Transfer of Knowledge Conference of European Social Cognition Network 2 edition:14 location:Lisboa, Portugal date:5-9 September 2012
Perhaps the greatest truism within social cognition is that human judgment is comparative. This particularly holds for judgments about groups and individuals, including the self. Since psychologists discovered social comparison as a research domain, they have unveiled valuable insights on why, when, and how people compare, to whom they compare, and how comparison affects their views of the compared objects.
Yet the spotlights on social comparison have not kept the latter from leading a secret life. This secret life is made possible by three phenomena that characterize laypeople’s and social psychologists’ thinking about social comparison: comparison neglect, the assumption of rational comparison, and focalism.
Comparison neglect is a lack of awareness that judgment is comparative (in laypeople) and a failure to apply this awareness to one’s thinking about human cognition (in social cognition researchers). The assumption of rational comparison is the idea that human comparison follows the rules of normative logic, leading to the idea that these rules sufficiently predict comparison outcomes. Focalism is the tendency to treat comparisons as predominantly informative about their targets (the groups or individuals being compared to a standard) to the neglect of referents (the groups or individuals serving as the standard).
Through a review of studies – both from my own lab and from other labs – that challenge the assumption of rational comparison, restore the uneven attention to targets and referents, and explore the boundaries of comparison neglect, I hope to encourage social comparison researchers to explore new grounds and demonstrate how insights from social comparison may advance knowledge on domains as diverse as stereotyping, persuasion, person perception, and – everybody’s favorite topic – the self.