The roles of outcome satisfaction and comparison alternatives in envy
Smith, R. H., Diener, E., & Garonzik, R. (1990). The roles of outcome satisfaction and comparison alternatives in envy. British Journal of Social Psychology, 29(3), 247-255.
We examined the perception of envy using an approach patterned after Thibaut & Kelley's (1959) analysis of outcome evaluations. Subjects read scenarios about a hypothetical target person who had experienced an apparent setback. The target person was described as either satisfied or dissatisfied with this outcome by virtue of it either matching or falling short of expectations (comparison level). In addition, the target person was shown to have either enjoyed a recent success or to have suffered a recent failure in an alternative domain. Finally, the target person encountered a comparison person who had either suffered a similar setback or who had experienced a success in the same domain. Subjects rated how envious they would feel if, hypothetically, they were the target person depicted in the story. As predicted, subjects gave more intense ratings of envy in reaction to the advantaged comparison person when the target person was dissatisfied (outcomes below comparison level) compared to when the target person was satisfied (outcomes matching comparison level). Furthermore, subjects expressed more envy when the target person had experienced a failure in an alternative domain compared to when the target person had experienced a success in an alternative domain. Some theoretical implications of the results are discussed.
No doubt there are few positions in life that do not throw together some persons who are there by virtue of failure and other persons who are there by virtue of success. In this sense, the dead are sorted but not segregated, and continue to walk among the living. (Goffman, 1952, p. 463)
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