The Influence of the Evaluative Ecology on Comparative Processing
Social information derives meaning only from comparisons: how many push-ups one can do, a person's yearly salary, or a scientist's Hirsch index. A second fundamental aspect of cognition is evaluative thinking; people divide the world into "good" and "bad", into "positive" and "negative".
The project investigates the interplay of evaluative and comparative thinking from the perspective of the evaluative ecology; this ecology is constituted, amongst other factors, by the distribution, frequency, or similarity of evaluative information. The ecological perspective's main insight is that many phenomena that are usually attributed to biased or motivated reasoning are due to the interaction of "innocent" cognitive processes and ecological properties.
The interaction of cognitive comparison processes with the evaluative ecology thereby allows explaining classic effects predicting new and relevant phenomena. The project shows this in three fields in social psychology: 1) person perception, 2) evaluative learning, and 3) self-serving biases. In doing so, the project's ecological perspective provides an essential ingredient to understand the relativity of human cognition.