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European Journal of Social Psychology Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 38, 343–353 (2008)
Published online 13 July 2007 in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com) DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.457

Better than average and better with time: Relative evaluations of self and others in the past, present, and future
ALF BØRRE KANTEN* AND KARL HALVOR TEIGEN
University of Oslo, Norway

Abstract Evaluations ofself and others in the past, present, and future were examined by asking 385 students to rate themselves or an acquaintance relative to their peers on a number of personality traits. We predicted, and found, evidence for self-enhancement, as most participants regarded themselves superior to ‘most others’ at all points in time. We also found a better than average improvement effect, as participantsconsidered themselves more superior now, than they were in the past, and expected to become even more superior in the future. Expected improvement in the future was larger than improvement over an equal span of time in the past. It is suggested that favorable selfconstructions are possible to the extent that the past and the future are perceived as ambiguous. Singular acquaintances were also ratedbetter than most others, and were believed to improve over time, but their rate of improvement in the future was smaller than the expected improvement for oneself. Copyright # 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

When people compare themselves to others, they often rate themselves as above average on positive traits like intelligence, friendliness, and honesty. This ‘better than average’ effect(hereafter BTA) is one of the most replicated and robust phenomena from the literature on social comparative judgments (e.g., Alicke, 1985; Brown, 1986). Furthermore, people tend to believe that they are less likely than others to experience negative life events in the future, a phenomenon often referred to as unrealistic optimism (Weinstein, 1980). In addition, there is some evidence that the BTAeffect is not limited to oneself, but is also applicable to singular others (Klar & Giladi, 1997). However, we do not only compare ourselves to other people, but also to our past and perhaps even to our future selves. This temporal dimension form the basis for Wilson and Ross’s (2001) theory of temporal self appraisal, which predicts that people will regard their present selves as better than they werein the past. Less is known about whether the perceived improvement from the past will extend into the future. We ask whether the downgrading of past selves is paralleled by an enhancement of future selves.
*Correspondence to: Alf Børre Kanten, Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1094, Blindern, NO-0317 Oslo, Norway. E-mail: a.b.kanten@psykologi.uio.no

Copyright # 2007 JohnWiley & Sons, Ltd.

Received 4 June 2007 Accepted 7 June 2007

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Alf Børre Kanten and Karl Halvor Teigen

In the present study, we bring together two research traditions in a common format: The better than average effect, including singular others, and temporal self appraisals, including the future. This is done by asking people to compare themselves to most others not only in thepresent, but also in the past and in the future. We also ask people to evaluate an acquaintance along the same dimensions, to see whether similar positivity effects apply to other individuals. Albert (1977) argued that although people often rely on social comparisons for self-knowledge, they possess a basic need to establish and maintain an enduring self-identity over time, and that temporalcomparisons play an essential role in how people come to know who they are. He further suggested that people sometimes highlight negative aspects of the past in order to reach the desirable conclusion that one is improving. Thus, people may employ temporal as well as social comparisons for self-enhancement purposes. Focusing on how people construe their past selves, Wilson and Ross (2000, 2001; Ross &...
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