Anchoring and adjustment during social inferences

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2013 Feb;142(1):151-62. doi: 10.1037/a0028232. Epub 2012 Apr 16.


Simulation theories of social cognition suggest that people use their own mental states to understand those of others-particularly similar others. However, perceivers cannot rely solely on self-knowledge to understand another person; they must also correct for differences between the self and others. Here we investigated serial adjustment as a mechanism for correction from self-knowledge anchors during social inferences. In 3 studies, participants judged the attitudes of a similar or dissimilar person and reported their own attitudes. For each item, we calculated the discrepancy between responses for the self and other. The adjustment process unfolds serially, so to the extent that individuals indeed anchor on self-knowledge and then adjust away, trials with a large amount of self-other discrepancy should be associated with longer response times, whereas small self-other discrepancy should correspond to shorter response times. Analyses consistently revealed this positive linear relationship between reaction time and self-other discrepancy, evidence of anchoring-and-adjustment, but only during judgments of similar targets. These results suggest that perceivers mentalize about similar others using the cognitive process of anchoring-and-adjustment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Male
  • Problem Solving
  • Reaction Time
  • Self Concept
  • Social Adjustment*
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Perception*
  • Theory of Mind*
  • Young Adult