Saliency modulates behavioral strategies in response to social comparison

Cuizhen Liu, Rongjun Yu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


Social comparison has been found to affect humans in many aspects including outcome evaluation, emotional reaction, and decision-making. Here, two experiments were conducted using a gambling task involving monetary gains and losses (absolute outcome: win/loss), whereby participants’ outcome was either better or worse than the outcome of a paired player (relative outcome: better/worse). The results of experiment 1 showed that participants switched more frequently after absolute losses compared with absolute gains, consistent with previous studies showing a win-stay lose-shift heuristic in repeated decision-making. Participants also adopted a better-stay worse-switch strategy where they switched more often after worse outcomes than better outcomes when compared with others, demonstrating that the win-stay lose-shift rule is extended to social comparison situations. In Experiment 2, through manipulating visual saliency, we replicated these findings and further demonstrated that decision making is influenced by emphasizing either the absolute (gain/loss) or relative (better/worse) aspect of the outcomes. Our research indicates that attentional modulation of information orchestrates social comparison, possibly by changing how each aspect of the information is weighted. These findings reinforce the idea that attention influences higher-level decision making by changing the weighting of each decisional dimension.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-247
Number of pages9
JournalActa Psychologica
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

User-Defined Keywords

  • Saliency
  • Social comparison
  • Strategic decision making
  • Win-stay lose-shift heuristic


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