Clarifying the role of social comparison in the big-fish-little-pond effect (BFLPE): An integrative study


  • Huguet Pascal
  • Dumas Florence
  • Marsh Herbert
  • Regner Isabelle
  • Wheeler Ladd
  • Suls Jerry
  • Seaton Marjorie
  • Nezlek John


  • Big-fish–little-pond effect
  • Social comparison
  • Academic self-concept

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It has been speculated that the big-fish–little-pond effect (BFLPE; the negative impact of highly selective academic settings on academic self-concept) is a consequence of invidious social comparisons experienced in higher ability schools. However, the direct role of such comparisons for the BFLPE has not heretofore been documented. The present study comprises the first evidence that the BFLPE (a) is eliminated after controlling for students' invidious comparisons with their class and (b) coexists with the assimilative and contrastive effects of upward social comparison choices on academic self-concept. These results increase understanding of the BFLPE and offer support for integrative approaches of social comparison (selective accessibility and interpretation comparison models) in a natural setting. They also lend support for the distinction between forced and deliberate social comparisons and the usefulness of distinguishing between absolute and relative comparison-level choice in self-assessment.

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