This paper suggests that people can form impressions in a variety of ways that range from primarily category-based processes to primarily attribute-based processes, and that the process partially depends on the configuration of available information. Easily categorized configurations are hypothesized to elicit relatively category-based processes, while not easily categorized configurations are hypothesized to elicit relatively attribute-based processes. In Experiment 1, subjects first rated the likability of job-category labels and relevant trait attributes, in isolation from each other. At a later session, stimulus people were depicted by category labels (occupations) and relevant attributes (traits) in varying combinations. Typicality ratings confirmed the manipulated ease of categorizing the various information combinations. Correlations between subjects' evaluations of each stimulus person and their independent prior ratings of the components supported the idea of a continuum anchored respectively by relatively category-based and by relatively attribute-based impression formation processes. In the second study, think-aloud data further supported the current hypotheses: subjects spontaneously examined the fit between category and attributes, and they used the attributes more in the attribute-based conditions than in the category-based conditions. The protocol data also reveal some processes intermediate on the continuum between primarily category-based and primarily attribute-based processes; these include subcategorizing, generating new categories, and self-reference. Social perceivers apparently use flexible impression formation processes, depending on the configuration of available information.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Social Psychology
- Sociology and Political Science