Burnout and reactions to social comparison information among volunteer caregivers

Karen I. van der Zee, Arnold B. Bakker, Bram P. Buunk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


The present study focused on social comparison processes among volunteer caregivers of terminally ill patients in relation to burnout. First, caregivers' (N= 80) affective reactions to a bogus interview with fellow volunteer workers who were either coping better or worse were considered. Upward comparison evoked more positive and less negative feelings than downward comparison. Second, we examined the possibility of producing positive comparison outcomes by instructing half of the volunteer caregivers to focus on the positive interpretation of social comparison information, that is to contrast their situation against the situation of the downward comparison targets or to identify themselves with the upward targets. This intervention was effective in reducing negative affect in the downward but not in the upward condition. Two burnout dimensions moderated the effects. Individuals high in emotional exhaustion (indicating high-burnout) benefited more from the self-enhancement instruction than individuals low in this dimension. For personal accomplishment the effects were in the opposite direction: solely individuals high in personal accomplishment (indicating low-burnout) benefited from the instruction. The latter effect was only found if the instruction followed downward comparison information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-410
Number of pages20
JournalAnxiety, Stress and Coping
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Burnout
  • Depersonalization
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Identification-contrast processes
  • Personal accomplishment
  • Social comparison
  • Volunteer caregiving

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental Health


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