Vol 8, Issue 3, August 2021

Performance-based Social Comparisons in Humans and Long-tailed Macaques


Keupp, S., Abedin, F., Jeanson, L., Kade, C., Kalbitz, J., Titchener, R., Mussweiler, T., Bugnyar, T., & Fischer, J. (2021). Performance-based social comparisons in humans and long-tailed macaques. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 8(3), 325-350. https://doi.org/10.26451/abc.


Social comparisons are a fundamental feature of human thinking and affect self-evaluations and task performance. Little is known about the evolutionary origins of social comparison processes, however. Previous studies that investigated performance-based social comparisons in nonhuman primates yielded mixed results. We report three experiments that aimed (a) to explore how the task type may contribute to performance in monkeys, and (b) how a competitive set-up affects monkeys compared to humans. In a co-action touchscreen task, monkeys were neither influenced by nor interested in the performance of the partner. This may indicate that the experimental set-up was not sufficiently relevant to trigger social comparisons. In a novel co-action foraging task, monkeys increased their feeding speed in competitive and co-active conditions, but not in relation to the degree of competition. In an analogue of the foraging task, human participants were affected by partner performance and experimental context, indicating that the task is suitable to elicit social comparisons in humans. Our studies indicate that specifics of task and experimental setting are relevant to draw the monkeys’ attention to a co-actor and that, in line with previous research, a competitive element was crucial. We highlight the need to explore what constitutes “relevant” social comparison situations for monkeys as well as nonhuman animals in general, and point out factors that we think are crucial in this respect (e.g., task type, physical closeness, and the species’ ecology). We discuss that early forms of social comparisons evolved in purely competitive environments with increasing social tolerance and cooperative motivations allowing for more fine-grained processing of social information. Competition driven effects on task performance might constitute the foundation for the more elaborate social comparison processes found in humans, which may involve context-dependent information processing and metacognitive monitoring. 


Co-action, Competition, Nonhuman primates, Social comparison, Task relevance