Context matters sounds like a banal platitude, a cliché, doesn’t it? Well, it might be…. but… as we are reminded by David Foster Wallace in his This is Water speech, sometimes a banal platitude hides the most important truths, truths that become invisible to us. These truths are so present that we forget about them, just like when you’re wearing your most comfortable clothes.
Daniel Kahneman writes in an article published in December 2003 in the journal The American Economic Review:
Perception is reference-dependent: the perceived attributes of a focal stimulus reflect the contrast between that stimulus and a context of prior and concurrent stimuli.
I stopped reading that article right at that point. A question popped into my mind that I thought required a little bit more than a dictionary-lookup and a Wikipedia search…
What is the difference between reference-dependent and context-dependent?