Dare to compare: Fact-based versus simulation-based comparison in daily life

Amy Summerville*, Neal J. Roese

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


We examined the relative frequency of social, counterfactual, past-temporal, and future-temporal comparison in daily life using an experience-sampling method, in which participants were randomly prompted to record thought samples using palmtop computers carried for two weeks. Comparative thought accounted for 12% of all thoughts, and all four comparison types occurred with equivalent frequency. Comparisons may be either fact-based (i.e., based on actuality, as in social and past-temporal comparison) or simulation-based (i.e., based on imagination, as in counterfactual and future-temporal comparison). Because the latter are more "unbounded," and because greater perceived opportunity invites greater self-improvement, we predicted and found that counterfactual and future-temporal comparison were more likely to be upward (vs. downward) than social and past-temporal comparison. All comparison types focused on approach more than avoidance motives, except for counterfactuals, which showed equivalent focus on both. These findings reveal the prominence of comparative thought in daily life, and underscore the value of an integrative theory that describes social, counterfactual, or temporal comparison using a common theoretical platform.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)664-671
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2008


  • Affect
  • Approach
  • Avoidance
  • Counterfactual
  • Motivation
  • Regret
  • Social comparison
  • Temporal comparison

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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