The effect of individual ability differences and personality traits on social comparison
Authors: Minhui Yuan, Xiaokun Du, Ruifeng Yu, Xinran Xu
Abstract: These days, some work groups use the publication of employees’ performance information as feedback on their work, such as sales champions in car sales or real estate sales, to improve group performance by using well-performing employees to motivate poor-performing employees to promote their individual work effort. Social comparison theory helps people to evaluate their abilities when lacking an absolute objective standard. This study explored the effects of individual ability level, the combination of ability levels, and personality traits on social comparison among co-operators. Method: A three-way mixed design of 2 (work condition: individual work; group work) X 3 (individual ability level: high ability; medium ability; low ability) X 3 (combination of ability levels: the combination of two high-ability, one medium-ability and one low-ability; the combination of one high-ability, two medium-ability and one low-ability; the combination of one high-ability, one medium-ability and two low-ability) was used, with 180 subjects completing the illusion ensemble task and completing the personality trait questionnaires (including Rosenberg self-esteem scale, Eysenck Personality Inventory(EPQ), Social Comparison Orientation Scale(INCOM) and social comparative effect scale) under different experimental conditions. Results: The results indicated that work condition significantly influenced individual performance. Besides, individual ability level had a significant effect on social comparison. The impact of work condition on individual performance was different for subjects with varying levels of ability: the performance of high-ability subjects significantly decreased, while both medium-ability and low-ability subjects significantly increased, and low-ability subjects had significantly higher performance improvement than medium-ability subjects. Moreover, different combinations of ability levels significantly impacted subjects' individual behavior. Low-ability subjects in the combination of one high-ability, one medium-ability, and two low-ability subjects had the most significant improvement, which was the combined result of the upward identification and parallel comparison. Furthermore, personality traits play a crucial role in social comparison. Self-esteem had a significant effect on participation in social comparison. Subjects with low self-esteem were more inclined to participate in social comparisons and changed sharply in individual performance relative to those with high self-esteem. In addition, neuroticism was associated with adverse effects caused by social comparison (e.g., upward-contrast effect and downward-identification effect), whereas extraversion was associated with positive effects induced by social comparison (e.g., upward-identification). Apart from this, social comparison propensity was found to be positively associated with changes in individual performance and negatively related to self-esteem scores. Additionally, performance change in medium-ability subjects may primarily come from the effect of the downward-contrast effect from the result of the social comparison effect scale. Conclusions: This study illustrates the impact of individual ability and personality traits on social comparison, and provides feasible suggestions for the work organization to improve group performance. Based on the performance changes across groups, an increment in the number of high-ability subjects caused a decrease in team performance, whereas an increment in the number of low-ability subjects positively affected overall team performance. Therefore, group work organizations can improve team performance by increasing the number of low-ability members and reducing the number of high-ability members in future management.
Keywords: social comparison, behavioral performance, personality trait, social comparison orientation
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