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J Exp Psychol Gen. 2009 Feb;138(1):1-21. doi: 10.1037/a0014374.

Relatively fast! Efficiency advantages of comparative thinking.

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Department of Psychology, University of Cologne, Germany.


Comparisons are a ubiquitous process in information processing. Seven studies examine whether, how, and when comparative thinking increases the efficiency of judgment and choice. Studies 1-4 demonstrate that procedurally priming participants to engage in more vs. less comparison influences how they process information about a target. Specifically, they retrieve less information about the target (Studies 1A, 1B), think more about an information-rich standard (Study 2) about which they activate judgment-relevant information (Study 3), and use this information to compensate for missing target information (Study 4). Studies 2-5 demonstrate the ensuing efficiency advantages. Participants who are primed on comparative thinking are faster in making a target judgment (Studies 2A, 2B, 4, 5) and have more residual processing capacities for a secondary task (Study 5). Studies 6 and 7 establish two boundary conditions by demonstrating that comparative thinking holds efficiency advantages only if target and standard are partly characterized by alignable features (Study 6) that are difficult to evaluate in isolation (Study 7). These findings indicate that comparative thinking may often constitute a useful mechanism to simplify information processing. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2009 APA, all rights reserved).

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