Relational Versus Structural Goals Prioritize Different Social Information

Gandalf Nicolas, Susan T. Fiske, Alex Koch, Roland Imhoff, Christian Unkelbach, Julie Terache, Antonin Carrier, Vincent Yzerbyt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


People gather information about others along a few fundamental dimensions; their current goals determine which dimensions they most need to know. As proponents of competing social-evaluation models, we sought to study the dimensions that perceivers spontaneously prioritize when gathering information about unknown social groups. Because priorities depend on functions, having relational goals (e.g., deciding whether and how to interact with a group) versus structural goals (e.g., getting an overview of society) should moderate dimensional priorities. Various candidate dimensions could differentiate perceivers’ impressions of social groups. For example, the Stereotype Content model argues that people evaluate others in terms of their Warmth (i.e., their Sociability and Morality) and Competence (i.e., their Ability and Assertiveness). Alternatively, the Agency-Beliefs-Communion (ABC) model proposes conservative-progressive Beliefs. Five studies (N = 2,268) found that participants consistently prioritized learning about targets’ Warmth. However, goal moderated priority: When participants had a relational goal, such as an unknown group increasing in their neighborhood, they showed more interest in targets’ Sociability, a facet of Warmth. When participants had a structural goal, such as an unknown group increasing in their nation, they showed more interest in the groups’ Beliefs, as well as increased interest in Competence-related facets. Diverse methods reveal interest in all dimensions, reconciling discrepancies among social-evaluation models by identifying how relational versus structural goals differentiate priorities of the fundamental dimensions proposed by current models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)659-682
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 17 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Goal moderator
  • Information gathering
  • Natural language
  • Open-ended
  • Stereotype content


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