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Understanding and Managing Downward Social Comparisons in Knowledge Awareness

Knowledge Exchange Lab and Social Processes Lab




Förderung Eliteprogramm für PostdoktorandInnen


This project investigated a tension between the structural requirements and social dynamics of effective collaborative learning. On the one hand, collaborative learners need to be aware of one another’s strengths and weaknesses so that more knowledgeable learners can provide the specific help that less knowledgeable learners need, that is, learners need to possess knowledge awareness. On the other hand, when collaborative learners become aware of one another’s strengths and weaknesses, this introduces the potential for social comparison; learners can then evaluate their own intelligence and competence by comparing their knowledge to the knowledge of a learning partner.

Our research suggested that highly knowledgeable learners who engage in this comparison process focus on maximizing the positivity of their self-evaluation instead of on the amount of information they or their learning partners learn. Specifically, we demonstrated that knowledge awareness prompts knowledgeable learners who are predisposed to self-evaluate through comparison with other people to provide less helpful explanations to learning partners in need of assistance. Since highly knowledgeable learners are the ones most able to help other students learn, this behavior has the potential to badly undermine the effectiveness of collaborative learning.

Our follow-up studies therefore focused on better understanding the situational antecedents of problematic self-evaluative social comparisons between collaborative learners as well as on developing collaborative learning techniques that have the potential to prevent this counterproductive behavior


Neugebauer, J., Ray, D.G., & Sassenberg, K. (2016). When being worse helps: The influence of upward social comparisons and knowledge awareness on learner engagement and learning in peer-to-peer knowledge exchange. Learning and Instruction, 44, 41-52.

Ray, D., Neugebauer, J., Sassenberg, K., Buder, J., & Hesse, F. W. (2013). Motivated shortcomings in explanation: The role of comparative self-evaluation and awareness of explanation recipient knowledge. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 142, 445-457.