A Theory of Contrast Effects in Performance Appraisal and Social Cognitive Judgments

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Contrast effects in performance appraisal have been studied for almost 50 years, yet no integrative theory explaining them has been presented. We present a theory of contrast effects in performance appraisals, and in some forms of stereotyping and social comparison, based on five propositions. These propositions state that contrast effects are most likely to occur when 1) the target is average, 2) the target is unfamiliar, 3) the perceiver has enough cognitive resources, 4) the context is homogeneous, and 5) the context is negative. Methodological limitations and proposals for future research are also discussed