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Social judgments of the self or others are often made in comparison to some standard in the environment. How these standards influence our judgments depends heavily on their relative standing on the judgment dimension of interest compared to the target of the judgment. Despite this consequential role, researchers have often selected items and comparison standards somewhat arbitrarily, either ignoring or simplifying its influence substantially. The current work takes a fine-grained holistic curve fitting approach to the measurement of the comparison response patterns across the extremity spectrum and shows how a narrower approach can pose severe limits to the generalisability and validity of inferences. A series of 8 experiments (N = 4304) uncovered the dynamic interactive pattern of assimilation and contrast and its sensitivity item level variation (1a,b & c), but relative stability when modelled at the level of the facial judgment dimensions themselves (2a & b). Finally, it revealed how the current approach can offer new insights into the role of other moderating variables, such as different comparative foci (3a & b) and cross-category standards (4), which traditional approaches may miss. Implications for study design and theory are discussed.
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