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The principle of social comparison is basic to self-esteem formation. Human beings learn about themselves by comparing themselves to others. This process leads to positive, neutral, or negative self-evaluations. Two types of social comparison operate in the formation of self-esteem. The first marks a person as superior or inferior to others, in terms of some criterion of excellence, merit, or virtue. Brighter or duller, weaker or stronger, more good-looking or uglier – these are comparative labels requiring relative judgments, both about others and about the self. The other type of social comparison is normative; it refers primarily to conformity or to deviance. The issue here is not whether one is better or worse, but whether one is the same or different. For example, the adolescent reprimanded in the home for nonconformity to certain rules or values is praised by his or her peers for the same behavior. Conformity and deviance do not dwell in the behavior itself, but in its comparison to the norms of a particular social environment.
The principle of self-attribution relates to drawing evaluative conclusions about oneself, largely by observing one’s own behavior and its outcome. Persons can judge that they have done something brilliant and conclude they are worthwhile because of it. An example is the seminarian who consistently does well in preaching and consequently concludes that he is a good preacher. This conclusion is reached primarily not by consulting his inner experience, but by observing his behavior and its outcome.