Relativity in Social Cognition: Basic processes and novel applications of social comparisons

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


  • Christian Unkelbach
  • Hans Alves
  • Matthew Baldwin
  • Jan Crusius
  • Kathi Diel
  • Adam D. Galinsky
  • Anne Gast
  • Wilhelm Hofmann
  • Roland Imhoff
  • Oliver Genschow
  • Joris Lammers
  • Eileen Pauels
  • Iris Schneider
  • Sascha Topolinski
  • Mareike Westfal
  • Thomas Mussweiler
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. 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.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Review of Social Psychology
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)387-440
Number of pages54
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
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

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

    Research areas

  • Psychology - Social comparison, evaluative judgements, self-regulation, motivation, imitation