Evaluations in Their Social Context: Distance Regulates Consistency and Context Dependence

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Abstract

When and why do people's likes and dislikes flexibly tune to the current context, and when do they remain consistent? Ideas about flexibility and consistency have permeated the attitude literature throughout its history. Building on the notion that both flexibility and consistency in evaluative responding can be highly functional as well as highly social, this paper considers the role of distance in guiding people's evaluations to incorporate specific and individualized information that helps immerse them in their current social environment, versus broad and general information that helps them reach beyond their current context and relate to things outside of it. Next, the paper reviews research supporting this perspective, focusing on its implications for understanding how people's evaluations help them tune into different aspects of their social environment — those that tend to be specific to a particular context, and those that tend to be consistently encountered across contexts. The described studies suggest that distance regulates susceptibility to specific and general social influences, as well as the extent to which people's evaluations reflect broad and socially shared morals, values, and ideological principles.

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