Learnings Mental Models

The Relativity Mental Model: A Guide to Making Better Decisions


In our daily lives, we often make decisions based on comparisons and relative evaluations rather than objective measures. The human mind is wired to perceive and evaluate things in relation to their context, and this cognitive tendency is known as the “Relativity” mental model. Understanding this mental model is crucial as it plays a significant role in our decision-making processes. In this blog post, we will explore the concept of Relativity, its prevalence in various contexts, the biases that contribute to it, and strategies to avoid falling into its trap.

Defining Relativity and Its Relevance

Relativity, as a mental model, refers to the tendency to evaluate and judge things based on their relative differences rather than their absolute value. When making decisions, we often compare options based on how they differ from each other instead of considering them individually. This mental model is deeply rooted in human psychology and influences our day-to-day decision-making processes.

The relevance of Relativity in decision-making lies in the fact that our judgments and choices are not always based on objective measures. Instead, they are influenced by the context in which options are presented or compared. Understanding the relativity bias can help us make more informed and rational decisions by recognizing when our evaluations may be skewed.

Examples of Relativity in Various Contexts

  1. Personal Life Decisions: Imagine you’re shopping for a new laptop. You come across two options: one priced at $800 and another at $1200. The $800 laptop seems reasonably priced, but when you see the $1200 laptop, it appears significantly more expensive. However, a third option priced at $2000 is also available. In comparison, the $1200 laptop suddenly seems like a better deal. This relativity bias leads you to perceive the $1200 laptop as more affordable than it actually is, based on its relative comparison with the higher-priced option.
  2. Business Scenarios: Consider a restaurant offering two meal options: a basic meal priced at $10 and a premium meal priced at $15. Most customers perceive the premium meal as a better value because it is only $5 more expensive than the basic meal. However, the restaurant introduces a third option, a deluxe meal priced at $25. Now, the premium meal appears more reasonable in comparison to the higher-priced deluxe meal. By exploiting the relativity bias, the restaurant influences customers to choose the premium meal, maximizing their profits.
  3. Public Policy-Making: In public policy, relativity bias can influence decision-making on tax rates. For instance, increasing taxes on higher-income individuals by 10% may seem reasonable in isolation. However, if the tax increase is proposed as a 20% increase for high-income earners while leaving the rates for middle-income earners unchanged, it may seem unfair and generate resistance. The relativity bias makes people evaluate tax changes based on the relative difference between income groups rather than the absolute impact on individuals.

Mental Biases and Psychological Underpinnings

Relativity bias is intertwined with various mental biases that contribute to its prevalence. Two such biases are anchoring bias and contrast effect. Anchoring bias occurs when we rely too heavily on the initial piece of information presented to us when making judgments or decisions. In the laptop example, the $2000 laptop acts as an anchor, influencing our perception of the $1200 laptop as a better deal. The contrast effect, on the other hand, occurs when the perception of one option is altered by the presence of another option. In the restaurant example, the presence of the deluxe meal influences the perceived value of the premium meal.

Additionally, relativity bias can be attributed to psychological factors such as cognitive ease and social comparison. Our minds often seek the path of least resistance, and evaluating options relatively is mentally easier than assessing them individually. Social comparison, comparing ourselves and our choices to others, also reinforces the relativity bias as we strive to fit in and make choices aligned with our perceived reference groups.

Identifying and Avoiding the Relativity Trap

To avoid falling into the relativity trap, it is important to be aware of its influence and employ strategies for more objective decision-making. Here are some practical tips:

  1. Seek Absolute Measures: Focus on the intrinsic value of each option rather than relying solely on comparisons. Evaluate options individually based on their merits, considering their benefits, costs, and features without direct comparison to others.
  2. Consider Multiple Perspectives: Look at the problem from different angles and consider various reference points. This approach helps minimize the impact of relativity bias by broadening the scope of evaluation beyond a single context.
  3. Take Time for Deliberation: Slowing down the decision-making process allows for more thoughtful and deliberate evaluations. Avoid making snap judgments based on immediate comparisons and take the time to reflect on each option independently.
  4. Question Anchors and Comparisons: Challenge the initial information or comparisons presented to you. Ask yourself if the comparison is relevant and if the context is influencing your judgment. By questioning the basis of comparison, you can reduce the impact of anchoring bias and the contrast effect.


The relativity mental model shapes our decision-making processes in numerous ways. By understanding its influence and recognizing the biases that contribute to it, we can make more informed choices. Whether in personal life decisions, business scenarios, or public policy-making, being aware of the relativity trap helps us navigate the complexity of decision-making more effectively. By seeking absolute measures, considering multiple perspectives, taking time for deliberation, and questioning anchors and comparisons, we can mitigate the impact of relativity bias and make decisions that align with our best interests.

Developing an awareness of the relativity mental model empowers us to see through the illusions of relative value and make more objective assessments. By embracing a more rational and holistic approach to decision-making, we enhance our ability to achieve desired outcomes and avoid the pitfalls of biased judgment. Remember, the key lies in recognizing the power of relativity and actively avoiding its grip on our minds.

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