What is it about context that determines whether a target will be assimilated to the context or contrasted away from it? We suggest that it is the dimensional overlap in the range of values that contextual and target stimuli might take. Four experiments demonstrate that overlap or lack thereof between context and target ranges determines context effects. Assimilation occurs when the context and target ranges overlap, but contrast occurs when the ranges do not overlap. Furthermore, perceptions of amount of overlap or lack thereof determine the amount of assimilation or contrast. These results occur regardless of whether research participants are asked to explicitly consider ranges or not prior to judgment, whether the context consists of attributes or exemplars, and whether the target is novel or familiar.
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