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DFG Research Unit FOR 2150 | Relativity in Social Cognition

Central Project

Christian UnkelbachYael Ecker • Jehan Sparks • Lea Sperlich

A key challenge for social psychology is to identify unifying principles that account for the complex dynamics of social behaviour. We propose psychological relativity, along with its core mechanism of comparison, as one such unifying principle. Social cognition is essentially relative in nature, in that it is strongly shaped by comparative thinking. The goal of this Research Unit is to demonstrate that this fundamental element of cognition explains a wide variety of behaviour. Specifically, we seek to demonstrate the central role of comparison by identifying its antecedents and consequences. Our Research Unit is guided by the idea that, if comparative thinking is indeed a central mechanism in social psychology, then it should be affected by, and affect itself, a wide variety of phenomena.

To do so, we set up an interdisciplinary research. Even though the projects approach the topic from many different directions, they show a strong methodological and conceptual overlap. In particular, all projects are united by a strong emphasis on the cognitive underpinnings of social behaviour, and thus have a clear social cognition focus. This shared focus is interwoven with an interdisciplinary perspective that takes into account conceptual insights and methodological approaches from animal behaviour and behavioural economics research.

We explore the antecedents and consequences of comparative thinking by focussing on some of the most fundamental, ubiquitous and influential intrapersonal and interpersonal processes and concepts of psychological science. On the intrapersonal level, we focus on evaluative thinking, embodiment, and self-control as core variables. On the interpersonal level, we focus on morality and cooperation. In addition, the Research Unit involves two overarching projects, one exploring the evolutionary foundations of comparison, and one further developing the methodological foundation for the study of comparative thinking.

Together, the Research Unit will provide important insights into the intrapersonal and interpersonal antecedents and consequences of comparative thinking, and, hence, the essential relativity of social cognition. This will allow us to develop an integrative perspective on psychological science.

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Prof. Dr. Christian Unkelbach
PI | Evaluative Ecology

Universität zu Köln

DFG Forschergruppe FOR 2150 - Relativity in Social Cognition
Richard-Strauss-Str. 2
50931 Köln | GERMANY

Telephone +49-221-470-2001
E-mail christian.unkelbach(at)