Arbitrary social comparison, malicious envy, and generosity

Adiel Moyal*, Marina Motsenok, Ilana Ritov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Existing work on the effects of social comparison on envy and generosity typically involves manipulation of social comparison with respect to dimensions that carry personal meaning and reflect upon the self, for example, performance, ability, or achievement. In the current work, we examine the effects of social comparison based on a purely arbitrary, manipulated situation. We measure malicious envy via monetary decisions that have real consequences for the target of comparison, in place of a self-reported questionnaire. In addition, we test the effects of the preliminary social comparison on generosity in a subsequent and ostensibly unrelated situation. In Experiment 1 we demonstrate the effect of randomly manipulated upward social comparison on a monetary allocation decision, and we establish the link between this allocation decision and malicious envy. In Experiment 2 we show that upward comparison affects not only malicious envy towards the target of the comparison but also decreases generosity towards a third party in a subsequent, ostensibly unrelated situation. Experiment 3 shows the effect of this type of social comparison, beyond a specific direction, on reducing generosity towards a third party.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)444-462
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Behavioral Decision Making
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


  • envy
  • generosity
  • prosocial behavior
  • social comparison


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