Date of Original Version



Working Paper

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Abstract or Description

We explored the effects of absolute and comparative feedback on self-evaluations, decisions under uncertainty, performance attribution, and perceived relevance of the task to one’s self-concept. Participants (415 undergraduates) were told they had gotten 20% correct, 80% correct, or were not given then their scores on a practice test. Orthogonal to this manipulation, participants learned that their performance placed them in the 23rd percentile or 77th percentile, or they did not receive comparative feedback. They were then given a chance to place bets on two games – one in which they needed to get more than 50% right to double their money (absolute bet), and one in which they needed to beat more than 50% of other test-takers (comparative bet). Absolute feedback influenced comparative betting, particularly when no comparative feedback was available. Comparative feedback exerted weaker and inconsistent effects on absolute bets. Similar findings emerged on perceived likelihood of winning and confidence in the bets. Absolute and comparative feedback had equivalent effects on performance attribution and perceived task importance (such that more favorable performance increased ability attribution and task importance), but absolute feedback had much stronger (and more consistent) effects on satisfaction with performance and state self-esteem. These findings suggest that information about one’s absolute standing on a dimension may be more influential than information about comparative standing, supporting Festinger’s (1954) assertion that social comparison was only necessary when objective information was unavailable.