2013. Vol.4, No.11, 827-830
Published Online November 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access 827
Japanese Are Modest Even When They Are Winners: Competence
Ratings of Winners and Losers in Social Comparison
Kazuo Mori1, Hideko Mo ri 2
1Institute of Engeneering, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Koganei, Tokyo, Japan
2Bunka Gakuen Nagano College, Nagano, Japan
Received August 27th, 2013; r evised September 26th, 2013; accepted October 25th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Kazuo Mori, Hideko Mori. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative
Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original work is properly cited.
Social comparison experiments in two different social conditions, competing between friends and be-
tween strangers, were carried out with 88 Japanese male undergraduates. Participants were asked to come
to the laboratory in friend pairs to participate in the experiment. Two pairs were randomly combined for
each experimental session. In the Between-Friends condition, one of the two pairs solved 20 anagrams
competitively while the other pair observed them. In the Between-Strangers condition, one performer and
one observer were randomly chosen in each pair and the performers solved anagram tasks competitively.
As in our previous study, the anagram tasks were presented utilizing a presentation trick so that one per-
former-and-observer group viewed easier anagrams than the other group without their noticing the differ-
ence. As intended, those who viewed the easier anagrams outperformed the others, becoming winners in
all sessions. No participants noticed the trick. After the task, all four participants rated the ability of the
two performers including themselves. Their ability ratings showed that they tended to evaluate their own
ability modestly. Even winners consistently rated themselves lower than the others rated them. Two pos-
sible explanations of why Japanese participants made such modest responses were presented and dis-
Keywords: Social Comparisons; Winners and Losers; Japanese Males; Self-Rating; fMORI Technique
People may sometimes win and other times lose in various
social comparisons. Losers may suffer damage to their confi-
dence or self-esteem. Alicke, LoSchiavo, Zerbst, and Zhang
(1997) assumed that a loser would be likely to exalt a winner
excessively to protect his/her own confidence or self-esteem.
By elevating the ability of the winners, rather than diminishing
their own ability, losers can maintain their own sense of com-
petence while magnanimously acknowledging the superior
attributes of the winners. Alicke et al. (1997) tested this hy-
pothesis by conducting an experiment with tri ads o f participants
(one being a confederate) in which a participant and the con-
federate competed on a kind of intelligence quiz while the other
participant observed it. The participants were either to win or
lose the competition regardless of their actual competency, be-
cause the confederates either deliberately outperformed them or
let themselves be outperformed. After the competition, both
participants (performers and observers) evaluated the intellec-
tual ability of the counterparts (confederates). As hypothesized,
those participants who had lost the competition tended to rate
the ability of the winners much higher than the observing par-
ticipants rated the winners. Alicke et al. dubbed this loser’s ten-
dency to exaggerate a winner’s ability the “Genius Effect.” The
Genius Effect was repeatedly observed in follow-up studies
(e.g., Lassiter & Munhall, 2001). Lassiter, Clark, Munhall, and
Lindberg (2008) extended this phenomenon to situations in
which participants believed themselves to be not-so-competent
beforehand, yet they still outperformed others. The researchers
found that those participants tended to rate their contestants
even lower than uninvolved observers rated them (the “Idiot Ef-
fect”). According to these studies, there seems a simple tenden-
cy: losers rate their opponents’ ability higher and winners rate
their opponents’ ability lower than observers’ neutral ratings.
In Alicke et al.’s study and all of the follow-ups, the partici-
pants were strangers to the confederates. Social comparison ef-
fects between two acquaintances are likely to be different from
those between strangers. However, it is difficult to examine a
social comparison between two acquaintances using the Alicke
type experimental procedure because participants and confed-
erates are basically strangers in those experiments.
Mori and Mori (2011) examined social comparison effects
with groups of mutually acquainted participants rather than stran-
gers. However, they replicated Alicke et al.’s (1997) study with-
out using confederates. Instead, they utilized a presentation trick
(fMORI Technique, Mori, 2007) to present easy and difficult
anagram tasks on the same screen to a pair of genuine partici-
pants. Using special pairs of sunglasses polarized perpendicu-
larly from each other, the two different sets of anagram tasks
were presented to participants such that each pair was able to
observe only one set or the other, depending on how their sun-
glasses were polarized. In this way, they successfully and arti-
ficially created winners and losers among genuine participant
pairs because those who were given the easier tasks always out-
performed the others.
However, the results of Mori and Mori (2011) were different
from those of Alicke et al. (1997) and Lassiter et al. (2008).
The losers in Mori and Mori (2011) rated the winner’s intelli-
gence equally, as did the observers. Specifically, they did not
exaggerate their opponents’ ability in order to protect their own
self-esteem. Instead, they rated their own intelligence as lower
than did the observers. Meanwhile, the interaction of those win-
ners’ ratings was also contrary to that reported in Lassiter et al.
(2008). The winners in Mori and Mori (2011) rated themselves
much lower than the observers and losers did, and rated the
losers in the same way as the observers. Namely, neither Gen-
ius nor Idiot Effects were observed. Instead, both the winners
and losers rated themselves lower than the others did. They
dubbed it the “Modesty Effect.”
The differences between the two studies, Alicke et al. (1997)
and Mori and Mori (2011), might be attributable to two factors:
i) cross-cultural differences between the participants, Ameri-
cans and Japanese, or ii) the interpersonal relationships among
the participants, strangers and acquaintances, in Alicke et al.
(1997) and Mori and Mori (2011), respectively. It would be
desirable to examine these variables by conducting an experi-
ment with a two-factorial between-subject design. However, a
cross-cultural experiment is not easy to carry out in Japan.
Therefore, the present study aimed to examine only the second
variable, strangers vs. friends, using all Japanese participants.
Eighty-eight Japanese male undergraduates (18 - 23 years old,
20.0 years old on average) participated. As in Alicke et al.
(1997), only male students were recruited for the study. The
experimenters asked them to come to the laboratory in mutually
acquainted pairs. Two not-acquainted pairs were randomly com-
bined and regrouped into different arrangements according to
the two experimental conditions (22 pairs to form 11 foursomes
in each condition). In the Between-Friends condition, one of
two pairs was randomly assigned to be Performers, who solved
anagram tasks competitively, while the other pair were assigned
to act as Observers. In the Between-Strangers condition, one
Performer and one Observer were randomly chosen in each pair
and those two Performers solved the tasks competitively.
Random role assignment. Two participant pairs were allo-
cated to the same experimental time slot. On arrival, they were
assigned to one of the following roles: Performer of easy tasks
(PE), Performer of difficult tasks (PD), and Observers (OE &
OD). In the Between-Friends condition, the PE and PD were
chosen from one of the pairs, while in the Between-Strangers
condition, the PE and PD were chosen from each pair.
Anagram task instructions. The two pairs of participants
were seated in two rows of two chairs each placed side-by-side
approximately 1 m in front of the rear screen (see Figure 1).
The front seats were for the Performers. The sunglasses suitable
for each role were placed on each seat. Participants were told to
wear the sunglasses to avoid glare. The participants were told
that they would be given several word puzzles presented one-
by-one on the screen in front of them. The Performers’ task was
to figure out the correct word by re-arranging the letter string
shown to them, and announce the answer as soon as possible.
The Observers sitting right behind the Performers were told that
their task was to observe the activities of the two Performers
and make a written record. Then, the Observers were given the
check sheet to mark the record for each task.
Anagram task presentation. The same sets of anagram tasks
as those in Mori and Mori (2011) were used in the present
study. Easy and difficult anagram tasks were projected onto the
same half-transparent screen utilizing the fMORI Technique
(Mori, 2007) so that two participants (PE and OE) viewed easy
ones while the other two (PD and OD) saw difficult ones. Each
anagram task was presented for 20 seconds or until one of the
Performers answered correctly, whichever came first, and the
experimenter then proceeded to the next task. There were 24
anagram tasks with two practice items preceding them. It was
designed such that the Easy task Performers (PEs) would an-
swer about half of the test items correctly and so that the Diffi-
cult task Performers (PDs) might accidentally figure out the
correct answers before their counterparts only once or twice
during the whole session. It took about ten minute s to complete
the anagram task session.
Intelligence ratings. After the anagram task session, partici-
pants were asked to rate their intellectual levels in a question-
naire format. The Performers rated the winners and losers, in-
cluding themselves, while the Observers rated the winners and
losers only. Ratings were made on a 10-point scale ranging
from 0 (extremely low) to 9 (extremely high). To attenuate any
hesitation to rate other people’s intelligence directly, the crucial
rating was intermingled among a variety of filler questions ad-
dressing their attitudes, motivation, and other personality traits.
It took about 15 minutes to complete the questionnaire.
Post-experimental interviews. After the questionnaire ses-
sion, the experimenter asked first whether the participants had
noticed any abnormality in the presentation or not. Then, he
informed them about the research goals in order to obtain the
informed consent of the participants. They were paid 1000 yen
(about US $10) each for their participation.
Effectiveness of the Experimental Manipulation
Post-experimental interviews revealed that no participants
had noticed the presentation trick. The easy-task-performers
(PEs) outperformed their counterparts (PDs) in all 22 groups.
The average numbers of correct responses of the PEs were 10.3
and 9.5 out of 24 tasks, for the Between-Friends condition and
the Between-Strangers condition, respectively, while those of
the PDs were 2.9 and 3.2, respectively. Therefore, the present
experimental setting did seem to have successfully created win-
ners and losers without utilizing confederates.
Intelligence Ratings
Figure 2 shows the means for the ratings of participants’ in-
telligence. The main statistical analysis included two between-
subject variables, Social condition (Friends-Strangers) and Ra-
ter roles (Winners-Losers-Observers-Observers), and one with-
in-subject variable, Rated roles (Winners-Losers).
A three-way mixed ANOVA revealed that the main effects
of Social conditions (Friends-Strangers) and Rated roles (Win-
ners-Losers) were significant. As expected, the winners’ intel-
ligence was rated statistically higher than that of the losers
Open Access
Figure 1.
Diagram of the experimental setting.
Figure 2.
Winners and Losers rated for their intelligence by Winners,
Losers and Observers (Two Observers’ ratings were combined
in the figure. The vertical bars show standard deviations. The
two downward arrows show the Modesty Effect; Winners and
Losers rated themselves lower than the others did.)
(F(2,160) = 52.67, p < .01). It was rather hard to interpret the
result that overall scores were higher in the Strangers condition
than in the Friends condition (F(1,80) = 5.10, p < .05). This un-
expected difference seems little-related to the objectives of the
present study, so it was left ope n here. The main effect of Rater
roles (Winners-Losers-Observers-Observers) was not signifi-
cant, but the interaction between Rater roles and Rated roles
was significant. The participants rated similarly irrespective of
their roles in the social comparison setting (F(3,80) = .79, ns). On
the other hand, they rated differently the winners’ and losers’
intelligence depending on their roles (F(6,160) = 7.41, p < .01).
Post hoc comparisons using the LSD method revealed that both
Winners and Losers rated themselves lower than did the others
(p < .05). The other interactions were not significant.
Modesty Effect in Japanese
In Alicke et al. (1997), losers scored their own intelligence
level similar to the ratings of others while they rated the intelli-
gence of their contestants much higher than the others did (the
Genius Effect). In the same vein, the winners in Lassiter et al.
(2008) rated their opponents’ ability lower than the observers
did (the Idiot Effect). Mori and Mori (2011) found an opposite
tendency in that both winners and losers rated themselves lower
than the others did (the Modesty Effect) while they rated their
opponents in a similar way as the others. The present finding
tween-Friends and Between-Strangers conditions. The Between-
Strangers condition in the present study was virtually equiva-
lent to the Alicke et al. and Lassiter et al. experiments, except
for the cultural difference of the participants, Japanese in the
present study and Americans in Alicke et al. and Lassiter et al.
Therefore, it can be interpreted that the difference found in
those studies derived from the cultural difference of the parti-
cipants. Americans tended to attribute the outcomes of compa-
risons to the excessive ability or inability of their rivals, where-
as Japanese would attribute them to their own ability or lack of
replicated the results of Mori and Mori (2011) for both the Be-
Why Japanese Are M
maintaining good social re-
American participants opponents’ ability hi-
Being modest is a useful tool for
tions in any culture (Sedikides, Gregg, & Hart, 2007). Then,
why did only the Japanese participants in the present study
show the Modesty Effect, but not those in Alicke et al. (1997)
or Lassiter et al.? One possible explanation is that the American
participants were asked to evaluate the ability of their oppo-
nents (confederates) who were unfamiliar to them. Since they
knew little about their opponents, they put more weight on their
own abilities as a reference criterion. If they were outperformed,
it would be natural to assume that their opponents’ ability was
superior to their own. When they outperformed their opponents,
the losers’ ability could be assumed to be inferior to theirs. On
the other hand, in the present study, the opponents were not
unfamiliar strangers even in the Between-strangers condition.
They came from the same campus. Students in Japanese uni-
versities are filtered and layered by a uniform entrance exami-
nation system conducted nation-wide. Therefore, the partici-
pants in the present experiments should have had a good esti-
mate of the intellectual level of their counterparts even if they
were strangers to each other. Consequently, they could not at-
tribute the outcome to their opponent being a genius or an idiot.
It should be noted that the participants in the present study
ight have answered pretending to be modest. They might have
evaluated the losers as much less competent and the winners as
far superior as those participants in Alicke et al. and Lessiter et
al., but they might have hidden their honest evaluations to en-
hance their reputation among their friends and others. Yama-
guchi, Greenwald, Banaji, Murakami, Chen, Shiomura, Koba-
yashi, and Cai (2007) revealed that cultural differences in self-
esteem between West and East were not observed in implicit
measures, such as Implicit Association Tests (IAT; Greenwald,
McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998). Students in the East not only
answered modestly in questionnaires, but they showed a similar
response pattern in the IAT, in which their hidden attitudes
were revealed. It would be desirable to include these implicit
measures in social comparison studies in the future. Mori,
Uchida, and Imada (2008) developed a paper-and-pencil ver-
sion of the IAT. This would be suitable because it could be ea-
sily used with a conventional questionnaire.
evaluated their
er to protect their own self-esteem when they were outper-
formed (Genius Effect) as demonstrated in Alicke, et al. (1997).
Americans also showed a similar tendency when they outper-
formed their opponents, rating them even lower than them-
Open Access 829
Open Access
This research wAid from the Ja-
Alicke, M. D., LoSchiaZhang, S. (1997). The
selves (Idiot Effect, Lassiter et al., 2008). However, Japanese
participants showed different rating tendencies. Japanese losers
did not evaluate their opponents’ ability higher than did the
observers, irrespective of whether they were friends or strang-
ers to each other. Instead, they tended to evaluate their own
ability lower than the others did. Even when they outperformed
their opponents, they evaluated themselves lower than the ob-
servers did. Further cross-cultural research is needed to invest-
tigate these differences with participants from different cultural
backgrounds other than American and Japanese. It might also
be desirable to conduct a social comparison experiment among
friends, rather than strangers, with American participants. The
new experimental procedure used in the present study, in which
winners and losers were created without the use of confederates,
could be used for experiments in a variety of social comparison
studies. It is also recommended that such studies utilize implicit
measures, such as the IAT, as well as conventional explicit
rating measures.
as supported by Grants-in-
nese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and
Technology (Grant No.19330157 and 21012002) to KM. It was
approved by the ethical committee of Tokyo University of Ag-
riculture and Technology in 2009. The authors are indebted to
Rebecca Ann Marck for her superb work in editing the English
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