British Psychology Society - Social Section location:Sheffield date:15-17 September 2009
From a logical point of view, saying that individual X possesses a characteristic more than individual Y (X >Y) equals saying that individual Y possesses the characteristic less than individual X (Y < X). However, are these statements also psychologically equivalent?
We tested the hypothesis that people (a) respond more favorably to individuals who describe differences between people in terms of X > Y statements than to individuals who describe these differences in terms of Y < X statements, and (b) agree more with comparative questionnaire items when these take the form of X > Y statements than when these take the form of Y < X statements.
In Study 1, participants read a vignette that described men (target) as better friends than women (referent) or that described women (target) as better friends than men (referent). This superiority was either described in terms of the target being superior to the referent or as the referent being inferior to the target. Participants rated both the statement and the individual who had allegedly made it. On both measures participants responded more favorably to the target-superior-to-referent statement than to the referent-inferior-to-target statement. In Study 2, participants responded to a questionnaire that consisted of comparative items about men and women. They agreed more with items of the type target-more-than-referent than with items of the type referent-less-than-target. This effect occurred regardless of the valence of the characteristic being compared and of the degree to which it was stereotype-consistent.
Taken together, people prefer (X >Y) statements above (Y < X) statements. Additional findings suggest that they do so partly because (X >Y) statements communicate positive views of both X and Y whereas (Y < X) statements communicate an unfavorable view of at least one of them.