What makes You Think You're So Popular? The Friendship-Paradox Meets Self-Enhancement

By Ezra W. ZuckermanJohn T. Jost
1999| Working Paper No. 1566

According to the “friendship paradox”, most people have fewer friends than their friends have (Feld, 1991). This provides an opportunity to investigate the operation of self-serving biases in estimates of popularity that are contrary to reality. Although popularity estimates are related to actual popularity, evidence from a social network survey of college students (N=636) shows that motives for self-enhancement drive self-other comparisons of popularity. In particular, self-enhancement was stronger for self vs. friend comparisons than for self vs. “typical other” comparisons, which supports the notion that people are more threatened by the success of friends than strangers (e.g., Tesser & Campbell, 1982). At the same time, consistent with the notion that people “bask in the reflected glory” of close others (e.g., Cialdini et al., 1976), people with relatively popular friends tended to make more self-serving estimates of their own popularity than did people with less popular friends. These results suggest that people find ways of engaging in both reflection and comparison processes when estimating their relative popularity.