Person concepts: The effect of target familiarity and descriptive purpose on the process of describing others

Susan T. Fiske, Martha G. Cox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


The relationship between object and person perception is explored in free‐response person descriptions. A taxonomy which applies to both person and object descriptions, that is, a theoretically extensible taxonomy, potentially provides theoretical continuities across areas of perception. Evidence for the taxonomy's validity, or psychological meaningfulness, comes from differential usage of its components in (1) describing familiar and stranger target persons, (2) for physical versus indepth descriptive purposes, and (3) over the stages of the descriptive output. Descriptions of friends focus relatively more on personality traits and personal origins, while descriptions of strangers focus on context. Physical descriptions not surprisingly emphasize appearance, while indepth descriptions include mostly personality traits, as well as observable behaviors, appearance terms, and relationship descriptors. Differential usage of the components over stages of the description reveals that descriptions usually begin with appearance and later include typical behaviors and personality terms. Relationship labels, when used, occur at the beginning. Parallels with object description are discussed, and structural implications for concept storage are explored.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)136-161
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Personality
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1979
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Person concepts: The effect of target familiarity and descriptive purpose on the process of describing others'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this