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The dynamic interactive pattern of assimilation and contrast: Accounting for standard extremity in comparative evaluations
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology  (IF3.603),  Pub Date : 2021-07-08, DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2021.104190
Paul Barker, Roland Imhoff

Social judgments are often influenced by comparison to some standard in the environment, either moving the judgment closer (assimilating) to or away (contrasting) from this standard. Which direction this effect will take depends heavily on the relative standing of these standards on the judgment dimension compared to the target of the judgment. In previous research, items and comparison standards were often selected arbitrarily, ignoring or simplifying their influence substantially. The current work takes a fine-grained holistic curve fitting approach to measure response patterns across a wide range of standard extremities, showing that a narrower approach can pose limits to the generalizability and validity of inferences. A series of 8 experiments (N = 4304) uncovered a dynamic interactive pattern between assimilative and contrastive forces on average, which proved sensitive to item level variation (1a, b & c), but showed stability at the level of the facial judgment dimensions (2a & b). Finally, it revealed how the current approach can offer new insights into the role of other moderating variables, such as focusing on similarities versus differences (3a & b) and cross-category standards (4), which traditional approaches may miss. Implications for study design and theory are discussed.