Doubly Double Negative: When Not Being Negative is More Important than Being Positive
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When people are asked to compare themselves to others, they frequently engage in self-enhancement. Further, prior work has shown that when engaging in self-enhancement, people tend to downplay how often they engage in negative behaviors to a greater extent than they highlight how often they engage in positive behaviors. Interestingly, the opposite pattern is shown for traits: people highlight their positive traits to a greater extent than they downplay their negative traits. In the current work, we examined direct and indirect social comparisons for sets of health, eating, social, and moral dimensions. Across our first 7 studies, we demonstrated that people downplayed negative aspects of the self to a greater extent than they highlighted positive aspects of the self when the aspect was not self-relevant, while people showed little to no preference for downplaying negative aspects of the self relative to highlighting positive aspects of the self when the aspect was self-relevant. In Study 8, we demonstrated that this pattern is partially mediated by recall of feedback about the average other student, but not by recall of one’s self-standing. Together these findings integrate the different patterns of self-enhancement shown for behaviors and traits by demonstrating that differences in the self-relevance of the dimension may be the best cue as to whether people are most likely to self-enhance by downplaying negatives or emphasizing positives.