The Rank Principle in Social and Cognitive Comparison

Funder: Economic and Social Research Council
Amount: £419,447
Behavioural Science Centre Member: Professor Alex Wood (CI)
Other Researchers: Gordon Brown (PI)

In everyday life, attitudes are formed and decisions are made on the basis of judgements. Am I satisfied with my wage? Does the UK accept too many asylum seekers? What length of prison sentence is appropriate for a given crime? What is the appropriate and fair level of taxation? It has long been known that such judgements are, typically, highly relative. The judgement that is reached or the decision that is made may be strongly determined by the context of options that is presented. For example, individuals' opinions about their wages are determined by comparing their own wage with that of others around them - a reference group effect. People's opinions about levels of immigration or the "fair" level of taxation can be strongly influenced by the information they are given about immigration or taxation levels in other European countries. The proposed research will develop and test a new rank-based approach to everyday judgement and decision-making. According to this approach, decisions are influenced by the rank-ordered position of an option in a distribution. For example, most people think that there are more very wealthy people in the UK (e.g. earning more than 100K) than there really are. We have found that individuals' satisfaction with their income is determined by where they perceive themselves to be in this assumed wage distribution, rather than by their position in the true UK wage distribution. In this interdisciplinary project, we will extend existing rank-based models to judgements about a variety of socially and politically important quantities.

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