How does social comparison within a self-help group influence adjustment to chronic illness? A longitudinal study
Dibb B., Yardley L.
Despite the growing popularity of self-help groups for people with chronic illness, there has been surprisingly little research into how these may support adjustment to illness. This study investigated the role that social comparison, occurring within a self-help group, may play in adjustment to chronic illness. A model of adjustment based on control process theory and response shift theory was tested to determine whether social comparisons predicted adjustment after controlling for the catalyst for adjustment (disease severity) and antecedents (demographic and psychological factors). A sample of 301 people with Ménière's disease who were members of the Ménière's Society UK completed questionnaires at baseline and 10-month follow-up assessing adjustment, defined for this study as functional and goal-oriented quality of life. At baseline, they also completed measures of the predictor variables i.e. the antecedents (age, sex, living circumstances, duration of self-help group membership, self-esteem, optimism and perceived control over illness), the catalyst (severity of vertigo, tinnitus, hearing loss and fullness in the ear) and mechanisms of social comparison within the self-help group. The social comparison variables included the extent to which self-help group resources were used, and whether reading about other members' experiences induced positive or negative feelings. Cross-sectional results showed that positive social comparison was indeed associated with better adjustment after controlling for all the other baseline variables, while negative social comparison was associated with worse adjustment. However, greater levels of social comparison at baseline were associated with a deteriorating quality of life over the 10-month follow-up period. Alternative explanations for these findings are discussed. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.