Which social comparisons influence happiness with unequal pay

Published on Mar 1, 2021in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General
· DOI :10.1037/XGE0000965
Eleanor Putnam-Farr (Rice University), Carey K. Morewedge27
Estimated H-index: 27
(BU: Boston University)
We examine which social comparisons most affect happiness with pay that is unequally distributed (e.g., salaries and bonuses). We find that ensemble representation-attention to statistical properties of distributions such as their range and mean-makes the proximal extreme (i.e., the maximum or minimum) and distribution mean salient social comparison standards. Happiness with a salary or bonus is more affected by how it compares to the distribution mean and proximal extreme than by exemplar-based properties of the payment, like its comparison to the nearest payment or its distribution rank. This holds for randomly assigned and performance-based payments. Process studies demonstrate that ensemble representations lead people to spontaneously select these statistical properties of pay distributions as comparison standards. Exogenously increasing the salience of less extreme exemplars moderates the influence of the maximum on happiness with pay, but exogenously increasing the salience of the distribution maximum does not. As with other social comparison standards, top-down information moderates their selection. Happiness with a bonus payment is influenced by the largest payment made to others who solve the same math problems, for instance, but not by the largest payment made to others who solve different verbal problems. Our findings yield theoretical and practical insights about which members of groups are selected as social comparison standards, effects of relative income on happiness, and the attentional processes involved in ensemble representation. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).
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