Social comparisons are something that we all engage in every day, whether we notice it or not. This is when we judge the value and quality of our skills by comparing them to the skills of others around us. This is one way in which we develop our sense of self.
When I was growing up, I took violin lessons for many years. In high school, my neighbor Sarah, who had also been playing for many years, began taking lessons from my teacher. We would drive together and take notes for each other during lessons. I couldn’t help but notice that even though Sarah was a year older than me, she was always one song behind me. While I didn’t hold this against her by any means, it did boost my confidence in my own violin skills. Around this same time, Kimmy, another student and our teacher’s younger sister, started coming to the “advanced” group lessons with Sarah and me. Kimmy was a child protégée in every sense of the word. She practiced everything she was told for at least an hour every day, she never messed up, and she never came unprepared. She had far passed my skill level and she was only in middle school. Kimmy was a big threat to my self-concept. I had always viewed myself as a talented violinist, but the young Kimmy was showing me otherwise.
By comparing myself to both Sarah and Kimmy, I showed the different effects social comparisons can have on our self-concepts. By comparing my skills as a violinist with Sarah’s skills, I felt good about myself. When I saw that I was one step ahead of someone who was older than me, I felt more comfortable identifying myself as a talented violinist. I also felt satisfied with my abilities. However, when I compared my skills with Kimmy’s, I felt inferior. I was no longer satisfied with my abilities and constantly reminded myself to practice harder so that I could be more like Kimmy. In the end, how I felt about myself as a violinist depended on who I was around.