Relativity in social cognition: basic processes and novel applications of social comparisons

Unkelbach, C, Alves, H, Baldwin, M, Crusius, J, Diel, K, Galinsky, A D, Gast, A, Hofmann, W, Imhoff, R, Genschow, O, Lammers, J, Pauels, E, Schneider, I, Topolinski, S, Westfal, M and Mussweiler, T M (2023) Relativity in social cognition: basic processes and novel applications of social comparisons. European Review of Social Psychology, 34 (2). pp. 387-440. ISSN 1046-3283 OPEN ACCESS


A key challenge for social psychology is to identify unifying principles that account for the complex dynamics of social behaviour. We propose psychological relativity and its core mechanism of comparison as one such unifying principle. Social cognition is relative in that it is shaped by comparative thinking. If comparative thinking is indeed a central mechanism in social psychology, then it should be affected by, and affect itself, a wide variety of phenomena. To support our proposal, we review recent evidence investigating basic processes underlying and novel applications of social comparisons. Specifically, we clarify determinants of assimilation and contrast, evaluative consequences of comparing similarities vs. differences, attitudinal effects of spatial relativity, and how spatial arrangements determine perceived similarity, one of the antecedents of social comparisons. We then move to behavioural relativity effects on motivation and self-regulation, as well as imitation behaviour. Finally, we address relativity within the more applied areas of morality and political psychology. The reviewed research thereby illustrates how unifying principles of social cognition may be instrumental in answering old questions and discovering new phenomena and explanations.

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Item Type: Article
Subject Areas: Organisational Behaviour
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The present review is based on research conducted within the DFG-funded Research Unit FOR 2150: “Relativity in Social Cognition”. The following individual funding by the DFG that supported this research within the Research Unit is gratefully acknowledged: GE 3040/2-1, HO 4175/5-1, HO 4175/5-2, IM 147/3-1, IM 147/3-2, LA 3566/1-1, LA 3566/1-2, MU 1500/10-1, SCHN 1560/2-1, TO 705/4-1, TO 705/4-2, UN 273/4-1, UN 273/4-2, and UN 273/5-2.

Date Deposited: 23 Jan 2023 12:27
Date of first compliant deposit: 19 Jan 2023
Subjects: Evaluating
Social psychology
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2024 01:37

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