, etc.) effects. Opponents of television talk shows believe very
strongly that these television shows negatively affect viewers and are potentially harmful
to society.
Research has revealed that among the most widely read items in the newspaper
are stories about accidents, accounts of disasters, and natural phenomena, crime stories,
and letters to the editor (i.e., Katz et al., 1973). Literature on audiences suggests that if a
news story is about a crime, tragedy, or an accident, it is more likely be read than if it is
about other more complicated issues (Zillman & Bryant, 1986). What motivates readers
to be fascinated with bad or tragic news? Do people use the information for social
comparison purposes or are media images of crime and violence cultivated in our minds?
Do these images overpower the social comparison process and result in perceptions of a
mean and cruel world? The present study suggests that viewers may be fascinated with
crimes, accidents, and stories of tragic events because the immediate effect of viewing
this type of content is pure self-enhancing entertainment.
Television Talk Shows Are “Infotainment”
The present research suggests that the entertainment function of television may
involve viewing the misfortunes of others. The data also indicates that social information
obtained from watching TV talk show guests might possibly elicit a social comparison
process, a process that provides “information” viewers use primarily to feel better about
themselves and their own lives.

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The study also suggests that television talk shows provide viewers with a type of
entertainment that boosts life satisfaction and mood states. Data obtained provides some
idea of the emotional by-products of being entertained: enhanced mood and life
satisfaction. This means that television talk shows may be consumed in part to help
viewers cognitively re-evaluate their own interpersonal problems and /or tensions. Thus,
as far as society is concerned, TV talk shows could have a more positive effect because, if
the data obtained in this study is correct, the shows may provide viewers with a type of
information that seems to enhance or change a negative mood state. Future research
should explore and examine the effects of individual differences in program preference
on the social comparison process (Bryant & Zillman, 1984; Wood, 1996). Research in
this area could determine if low self-esteem people deliberately seek out and select
media content to enhance or change negative or threatened mood states.
The Antisocial Effects of Watching TV Talk Shows
One could argue, on the other hand, that frequent exposure to television talk
shows has a more longitudinal, antisocial effect. It has been said that exposure to many
of the topics on these shows could set or change societal norms for standards of behavior
(i.e. encourage an adulterous affair, having numerous face lifts, etc.). Future research
should explore the long-term effects of frequent exposure to messages and content
portrayed on many of the popular TV talk shows. While the present study focused on the
immediate, short-term effects of watching a talk show, other studies could focus on the
long-term effects of TV talk shows on viewer self-concept, values, and perceptions of
reality.

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Research could explore whether or not viewing television talk shows makes one
more violent, more aberrant, and more antisocial. The present study has suggested that
frequent viewing and consumption of the information provided on television talk shows
merely may be a tool used to entertain viewers by making feel better about themselves.
That is, after watching television talk shows, viewers are likely to perceive their own life
situations as being relatively better and are relieved just to find out that there are others
who have worse problems.
Many television talk show hosts claim that guests on their shows help viewers
learn and inspire many of their loyal fans to overcome similar problems. It is not clear,
however, at what point viewers begin to feel a “psychological closeness” with target
guests and whether or not this closeness shifts the social comparison behavior from a
more passive comparison process to a comparison with similar others that colors their
perceptions of the show’s topic. That is, at what point do viewers change from feeling
better about their own lives to copying the behavioral patterns of the talk show guest?
Nonetheless, the study shows that there is good reason to believe that a relationship exists
between social comparison and media use, and it is this relationship that warrants future
research in the area of the effects of media exposure on consumer behavior.
The results from this study suggest that television talk shows may provide a social
comparison opportunity within which viewers can select upward and/or downward
comparisons. Such an opportunity can be used to facilitate downward evaluation and
self-enhancement. According to the present study, television talk shows can provide such
an opportunity. But it is possible that other programs may interact and provide an

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opportunity to engage in self-enhancement. Is it possible that media use, in particular
exposure to certain TV shows, is guided by a desire for self-enhancement?
Another societal implication of this finding is that it attempts to examine how
different groups of individuals are affected by mass media messages, particularly those
contained in TV talk shows. The data suggest, for example, that individual goals may
bias the social comparison process (Kunda, 1990). Thus, high self-esteem people may
not make comparisons with media images designed to answer questions focused on how
they are doing, but may simply make comparisons that suggest that they are doing well.
“People face information about others nearly constantly and they may be forced to
compare themselves, regardless of whether they desire comparisons” (Wood, 1996, p.
523). The strength of the present study is that it assumes that viewers, when forced with
social information obtained in mass media messages, viewers automatically compare
themselves, and the comparisons may occur spontaneously and effortlessly even when the
target is dissimilar (Wood, 1996).
The societal implications of this study are important. When asked why do they
watch TV talk shows, regular viewers of these programs often state that they do so
because they learn about important social issues and learn about things going on in the
world around them (Frisby & Weigold, 1994). The data obtained in the present study
suggests that the information viewers learn and obtain from watching TV talk shows may
be used primarily for self-enhancement. That is, people may not use the information to
imitate the behaviors of the guests, but simply may react to the topics or messages by
engaging in a subconscious social comparison that makes them feel better about who they

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are. This is highly speculative, and it is suggested that future research incorporate social
learning and social comparison theories in order to examine the long-term effects of
watching of talk shows on viewer behavior, self-concept, and perceptions of reality.
Future Directions
“A final issue is whether a model of self-enhancement through downward
comparison has utility for approaching phenomena that have not usually been
construed in social comparison terms, such as hostile humor, gossip, aggression,
vandalism, and effects of media on social behavior. Pursuit of questions about
how social comparison theory applies to these phenomena could be an interesting
endeavor” (Wills, 1991 ,k p. 74).
Using Downward Comparison to Explain Viewing of Humorous TV Shows
Downward social comparison theory may be used to explain why people like to
watch situation comedies and other comedic or humorous media content. Wills (1981)
speculated that embedded in humor are two paradoxical facts: a) the stimulus for humor
depicts common negative occurrences to a person, and b) the response to the stimulus is
positive affect. Therefore, the essence of humor, according to Wills (1981), is “to
provide a sophisticated way of presenting the occurrence of misfortune” (p. 263). Wills
goes on to argue that audiences simply may appreciate humor because of the focus humor
places on the misfortunes of other people.
Humor is a viable explanation for attraction and exposure to entertaining or funny
media content. Humor provides the viewing audience the opportunity to engage in
downward comparisons and to ease their own insecurities by making downward
comparisons with somebody else’s misfortune, frustration, and imperfections. That is the
basic fact of humor: it is conducted at someone else’s expense (Wills, 1981, p. 263). Few

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studies, if any, have explored the role that humor plays in downward social comparison.
Does an individual have to feel threatened to find certain jokes and comedic situations
funny? Or does the person have to feel insecure? What role does self-esteem play in
humor appreciation?
Consistent with Wills’ (1981) downward social comparison theory, it is possible
that watching situation comedies could elicit social comparisons. For instance, “Beavis
& Butthead,” “The Simpsons,” and “King of the Hill,” have all been said to appeal to
viewers with specific types of humor. These shows, according to media analysts, make
fun of political and social issues and tend to appeal to individuals with a “unique sense of
humor.” Is Wills (1981) correct when he postulated that humor provides a viewer with
the opportunity to engage in downward comparisons? Does humor help to ease
insecurities? Do people make downward comparisons with comedic content (i.e. comedy
shows, situation comedies, etc.), because these shows poke fun at a worse off other or
someone less fortunate and less perfect?
Social Comparison with Other Media
Why do people read “The National Inquirer,” “The Globe," and “The Star?" Do
people read these “trashy magazines” because they make them feel better about their self¬
perceptions and their own life situations? Or does it make them feel better to see similar
others fail and face tragedies? Does reading about another Elvis sighting by a local
resident, for example, make an audience member say, “And I thought I was abnormal, at
least I haven’t claimed to see Elvis!”

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In light of the Princess Diana tragedy, social comparison theory might be a useful
theory to explain motivation to read and audience fascination with tabloid media. The
fact that viewers experienced a significant boost in mood after witnessing the misfortune
of another person should provide some insights into explaining why consumers are
attracted to other “trash” or tabloid programs. As far as practical applications, social
comparison theory, in this sense, might be employed to shed some understanding of the
underlying psychological gratifications obtained from reading The National Enquirer and
other tabloids. Future research could determine whether or not social comparisons are
elicited by print media and uncover the effects, if any, of the social comparison.
Social comparison also could be elicited by talk radio. That is, listeners of
Howard Stem’s radio show may feel better about their values, opinions, and how they
feel about other issues that are discussed on this program. Future research could be used
to address gratifications obtained from frequent radio consumption and could determine if
social comparisons are elicited by talk radio.
"People define themselves in relation to others in their social environment"
(Wood, 1989, p. 233). The self-concept, according to Wood (1989), changes in the social
context. How does the social context affect the self-esteem of stigmatized members,
specifically African-American women? Studies in social psychology have focused on the
effects of stigma and prejudice on self-esteem of outgroup members for years. (Crocker
et ah, 1987). The effects of stigma, prejudice, and racism on the self-esteem of
individuals belonging to minority groups has received an overwhelming amount of
attention by social psychologists and researchers. Time after time, research results show

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that despite negative feedback, criticisms, and discrimination attempts, many African-
Americans retain high self-esteem (Crocker & Major, 1989). According to Crocker &
Major (1989), outgroup members or "stigmatized individuals" are "frequently able to
protect and buffer their self-esteem" (p. 624). However, few, if any, of the studies have
investigated the effects of the media's use of idealized images on an ethnic woman's self¬
esteem (i.e. Hispanic, Asian, African-American, etc.).
According to social comparison theory, members of minority groups should be
"somewhat less secure in their self-evaluations" (Festinger, 1954, p. 136). That is,
according to Festinger, minority groups should seek stronger support within itself and are
less able to tolerate differences in ability relevant to that group. What happens when
idealized images are encountered in the mass media? What effect does an idealized
image, particular when the image is of a different ethnic background, have on self-esteem
and subjective well-being? Since idealized images are found everywhere and at any time,
future research should explore whether or not black women, for example, avoid social
comparison with dissimilar media images and only make comparisons with models in
"black magazines."
Conclusion
It should be noted that many of the guests appearing on television talk shows like
Ricki Lake, Jenny Jones, and Jerry Springer tend to be “downward” or at least guests who
appear to be involved in tragic, unfortunate events. As a content analysis of the show’s
topics revealed, rarely do TV talk show programs focus on “upward” guests or people
who have successfully overcome serious tragedy (Abt & Mustazza, 1997). The main

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question guiding the present research focused on understanding why, viewers are
fascinated with talk shows and talk show topics such as “transplant recipients who claim
to have adopted the personalities of their donors.” Results obtained in the present study
indicated that viewers obtain greater affective consequences from watching talk show
guests who are involved in unfortunate situations. Would different results have been
obtained if viewers were asked to watch other programs? (i.e., the Art & Entertainment
channel’s popular program Biography, a show focused on the triumphs of popular
celebrities or Lifestyles of the Rick and Famous, a show focused on the glamorous
lifestyles of the rich.). How these programs affect viewer attitude and mood still remains
unanswered.
Many talk show hosts claim that their shows "empower" audience members and
help viewers to solve problems. Evidence collected in the present study, however, seems
to suggest that TV talk shows help viewers feel better. TV talk shows, according to the
data, actually enhanced mood states, which lends some support to the idea that television
talk shows are a form of “infotainment.” Based on the data provided in the present study,
it seems reasonable to speculate that the information provided on TV talk shows forces
viewers to engage in a form of social comparison and the effects of this comparison on
viewers is enhancement of mood and positive changes in perceptions of life satisfaction.
The conclusion to be drawn here, then, appears to be that viewers obtain affective
benefits from watching talk shows. Tragic events or exposure to tragic events affords
individuals with the opportunity to celebrate their circumstances (Zillman & Bryant,
1986). In fact, it could be hypothesized that exposure to tragic events invites social

140
comparison, and this comparison provides respondents with the opportunity to compare
and contrast their own situation with that of the “worse off’ other. The compare and
contrast process ultimately produces a form of satisfaction. “Seeing misfortunes befall
others and seeing them suffering from it thus may make viewers cognizant and
appreciative of how good they have it” (Zillman & Bryant, 1986, p. 317).
The primary benefit of a downward comparison, according to Wills (1981),
appears to be an improvement in life satisfaction and mood states. Realizing that there
are others with more severe problems is likely to have a positive effect on one’s outlook
when it suggests to the comparer that things could be worse, but they are not. Downward
comparisons also may help people find consolation in others who are similar, and more
importantly, this phenomenon could be used to explain the attraction of the audience to
the “gloom and doom” subjects of many television talk shows.
According to Goethals (1986), people encounter social comparisons and do not
always seek them. That is, people may be forced to compare whether they desire a
comparison or not (Wood, 1996). The present study suggests that some talk show
viewers may engage in some type offorced comparison (Goethals, 1986). While some
researchers may argue or doubt that the data clearly and accurately reflect the effects of a
specific comparison with the talk show guest, the fact still remains that participants were
asked to watch a TV talk show, make comparisons with that guest, and then respond to
ratings of life satisfaction and mood immediately following the presentation of the talk
show segment. As data collected in the present study suggest, people may spontaneously
compare with people on television and the effects of the comparison are self-enhancing.

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It seems clear from the present study that media images encourage and may ultimately
force some type of social comparison, a comparison process that provides entertaining,
even mood enhancing effects for audience members, particularly “when bad things
happen to other people!”

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APPENDIX A
INFORMED CONSENT FORM FOR PARTICIPATION IN RESEARCH PROJECT
Hi, my name is Cyndi Frisby and I am a doctoral candidate at the University of
Florida. Thank you for participating in this study. The study in which you are being
asked to participate is concerned with depictions of interpersonal relationships and
problems in the 1990s on popular television programs. It is being performed as a partial
fulfillment of the requirements for my Ph.D. in Journalism and Mass Communications at
the University of Florida, under the supervision of Dr. Michael Weigold. Your
participation in this project will provide useful information on how well you think
popular television shows adequately represent the lifestyle of others in your age group.
Although there are no foreseeable risks associated with this research, you will be
asked some personal questions regarding your satisfaction with your personal life and
other detailed questions regarding your life and lifestyle. If you feel that questions of this
type will upset you, please feel free to decline from participation at any point. You may
withdraw participation at any time for any reason without consequence. A more complete
statement of the nature and purpose of the research will be available when data collection
is completed. If you have any questions or problems concerning the study, you are
invited to call me at 392-2254 or my supervising professor, Dr. Michael Weigold at 392-
8199 to ask questions or discuss your feelings.
If you agree to participate in this research project, please understand that:
1. The time required for this study will be about 60 minutes. If you agree to participate,
you will receive a telephone call within the next week. The researcher will inform
you of the date and time you are to participate in the study. If you can not attend, be
sure to tell the researcher or call Ms. Frisby BEFORE your scheduled appointment
time. (Note: Include the times and room number of the study. For example, Monday
through Friday, 5:00 - 6:30, and 7: 00- 8:30 p.m.)
2. The nature of your participation includes completing about five (5) self-report
measures and a background information sheet.
3. Your participation is entirely voluntary. You may terminate your involvement at
anytime without penalty. You will receive no monetary compensation for
participation, but you will receive, in exchange for participation, 2 points toward extra
course credit in (course number). However, in order to receive course
credit, you must attend an informational group session after the study and data have

143
been collected. The date of this meeting is: at
in room of
Hall.
By participating in this study, you will help us to determine how your individual
needs and desires might influence your media choices and exposure. Your
participation in this study will also be useful to network producers and programmers,
advertisers, and academic scholars in two ways: 1) information you provide may be
used to determine if popular television shows adequately and realistically represent
the lifestyle of young college adults, and; b) you will provide us with knowledge
about how certain television programs may or may not affect our perceptions of
reality.
4. Your identity will be kept confidential to the extent provided by law. Please use the
last four digits of your permanent home phone number as your subject code number
and place that number in the appropriate area located on all research materials. Please
do not place your name on any of the research materials and refer to this four-digit
code at all times during the experiment. Questions or concerns about research
participants’ rights may be directed to the UFIRB office, Box 112250, University of
Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611; ph (352) 392-0433.
5. All data are for research purposes and will not affect your course grade.
6. If you have questions about the research, or need to talk with the experimenter after
participation, please contact the researcher by calling 392-2254 or writing to:
Cynthia M. Frisby
Department of Advertising
College of Journalism and Communications
2081 Weimer Hall
Gainesville, FL 32611
(352) 392-2254
Thank you for your assistance.
I have read the description above. I agree to voluntarily participate in Cynthia Frisby’s
interpersonal relationships and problems in the 1990s research project and I have received
a copy of this description.
Participant’s Signature:
Date:

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APPENDIX B
WRITTEN INSTRUCTIONS PROVIDED TO EXPERIMENTAL PARTICIPANTS
Thank you for participating in this study. Your participation in this project will provide
useful information on how well you think popular television shows adequately represent the
lifestyle of others in your age group.
As a reminder, please be advised that if, at any point during this experiment, you feel
that certain questions will upset you, please feel free to decline from participation at any point.
Below is a list which will provide a brief explanation of what you are expected to do for
the next hour.
1. The study will take approximately sixty minutes to complete. After reading these
instructions, the experimenter will ask you to complete a personality scale. This scale
is used to predict your level of social sensitivity. Studies on social sensitivity suggest
that this personality trait plays a large role in determining success, academically and
personally. After completing this scale, the experimenter will leave the room, score
your answers, and then provide you with the results of your score.
2. Next, you will be asked to make statements about what you perceive are events and
situations that are most relevant to college life and students today. You will also be
asked to complete a questionnaire concerned with how satisfied you are with your
own personal life circumstances.
3. The experimenter will return to the room and inform you of your social sensitivity
score. After which you will watch a short twenty-minute segment of a popular
television program. As you watch this show, consider whether or not the show
adequately depicts the life and problems of college students in the 90s. Keep in mind,
you were selected for participation because you share many demographic
characteristics that the persons on the show possess.
4. After the show ends, go to the manila folder and locate the next available
questionnaires. You will be asked to indicate how well you think the show
adequately depicts the typical college student. You will have plenty of time to
complete this measure and provide your opinions. The focus group discussion will
begin once everyone has completed and provided opinions about the show.
5. You will then complete another brief survey before the focus group moderator arrives.
The focus group discussion will be on what you and your group members thought
about the television show and about television shows in general.

145
6. After the focus group, you will fill out one last questionnaire concerning the
usefulness of television programs for the typical college student. If you have any
questions, now is the time to ask your experimenter.
Thank you for participating. Your contribution to this study is greatly appreciated.

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APPENDIX C
RESEARCH ASSISTANT’S EXPERIMENTAL SCRIPT
Downward Comparison Condition: Tape A
EXPERIMENTER: WAITS FOR ALL MEMBERS TO READ THE INSTRUCTIONS.
ASST: BE SURE TO CHECK THAT EVERYONE HAS RECEIVED INSTRUCTIONS
AND IS READING THEM BEFORE SCHEDULED TIME.
BEGIN THE STUDY PROMPTLY!!!
EXPERIMENTER: On behalf of the researchers, I would like to welcome you
to a study concerned with how well television programs adequately and realistically
depict personal problems for today’s college student. You were selected for participation
in this group because your responses during the pretest indicated that, you and others in
this group are fairly similar to one another, and to the demographic profile of the average
college student.
The study will take approximately 60 minutes to complete. Please refrain from
conversation until after the debriefing session has been completed.
ASSISTANT: CHECK THAT EVERYONE IS READY
EXPERIMENTER: The manila folder on the table in front of you will be your
personal experimental folder. Please write your four-digit participant code on the flap of
the folder. This should be the same number you provided last week.
ASST: SHOW THEM THE AREA (HOLD UP THE FOLDER AND POINT TO THE
AREA WHERE THEY ARE TO WRITE THEIR CODE).

147
Now, open your folder and locate the questionnaire that says, “social sensitivity scale”
on the top of it. At this time, we would like for you to write your four digit code on the
top right-hand side of this experimental survey. [WAIT]
ASSISTANT: CHECK TO MAKE SURE ALL PARTICIPANTS HAVE WRITTEN A
FOUR-DIGIT CODE ON THE TOP OF THE PAGE.
EXPERIMENTER Please do not turn the page or go to the next questionnaire
until you are instructed to do so. Using the scale provided as a guide, write a number
beside each statement to indicate how much you agree with it. You have approximately
five-ten minutes to complete this scale. When you have finished, please close your
research folder. When everyone is finished, we will collect your sensitivity test and have
it scored by the computer. We will inform you of your score momentarily. You may
now begin answering the questions. Begin.
ASSISTANT: WHEN EVERYONE HAS CLOSED THEIR FOLDERS, COLLECT
ONLY THE SOCIAL SENSITIVITY SCALES. THEN LEAVE ROOM. TAKE THE
SURVEYS TO CYNDI’S OFFICE WHERE YOU WILL WAIT APPROXIMATELY 5
MINUTES AND RETURN WITH THE FEEDBACK ENVELOPES.
EXPERIMENTER: Now, please turn the page of your experimental booklet and
locate the survey that says, “Coping with College Life in the 90s.” This questionnaire is
concerned with the events and situations you feel are most relevant to college life and
students today. Don’t forget to write your four digit code on the top, right-hand side of
this survey. Please begin.

148
EXPERIMENTER: WAIT UNTIL ALL SUBJECTS HAVE WRITTEN THEIR CODE
AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE. CHECK THAT ALL HAVE WRITTEN THEIR FOUR
DIGIT CODE ON THE PAGE. WAIT TILL ALL PEOPLE HAVE CLOSED THEIR
FOLDERS AND SAY ...
EXPERIMENTER: Right now, we are waiting for the results of your test.
Please be patient and wait quietly until the results arrive.
ASSISTANT: [WAITS APPROXIMATELY 5 MINUTES AND RETURNS TO THE
ROOM] HAND OUT FEEDBACK SHEETS. DO THIS JUST AS YOU WERE
INSTRUCTED. THAT IS, SUBJECTS IN THE CERTAIN ROWS WILL HAVE THE
NUMBERS 0507 CODED ON THEIR FOLDERS. HAND THEM THE SHEET OF
PAPER WITH THE NUMBER 0507 AT THE TOP. IN THE NEXT ROW ARE
SUBJECTS WITH THE NUMBER 0610. HAND THEM ENVELOPES FROM THE
BOX. DON'T FORGET TO MAKE THEM THINK YOU ARE LOOKING FOR THEIR
ENVELOPE!!
EXPERIMENTER: We just received the results of your sensitivity test. Please
take a few seconds to open the envelope and find out the results of your test. Please do
not share the results of your test with anyone. When you have finished reading your
results, please place the envelope in your experimental folder [PAUSE FOR A FEW
SECONDS ...].
EXPERIMENTER: We would like for you to provide us with more information
about yourself and your own life situations. Please open your experimental booklet and
locate the survey that says, “Life satisfaction” at the top. If you would, take just a few

149
minutes to tell us about yourself. Please indicate, as honestly as you can, the extent to
which you are satisfied with your life as a college student. After you finish this survey,
please close your experimental folder and wait until everyone has completed the
questionnaire. You will have five to ten minutes to complete this scale. You may begin.
EXPERIMENTER: WAIT TILL ALL SUBJECTS HAVE COMPLETED THIS FIRST
MOOD MEASURE.
ASST: CHECK AND INFORM EXPERIMENTER WHEN ALL PARTICIPANTS
HAVE FINISHED. YOU NEED TO BE LOCATED NEXT TO THE TV.
EXPERIMENTER: For the second part of the study, your task involves
determining whether or not television programs adequately and realistically depict the life
and problems of today’s college student. The program selected for investigation was a
television talk show.
You are now going to watch a short twelve-minute episode of a recent Ricki Lake
Show. Research on this television talk show audience suggests that loyal viewers are
between the ages of 18 and 24 and tend to resemble the demographic profile of the
average college student. That is why we’ve asked you to participate in this study today.
Please attend carefully to the program and think about your perceptions of the show’s
guest, the topic and its personal relevance. When the segment finishes, we would like for
you to tell us what you thought about the show.
The talk show producers sent us a brief description of the segment. The segment
you will see was titled, “Friendship Court.” Amber and Danielle are college roommates
and used to be best friends, until Danielle slept with Amber’s boyfriend. Producers

150
informed us that Amber seems to have some trouble coping with her problem and,
according to the talk show’s producer, has stopped attending classes, is allowing her
grades to suffer, and seems to be consumed with getting revenge. After you complete
your evaluations, put your pencil or pen down and wait until everyone has finished.
ASSISTANT: START TAPE. HIT PLAY. THE TAPE WILL END QUICKLY SO BE
READY TO HIT STOP.
EXPERIMENTER: Now if you would, please go to the manila folder and locate the
questionnaire that says “About TV Talk Shows” on the top. We would like for you to
tell us how well you think the show you just previewed adequately depicts the life and
problems of a typical college student. You will have plenty of time to complete this
measure and provide your opinions. Again, please close your research folder when you
have finished the survey. [WAIT 2 1/2 MINUTES]
EXPERIMENTER: Now if you would, please open your manila folder to THE
LAST AND FINAL SET OF QUESTIONNAIRES. Once everyone has completed the
questionnaire and all research folders are closed, I will provide you with more
experimental instructions. You may begin.
EXPERIMENTER: WAIT UNTIL EVERYONE HAS COMPLETED THE SURVEYS.
EXPERIMENTER: That was the last and final phase of the study. Again, on
behalf of the researchers involved in the study, we would like to thank you for your
participation today. Now, you will be directed to the room where you will engage in an
experimental interview and sign a sheet so that you will receive your extra course credit.
Thank you for participating and have a nice evening.

151
Downward Comparison Condition: Tape D
EXPERIMENTER: WAITS FOR ALL MEMBERS TO READ THE INSTRUCTIONS.
ASST: BE SURE TO CHECK THAT EVERYONE HAS RECEIVED INSTRUCTIONS
AND IS READING THEM BEFORE SCHEDULED TIME.
BEGIN THE STUDY PROMPTLY!!!
EXPERIMENTER: On behalf of the researchers, I would like to welcome you
to a study concerned with how well television programs adequately and realistically
depict personal problems for today’s college student. You were selected for participation
in this group because your responses during the pretest indicated that, you and others in
this group are fairly similar to one another, and to the demographic profile of the average
college student.
The study will take approximately 60 minutes to complete. Please refrain from
conversation until after the debriefing session has been completed.
ASSISTANT: CHECK THAT EVERYONE IS READY
EXPERIMENTER: The manila folder on the table in front of you will be your
personal experimental folder. Please write your four-digit participant code on the flap of
the folder. This should be the same number you provided last week.
ASST: SHOW THEM THE AREA (HOLD UP THE FOLDER AND POINT TO THE
AREA WHERE THEY ARE TO WRITE THEIR CODE).
Now, open your folder and locate the questionnaire that says, “social sensitivity scale”
on the top of it. At this time, we would like for you to write your four digit code on the
top right-hand side of this experimental survey. [WAIT]

152
ASSISTANT: CHECK TO MAKE SURE ALL PARTICIPANTS HAVE WRITTEN A
FOUR-DIGIT CODE ON THE TOP OF THE PAGE.
EXPERIMENTER Please do not turn the page or go to the next questionnaire
until you are instructed to do so. Using the scale provided as a guide, write a number
beside each statement to indicate how much you agree with it. You have approximately
five-ten minutes to complete this scale. When you have finished, please close your
research folder. When everyone is finished, we will collect your sensitivity test and have
it scored by the computer. We will inform you of your score momentarily. You may
now begin answering the questions. Begin.
ASSISTANT: WHEN EVERYONE HAS CLOSED THEIR FOLDERS, COLLECT
ONLY THE SOCIAL SENSITIVITY SCALES. THEN LEAVE ROOM. TAKE THE
SURVEYS TO CYNDI’S OFFICE WHERE YOU WILL WAIT APPROXIMATELY 5
MINUTES AND RETURN WITH THE FEEDBACK ENVELOPES.
EXPERIMENTER: Now, please turn the page of your experimental booklet and
locate the survey that says, “Coping with College Life in the 90s.” This questionnaire is
concerned with the events and situations you feel are most relevant to college life and
students today. Don’t forget to write your four digit code on the top, right-hand side of
this survey. Please begin.
EXPERIMENTER: WAIT UNTIL ALL SUBJECTS HAVE WRITTEN THEIR CODE
AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE. CHECK THAT ALL HAVE WRITTEN THEIR FOUR
DIGIT CODE ON THE PAGE. WAIT TILL ALL PEOPLE HAVE CLOSED THEIR
FOLDERS AND SAY...

153
EXPERIMENTER: Right now, we are waiting for the results of your test.
Please be patient and wait quietly until the results arrive.
ASSISTANT: [WAITS APPROXIMA TELY 5 MINUTES AND RETURNS TO THE
ROOM] HAND OUT FEEDBACK SHEETS. DO THIS JUST AS YOU WERE
INSTRUCTED. THAT IS, SUBJECTS IN THE CERTAIN ROWS WILL HAVE THE
NUMBERS 0507 CODED ON THEIR FOLDERS. HAND THEM THE SHEET OF
PAPER WITH THE NUMBER 0507 AT THE TOP. IN THE NEXT ROW ARE
SUBJECTS WITH THE NUMBER 0610. HAND THEM ENVELOPES FROM THE
BOX. DON’T FORGET TO MAKE THEM THINK YOU ARE LOOKING FOR THEIR
ENVELOPE!!
EXPERIMENTER: We just received the results of your sensitivity test. Please
take a few seconds to open the envelope and find out the results of your test. Please do
not share the results of your test with anyone. When you have finished reading your
results, please place the envelope in your experimental folder [PAUSE FOR A FEW
SECONDS ...].
EXPERIMENTER: We would like for you to provide us with more information
about yourself and your own life situations. Please open your experimental booklet and
locate the survey that says, “Life satisfaction” at the top. If you would, take just a few
minutes to tell us about yourself. Please indicate, as honestly as you can, the extent to
which you are satisfied with your life as a college student. After you finish this survey,
please close your experimental folder and wait until everyone has completed the
questionnaire. You will have five to ten minutes to complete this scale. You may begin.

154
EXPERIMENTER: WAIT TILL ALL SUBJECTS HAVE COMPLETED THIS FIRST
MOOD MEASURE.
ASST: CHECK AND INFORM EXPERIMENTER WHEN ALL PARTICIPANTS
HAVE FINISHED. YOU NEED TO BE LOCATED NEXT TO THE TV.
EXPERIMENTER: For the second part of the study, your task involves
determining whether or not television programs adequately and realistically depict the life
and problems of today’s college student. The program selected for investigation was a
television talk show.
You are now going to watch a short twelve-minute episode of a recent Jenny
Jones Show. Research on this television talk show audience suggests that loyal viewers
are between the ages of 18 and 24 and tend to resemble the demographic profile of the
average college student. That is why we’ve asked you to participate in this study today.
Please attend carefully to the program and think about your perceptions of the show’s
guest, the topic and its personal relevance. When the segment finishes, we would like for
you to tell us what you thought about the show.
The talk show producers sent us a brief description of the segment. The next
segment concerns women who are trapped in relationships with men who feel that they
are “Master’s of their Home.” The segment that you are being asked to watch focuses on
Michelle and Bob. Talk show producers sent us this tape because they said fan mail from
young women in similar relationships was tremendous after this show aired. It seems as
though Michelle used to be a college student, but because of Bob, she is no longer
attending the university. She also used to work part-time at a bar, the place where she

155
met her husband Bob. They are married, and producers inform us that Michelle is not
coping well at all. She is extremely unhappy in her relationship to Bob. Bob is
extremely jealous and controlling and as a result, Michelle is unhappy and is upset
because Bob treats her like a servant. She wants to do things that will make her happy
like go back to school and finish her degree, but as you will see, she seems to be so stuck
in her relationship that fulfilling her dream of going back to school is not very likely.
ASSISTANT: START TAPE. HIT PLAY. THE TAPE WILL END QUICKLY SO BE
READY TO HIT STOP.
EXPERIMENTER: Now if you would, please go to the manila folder and
locate the questionnaire that says “About TV Talk Shows” on the top. We would like for
you to tell us how well you think the show you just previewed adequately depicts the life
and problems of a typical college student. You will have plenty of time to complete this
measure and provide your opinions. Again, please close your research folder when you
have finished the survey. [WAIT 2 1/2 MINUTES]
EXPERIMENTER: Now if you would, please open your manila folder to THE
LAST AND FINAL SET OF QUESTIONNAIRES. Once everyone has completed the
questionnaire and all research folders are closed, I will provide you with more
experimental instructions. You may begin.
EXPERIMENTER: WAIT UNTIL EVERYONE HAS COMPLETED THE SURVEYS.
EXPERIMENTER: That was the last and final phase of the study. Again, on
behalf of the researchers involved in the study, we would like to thank you for your
participation today. Now, you will be directed to the room where you will engage in an

156
experimental interview and sign a sheet so that you will receive your extra course credit.
Thank you for participating and have a nice evening.

157
Upward Comparison Condition: Tape B
EXPERIMENTER: WAITS FOR ALL MEMBERS TO READ THE INSTRUCTIONS.
ASST: BE SURE TO CHECK THAT EVERYONE HAS RECEIVED INSTRUCTIONS
AND IS READING THEM BEFORE SCHEDULED TIME.
BEGIN THE STUDY PROMPTLY!!!
EXPERIMENTER: On behalf of the researchers, I would like to welcome you
to a study concerned with how well television programs adequately and realistically
depict personal problems for today’s college student. You were selected for participation
in this group because your responses during the pretest indicated that, you and others in
this group are fairly similar to one another, and to the demographic profile of the average
college student.
The study will take approximately 60 minutes to complete. Please refrain from
conversation until after the debriefing session has been completed.
ASSISTANT: CHECK THAT EVERYONE IS READY
EXPERIMENTER: The manila folder on the table in front of you will be your
personal experimental folder. Please write your four-digit participant code on the flap of
the folder. This should be the same number you provided last week.
ASST: SHOW THEM THE AREA (HOLD UP THE FOLDER AND POINT TO THE
AREA WHERE THEY ARE TO WRITE THEIR CODE).
EXPERIMENTER: Now, open your folder and locate the questionnaire that
says, “social sensitivity scale” on the top of it. At this time, we would like for you to
write your four digit code on the top right-hand side of this experimental survey. [WAIT]

158
ASSISTANT: CHECK TO MAKE SURE ALL PARTICIPANTS HAVE WRITTEN A
FOUR-DIGIT CODE ON THE TOP OF THE PAGE.
EXPERIMENTER Please do not turn the page or go to the next questionnaire
until you are instructed to do so. Using the scale provided as a guide, write a number
beside each statement to indicate how much you agree with it. You have approximately
five-ten minutes to complete this scale. When you have finished, please close your
research folder. When everyone is finished, we will collect your sensitivity test and have
it scored by the computer. We will inform you of your score momentarily. You may
now begin answering the questions. Begin.
ASSISTANT: WHEN EVERYONE HAS CLOSED THEIR FOLDERS, COLLECT
ONLY THE SOCIAL SENSITIVITY SCALES. THEN LEAVE ROOM. TAKE THE
SURVEYS TO CYNDI’S OFFICE WHERE YOU WILL WAIT APPROXIMATELY 5
MINUTES AND RETURN WITH THE FEEDBACK ENVELOPES.
EXPERIMENTER: Now, please turn the page of your experimental booklet and
locate the survey that says, “Coping with College Life in the 90s.” This questionnaire is
concerned with the events and situations you feel are most relevant to college life and
students today. Don’t forget to write your four digit code on the top, right-hand side of
this survey. Please begin.
EXPERIMENTER: WAIT UNTIL ALL SUBJECTS HAVE WRITTEN THEIR CODE
AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE. CHECK THAT ALL HAVE WRITTEN THEIR FOUR
DIGIT CODE ON THE PAGE. WAIT TILL ALL PEOPLE HAVE CLOSED THEIR
FOLDERS AND SAY ...

159
EXPERIMENTER: Right now, we are waiting for the results of your test.
Please be patient and wait quietly until the results arrive.
ASSISTANT: [WAITS APPROXIMATELY 5 MINUTES AND RETURNS TO THE
ROOM] HAND OUT FEEDBACK SHEETS. DO THIS JUST AS YOU WERE
INSTRUCTED. THAT IS, SUBJECTS IN THE CERTAIN ROWS WILL HAVE THE
NUMBERS 0507 CODED ON THEIR FOLDERS. HAND THEM THE SHEET OF
PAPER WITH THE NUMBER 0507 AT THE TOP. IN THE NEXT ROW ARE
SUBJECTS WITH THE NUMBER 0610. HAND THEM ENVELOPES FROM THE
BOX. DON’T FORGET TO MAKE THEM THINK YOU ARE LOOKING FOR THEIR
ENVELOPE!!
EXPERIMENTER: We just received the results of your sensitivity test. Please
take a few seconds to open the envelope and find out the results of your test. Please do
not share the results of your test with anyone. When you have finished reading your
results, please place the envelope in your experimental folder [PAUSE FOR A FEW
SECONDS ...].
EXPERIMENTER: We would like for you to provide us with more information
about yourself and your own life situations. Please open your experimental booklet and
locate the survey that says, “Life satisfaction” at the top. If you would, take just a few
minutes to tell us about yourself. Please indicate, as honestly as you can, the extent to
which you are satisfied with your life as a college student. After you finish this survey,
please close your experimental folder and wait until everyone has completed the
questionnaire. You will have five to ten minutes to complete this scale. You may begin.

160
EXPERIMENTER: WAIT TILL ALL SUBJECTS HAVE COMPLETED THIS FIRST
MOOD MEASURE.
ASST: CHECK AND INFORM EXPERIMENTER WHEN ALL PARTICIPANTS
HAVE FINISHED. YOU NEED TO BE LOCATED NEXT TO THE TV.
EXPERIMENTER: For the second part of the study, your task involves
determining whether or not television programs adequately and realistically depict the life
and problems of today’s college student. The program selected for investigation was a
television talk show.
You are now going to watch a short twelve-minute episode of a recent Ricki Lake
Show. Research on this television talk show audience suggests that loyal viewers are
between the ages of 18 and 24 and tend to resemble the demographic profile of the
average college student. That is why we’ve asked you to participate in this study today.
Please attend carefully to the program and think about your perceptions of the show’s
guest, the topic and its personal relevance. When the segment finishes, we would like for
you to tell us what you thought about the show.
The talk show producers sent us a brief description of the segment. The segment
you will see was titled, “you dumped me, but look at me now.” In this segment, Natalie,
a female college student, was described as an excellent good coper. She can successfully
handle her relationship problems and came on the show because she wanted to re-unite
with an ex-boyfriend. Basically, producer’s tell us that Natalie was so devastated when
her then boyfriend Maurice broke up with her that she almost contemplated dropping out
of college. But, as you will see, she has overcome several adversities like losing weight,

161
graduating college, and other goals. Producers tell us that Natalie is and feels extremely
confident and is very happy and content. She merely wanted to appear on the show and
tell Maurice, “Look at me now.” After you complete your evaluations, put your pencil or
pen down until everyone has finished.
As you watch Natalie, consider whether or not you think her problem is an
accurate and realistic representation of the life and problems of a typical college student.
Please keep in mind as you are watching the show, what the guest is like, what types of
problems they are having, and also give some thought to how the guest compares with
you. Be sure that you evaluate this show so that you can make insightful comments
about the program’s ability to reach and relate to college students in your age group.
ASSISTANT: START TAPE. THE TAPE WILL END QUICKLY SO BE READY TO
HIT STOP.
EXPERIMENTER: Now if you would, please go to the manila folder and
locate the questionnaire that says “About TV Talk Shows” on the top. We would like for
you to tell us how well you think the show you just previewed adequately depicts the life
and problems of a typical college student. You will have plenty of time to complete this
measure and provide your opinions. Again, please close your research folder when you
have finished the survey. [WAIT 2 1/2 MINUTES]
EXPERIMENTER: Now if you would, please open your manila folder to THE
LAST AND FINAL SET OF QUESTIONNAIRES. Once everyone has completed the
questionnaire and all research folders are closed, I will provide you with more
experimental instructions. You may begin.

162
EXPERIMENTER: WAIT UNTIL EVERYONE HAS COMPLETED THE SURVEYS.
EXPERIMENTER: That was the last and final phase of the study. Again, on
behalf of the researchers involved in the study, we would like to thank you for your
participation today. Now, you will be directed to the room where you will engage in an
experimental interview and sign a sheet so that you will receive your extra course credit.
Thank you for participating and have a nice evening.

163
Upward Comparison Condition: Tape C
EXPERIMENTER: WAITS FOR ALL MEMBERS TO READ THE INSTRUCTIONS.
ASST: BE SURE TO CHECK THAT EVERYONE HAS RECEIVED INSTRUCTIONS
AND IS READING THEM BEFORE SCHEDULED TIME.
BEGIN THE STUDY PROMPTLY!!!
EXPERIMENTER: On behalf of the researchers, I would like to welcome you
to a study concerned with how well television programs adequately and realistically
depict personal problems for today’s college student. You were selected for participation
in this group because your responses during the pretest indicated that, you and others in
this group are fairly similar to one another, and to the demographic profile of the average
college student.
The study will take approximately 60 minutes to complete. Please refrain from
conversation until after the debriefing session has been completed.
ASSISTANT: CHECK THAT EVERYONE IS READY
EXPERIMENTER: The manila folder on the table in front of you will be your
personal experimental folder. Please write your four-digit participant code on the flap of
the folder. This should be the same number you provided last week.
ASST: SHOW THEM THE AREA (HOLD UP THE FOLDER AND POINT TO THE
AREA WHERE THEY ARE TO WRITE THEIR CODE).
Now, open your folder and locate the questionnaire that says, “social sensitivity scale”
on the top of it. At this time, we would like for you to write your four digit code on the
top right-hand side of this experimental survey. [WAIT]

164
ASSISTANT: CHECK TO MAKE SURE ALL PARTICIPANTS HAVE WRITTEN A
FOUR-DIGIT CODE ON THE TOP OF THE PAGE.
EXPERIMENTER Please do not turn the page or go to the next questionnaire
until you are instructed to do so. Using the scale provided as a guide, write a number
beside each statement to indicate how much you agree with it. You have approximately
five-ten minutes to complete this scale. When you have finished, please close your
research folder. When everyone is finished, we will collect your sensitivity test and have
it scored by the computer. We will inform you of your score momentarily. You may
now begin answering the questions. Begin.
ASSISTANT: WHEN EVERYONE HAS CLOSED THEIR FOLDERS, COLLECT
ONLY THE SOCIAL SENSITIVITY SCALES. THEN LEAVE ROOM. TAKE THE
SURVEYS TO CYNDI’S OFFICE WHERE YOU WILL WAIT APPROXIMATELY 5
MINUTES AND RETURN WITH THE FEEDBACK ENVELOPES.
EXPERIMENTER: Now, please turn the page of your experimental booklet and
locate the survey that says, “Coping with College Life in the 90s.” This questionnaire is
concerned with the events and situations you feel are most relevant to college life and
students today. Don’t forget to write your four digit code on the top, right-hand side of
this survey. Please begin.
EXPERIMENTER: WAIT UNTIL ALL SUBJECTS HAVE WRITTEN THEIR CODE
AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE. CHECK THAT ALL HAVE WRITTEN THEIR FOUR
DIGIT CODE ON THE PAGE. WAIT TILL ALL PEOPLE HAVE CLOSED THEIR
FOLDERS AND SAY ...

165
EXPERIMENTER: Right now, we are waiting for the results of your test.
Please be patient and wait quietly until the results arrive.
ASSISTANT: [WAITS APPROXIMATELY 5 MINUTES AND RETURNS TO THE
ROOM7 HAND OUT FEEDBACK SHEETS. DO THIS JUST AS YOU WERE
INSTRUCTED. THAT IS, SUBJECTS IN THE CERTAIN ROWS WILL HAVE THE
NUMBERS 0507 CODED ON THEIR FOLDERS. HAND THEM THE SHEET OF
PAPER WITH THE NUMBER 0507 AT THE TOP. IN THE NEXT ROW ARE
SUBJECTS WITH THE NUMBER 0610. HAND THEM ENVELOPES FROM THE
BOX. DON’T FORGET TO MAKE THEM THINK YOU ARE LOOKING FOR THEIR
ENVELOPE!!
EXPERIMENTER: We just received the results of your sensitivity test. Please
take a few seconds to open the envelope and find out the results of your test. Please do
not share the results of your test with anyone. When you have finished reading your
results, please place the envelope in your experimental folder [PAUSE FOR A FEW
SECONDS ...].
EXPERIMENTER: We would like for you to provide us with more information
about yourself and your own life situations. Please open your experimental booklet and
locate the survey that says, “Life satisfaction” at the top. If you would, take just a few
minutes to tell us about yourself. Please indicate, as honestly as you can, the extent to
which you are satisfied with your life as a college student. After you finish this survey,
please close your experimental folder and wait until everyone has completed the
questionnaire. You will have five to ten minutes to complete this scale. You may begin.

166
EXPERIMENTER: WAIT TILL ALL SUBJECTS HAVE COMPLETED THIS FIRST
MOOD MEASURE.
ASST: CHECK AND INFORM EXPERIMENTER WHEN ALL PARTICIPANTS
HAVE FINISHED. YOU NEED TO BE LOCATED NEXT TO THE TV.
EXPERIMENTER: For the second part of the study, your task involves
determining whether or not television programs adequately and realistically depict the life
and problems of today’s college student. The program selected for investigation was a
television talk show.
You are now going to watch a short twelve-minute episode of a recent Ricki Lake
Show. Research on this television talk show audience suggests that loyal viewers are
between the ages of 18 and 24 and tend to resemble the demographic profile of the
average college student. That is why we’ve asked you to participate in this study today.
Please attend carefully to the program and think about your perceptions of the show’s
guest, the topic and its personal relevance. When the segment finishes, we would like for
you to tell us what you thought about the show.
The talk show producers sent us a brief description of the segment. The segment
you will see was titled, “You dumped me, but look at me now.” On this episode, Desiree,
a college student, used to date Jeff. Jeff broke up with Desiree and as a result she
reported to the show’s producer’s that the breakup was extremely traumatic for her. She
was so devastated that the producers said she could not handle things: she stopped
attending classes, her grades suffered and she eventually had to drop out of school for a
semester. But, according to the shows producers, she quickly bounced back and since

167
that time has reported that she has not had many conflicts or relationship problems.
Producers tell us that she has now gone back to school and is about to graduate college
with high honors. She is presently pursuing a career in law and is involved in an
extremely happy relationship with a young man who is attending medical school. She
successfully handled her problem, as you will see on the tape, and asked to come back on
the show to show Jeff that he did her a favor by breaking up with her. As you watch
Desiree, consider whether or not you think her problem is an accurate and realistic
representation of the life and problems of a typical college student.
ASSISTANT: START TAPE. THE TAPE WILL END QUICKLY SO BE READY TO
HIT STOP.
EXPERIMENTER: Now if you would, please go to the manila folder and
locate the questionnaire that says “About TV Talk Shows” on the top. We would like for
you to tell us how well you think the show you just previewed adequately depicts the life
and problems of a typical college student. You will have plenty of time to complete this
measure and provide your opinions. Again, please close your research folder when you
have finished the survey. [WAIT 2 1/2 MINUTES]
EXPERIMENTER: Now if you would, please open your manila folder to THE
LAST AND FINAL SET OF QUESTIONNAIRES. Once everyone has completed the
questionnaire and all research folders are closed, I will provide you with more
experimental instructions. You may begin.
EXPERIMENTER: WAIT UNTIL EVERYONE HAS COMPLETED THE SURVEYS.

168
EXPERIMENTER: That was the last and final phase of the study. Again, on
behalf of the researchers involved in the study, we would like to thank you for your
participation today. Now, you will be directed to the room where you will engage in an
experimental interview and sign a sheet so that you will receive your extra course credit.
Thank you for participating and have a nice evening.

169
APPENDIX D
WRITTEN FEEDBACK
Positive Feedback
Your four-digit subject code:
There were a total of forty possible points on the social sensitivity scale. The
average score from adult populations (adults aged 18-34) is 35. Data analysis revealed
that your social sensitivity score is above-average. Compared to other students taking
this test, you rank in the upper 95th percentile. This means that in terms of social
sensitivity, yo ur score exceeded the scores of 95% of most people in your age group who
have taken a similar test.
Negative Feedback
Your four-digit subject code:
There were a total of forty possible points on the social sensitivity scale. The average
score from adult populations (adults aged 18 - 34) is 35. Data analysis revealed that your
social sensitivity score is below-average. Compared to other students taking this test, you
rank in the lower 35th percentile. This means that in terms of social sensitivity, 65% of
most people taking the test obtain scores higher than your score.

170
No Feedback
The computer testing service just informed us of technical difficulties with the computer
program. As a result, we are unable to provide the results of your sensitivity test. As
soon as the results are received we will inform you of your score.

171
APPENDIX E
PRETEST MEASUREMENT INSTRUMENT
Program Choice
Your Four-Digit Subject Code:
Instructions: Thank you for participating in this study. In this study, we are interested in determining how
and why people watch television. Please read the following questions and select the answer that best reflects
you.
1. Gender: â–¡ Male â–¡ Female Your Age:
2. How long, on an average day, would you say you watch television?
â–¡ Less than an hour
â–¡ 5 - 6 hours
â–¡ 1-2 hours
â–¡ 7 hours
â–¡ 3-4 hours
â–¡ More than 8 hours a day
3. Ethnic background
â–¡ Caucasian
â–¡ Indian
â–¡ African-American
â–¡ Hispanic
â–¡ Asian
â–¡ Other (please indicate)
4. Please review the following television program categories and indicat
watch these TV programs.
Always
News magazine shows (i.e. “Current Affair)
Daytime serials (i.e. “All My Children”)
Talk shows (i.e. “Oprah,” “Ricki Lake,”)
Situation comedies (i.e. “Friends”).
Cable Movie Channels (i.e. “HBO”).
Real-life action shows (i.e. “Cops,” etc.).
Music Videos
Never
Rarely
Sometimes
Often
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
5. Please review the following list of shows and indicate how much you like or dislike
the programs:

172
Like
Extreme
a lot
Dislike
News magazine shows (i.e. “Inside Edition”)
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Local and World News (i.e “World News Tonight”)
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Daytime serials (i.e. “All My Children”)
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Daytime talk shows (i.e. “Oprah,” “Ricki Lake,”)
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Situation comedies (i.e. “Friends,” Seinfeld,” etc.).
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Drama shows (i.e. “ER”)
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Cable Movie Channels (i.e. “HBO”).
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Sport shows (i.e. “Sportstalk”)
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Real-life action shows (i.e. “Cops,”)
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Music Videos
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡

173
APPENDIX F
ROSENBERG’S SELF-ESTEEM SCALE
1.
Strongly
I feel that I am a person of worth, Agree
Agree
Not sure
Strongly
Disagree Disagree
at least on an equal basis with others.
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
2.
I f eel that I have a number of good qualities
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
3.
All in all, I am inclined to feel
that I am a failure.
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
4.
I am able to do things as well as most
other people
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
5.
I feel that I do not have much
to be proud of.
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
6.
I take a positive attitude toward myself.
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
7.
On the whole, I am satisfied with myself.
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
8.
I wish I could have more respect for myself
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
9.
I certainly feel useless at times.
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
10.
At times I think I am no good at all.
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡

174
Your four digit subject code:
APPENDIX G
THE “BIDR” SCALE
Instructions: Using the scale below as a guide, write a number beside each statement to
indicate how much you agree with it.
Not true
Somewhat True
Very True
1
2
3 4 5
6
7
1. My first impressions of people usually turn out to be right.
2. It would be hard for me to break any of my bad habits.
3. I don’t care to know what other people really think of me.
4. I have not always been honest with myself.
5. I always know why I like things.
6. When my emotions are aroused, it biases my thinking.
7. Once I’ve made up my mind, other people can seldom change my opinion.
8. Iam not a safe driver when I exceed the speed limit.
9. I am fully in control of my own fate.
10. It is hard for me to shut off a disturbing thought.
11. I never regret my decisions.
12. I sometimes lose out on things because I can’t make up my mind soon enough._

175
Not true
Somewhat True
Very True
1
2
3 4 5
6
7
13. The reason I vote is because my vote can make a difference.
14. My parents were not always fair when they punished me.
15. I am a completely rational person.
16. I rarely appreciate criticism.
17. Iam very confident of my judgments.
18. I have sometimes doubted my ability as a lover.
19. It’s all right with me if some people happen to dislike me.
20. I don’t always know the reasons why I do the things I do.
21. I sometimes tell lies if I have to.
22. I never cover up my mistakes.
23. There have been occasions when I have taken advantage of someone.
24. I never swear.
25. I sometimes try to get even rather than forgive and forget.
26. I always obey laws, even if I’m unlikely to get caught.
27. I have said something bad about a friend behind his or her back.
28. When I hear people talking privately, I avoid listening.
29. I have received too much change from a salesperson without telling him or
her.
30. I always declare everything at customs.

176
Not true
Somewhat True
Very True
1
2
3 4 5
6
7
31. When I was young, I sometimes stole things.
32.1 have never dropped litter on the street.
33. I sometimes drive faster than the speed limit.
34. I never read sexy books or magazines.
35. I have done things that I don’t tell other people about.
36. I never take things that don’t belong to me.
37. I have taken sick-leave from work or school even though I
wasn’t really sick.
38. I have never damaged a library book or store merchandise without
reporting it.
39. I have some pretty awful habits.
40. I don’t gossip about other people’s business.
Please wait for further instructions

177
Your four-digit subject code:
APPENDIX H
COPING WITH COLLEGE LIFE MEASUREMENT INSTRUMENT
Instructions: We would like you to describe, in general, some of the difficulties
you have had, difficulties you know others have had, and difficult problems you and your
friends have had to face recently. It is very important that you be as honest and sincere as
possible when answering these questions. Please indicate, as honestly as you can, the extent
to which you are satisfied with your life as a college student. Please indicate, as honestly as
you can, the extent to which you are satisfied with your life as a college student.
1. In a few short sentences, please describe the typical college student.
2. Based on your description, how similar would you say you are to “the typical college
student?”
Very similar
Similar
Not sure
Somewhat dissimilar Not at all similar
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡ â–¡
3. What problems are prevalent, in your opinion, for College Students in the
1990s?
a)
b)
4. What problems are YOU experiencing presently as a college student? In other words,
please identify the problems you feel are affecting or could affect your present academic
performance.
a)
b)
5. In your opinion, how well are you coping with the problems you mentioned in the
above question?
Extremely Well â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ Not Well At All
6. In your opinion, how capable is the typical student to overcome problems related to
“college life”?
Extremely capable â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ Not at all capable

178
Your four-digit subject code:
Instructions: Now, read the following statements and identify how you, as a college
student, adjust or cope with college-related problems.
1. I attempt to analyze the problem and form a plan of action to deal with it.
Strongly Strongly
Agree
1 2 3 4 5 6
Disagree
7
2. I wish that the situation could be changed or would go away.
Strongly
Agree
1 2 3 4 5 6
Strongly
Disagree
7
3. I try to forget the problem or detach myself from it.
Strongly
Agree
1 2 3 4 5 6
Strongly
Disagree
7
4. I look on the bright side and make the best of a bad arrangement.
Strongly
Agree
1 2 3 4 5 6
Strongly
Disagree
7
5. I take personal responsibility for the problem.
Strongly
Agree
1 2 3 4 5 6
6. I seek relief through eating, drinking, exercise, and so on.
Strongly
Agree
1 2 3 4 5 6
7. I keep my problems to myself.
Strongly
Agree
1 2 3 4 5 6
8. I obtain information from others in order to solve the problem.
Strongly
Agree
1 2 3 4 5 6
9. I seek emotional support and comfort.
Strongly
Agree
1 2 3 4 5 6
Please Stop Here and wait for further Instructions!
Strongly
Disagree
7
Strongly
Disagree
7
Strongly
Disagree
7
Strongly
Disagree
7
Strongly
Disagree
7
2

179
Your four-digit subject code:
APPENDIX I
LIFE SATISFACTION MEASUREMENT INSTRUMENT
Instructions: Here are some statements about life in general that people feel differently about. Would you
read each statement on this list and if you agree with it, put a check mark in the space under agree. If you do
not agree with a statement, put a check mark in the space under disagree. If you are not sure one way or the
other, put a check mark in the space under “not sure”.
Strongly Strongly
Disagree Disagree Not sure Agree Agree
1. My life is on the right track.
2. I wish I could change some
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
part of my life
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
3. My future looks good
4. I feel as though the best years
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
of my life are over.
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
5. I like myself
6. I feel there must be something
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
wrong with me.
7. I can handle any problems
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
that come up.
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
8. I feel like a failure.
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
9. I feel loved and trusted.
10.1 seem to be left alone when
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
I don’t want to be.
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
11.1 feel close to people around me.
12.1 have lost interest in other people
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
and don’t care about them.
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
13.1 feel I an do whatever I want to.
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
14. My life seems stuck in a rut.
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
15.1 have energy to spare
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
16. I can’t be bothered doing anything
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
17.1 smile and laugh a lot.
18. Nothing seems very much
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
fun anymore
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡

19. I think clearly and creatively.
20. My thoughts go around in
useless circles
180
â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ â–¡
â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ â–¡
21. Which number comes closest to how satisfied or dissatisfied
you feel with your life?
Completely 1
2
3 4
5
6
7 Completely
Satisfied
Now, check the adjectives that best seem to describe you.
Dissatisfied
Not at all
like me
Not like me
Somewhat
Like me
Like me
Very much
Like Me
Satisfied
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Optimistic
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Useful
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Confident
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Understood
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Loving
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Free-and-easy
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Enthusiastic
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Good-natured
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Clear-headed
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Discontented
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Hopeless
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Insignificant
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Helpless
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Lonely
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Withdrawn
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Tense
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Depressed
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Impatient
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Confused
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Sad
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Happy
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Alert
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Tired
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Slow
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
Fast
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡
â–¡

181
Your four-digit subject code:
APPENDIX J
MANIPULATION CHECK MEASUREMENT SCALE
ABOUT THE TV TALK SHOW...
1.How interesting was the topic or issue being discussed on the show?
Very Interesting â–¡ â–¡â–¡â–¡â–¡â–¡â–¡ Very Uninteresting
2. How relevant was the talk show topic to you and your life circumstances?
Very Irrelevant Q Q Q Q Q Qi Q Very Relevant
3. Overall, how similar or dissimilar was [talk show guest’s name] to you?
Very SimilarQ â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ Very Dissimilar
4.Given the way the [guest’s name] has handled her problem, how much better or worse
do you think you would handle the problem if you were in a similar situation?
Much Worse â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ â–¡ Much better
5. In your opinion, how competent is [guest’s name] handling the problem?
Very Competent Q Q Q Q Q Q Q Very Incompetent
6. Compared to problems you might be experiencing, is [guest’s name] problem more or
less serious than problems you are facing?
Less Serious â–¡ â–¡â–¡â–¡â–¡â–¡â–¡ More Serious
7. Given her situation, how capable or incapable do you feel [guest’s name] is in
overcoming her problem?
Very Capable â–¡ â–¡â–¡â–¡â–¡â–¡â–¡ Very Incapable
8. How did the results of the social sensitivity test make you feel?
Please wait for further
instructions!!

182
Very Good â–¡ â–¡â–¡â–¡â–¡â–¡â–¡ Very Bad
9. How valid do you believe the results of the social sensitivity test are?

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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
Cynthia Frisby was bom in Detroit, Michigan on the tenth of June, 1961. She was
the first child of Ada Smith and Woodrow Smith, Jr. When she was 13, her family
moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where she graduated from Lincoln East High School in
1978. She began her undergraduate studies in elementary education at the University of
Nebraska in September of 1978. But, after one year, she decided to move to Florida,
where she worked for a number of years as an Activities Director at Nationwide
Insurance and as an on-air radio personality for W. O. N. E 91.7 FM radio. She returned
to school in 1990 and received a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in
Communication Processes and Disorders in 1992. She went on to receive a Master’s
degree in Journalism and Communications in 1994. It was in that same year that she
began work on a doctoral degree in Mass Communications. Her research, conducted
under the guidance of Dr. Michael Weigold, was in the area of media use and consumer
behavior. Cynthia has accepted a position as Assistant Professor in Advertising in the
College of Journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she will begin
teaching in the Spring of 1998. She is married to Craig Leon Frisby, who is an Associate
Professor of Education. Cynthia and Craig have two children, Angela, age 3, and Marcus,
age 1.
192

I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Associate Professor of Journalism and
Communications
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Associate Professor of Journalism and
Communications
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scopce and
quality, as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Kim Walsh-Childers
Associate Professor of Journalism and
Communications
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scopce and
quality, as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Barry Schlenker
Professor of Psychology

I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scopce and
quality, as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
/\
James Shepperd
Associate Professor of Psychology
This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the College of
Journalism and Communications and to the Graduate School and was accepted as partial
fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
December 1997
Dean, College of Journalism and
Communications
Dean, Graduate School



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