Social comparison effects on academic self-concepts – which peers matter most?

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

April 25, 2022


Social comparisons with peers are important sources of self-development during adolescence. Many previous studies showed that students’ academic self-concepts (ASC) form by contrasting one’s own achievement with the average of one’s class or school (the Big-Fish-Little-Pond Effect [BFLPE]). Based on social comparison theory, however, we would expect some peers to be more likely social comparison targets than other peers, for example, because they are more visible or students perceive them as similar to themselves. In this study, we used sociometric data to analyze which peers play the most important role for social comparison effects on ASC. We examined how the average achievement of friends, study partners, peers perceived as popular by the student, as well as same-gender and same-ethnic peers affect the general ASC and how these effects compare to the effect of the classroom’s average achievement. The study was based on a German longitudinal sample of 2,438 students (44% no recent immigrant background, 19% Turkish immigrant background, 10% Eastern European immigrant background, 27% other immigrant background) from 117 school classes that were followed from grade 9 to 10. Results from longitudinal social network analysis do not confirm substantial incremental effects of specific types of peers, while class average achievement showed a stable negative effect (confirming the BFLPE). In addition, we could provide evidence for social selection effects based on ASC. We conclude that classrooms provide a specific setting that imposes social comparisons with the “generalized peer” rather than with specific subgroups of peers.

Published in

Developmental Psychology






Online Early

Open Access

This article has been published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Copyright for this article is retained by the author(s). Author(s) grant(s) the American Psychological Association the exclusive right to publish the article and identify itself as the original publisher.



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