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Chapter Twelve. Standards, Expectancies, and Social Comparison

Monica Biernat and Laura S. Billings

Subject Psychology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631210344.2002.00014.x


Judgment and experience are relative phenomena; they occur against the backdrop of comparative frames of reference. When we say “I'm happy” or “she's very bright” or “that building is ugly,” we mean happy, bright, or ugly relative to some standard of comparison. A number of researchers have introduced this theme and have described the wide variety of sources or types of standards that may be used to define and describe our everyday encounters with the world. Beginning with research on such diverse areas as psychophysics ( Helson, 1947 ; Parducci, 1956 ; Stevens, 1957 ; Volkmann, 1951 ) and the self ( James, 1890/1948 ), psychologists have long emphasized the relativity of all forms of intra- and interpersonal experience. In this chapter, we will focus primarily on the role of judgment standards and expectations in evaluations of others and the self. Two key themes guide this work. One is the constructivist nature of comparisons and judgment – individuals pick and choose their reference points, drawing from a broad knowledge base as well as the specifics of a situation or context to subjectively define evaluative standards ( Kahneman & Miller, 1986 ; Miller & Prentice, 1996 ). The second theme is that the outcome of a comparative process can be viewed in terms of the basic principles of assimilation and contrast – a target of evaluation (e.g. another person, a group, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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