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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2005 Jun;88(6):885-94.

The perceptual determinants of person construal: reopening the social-cognitive toolbox.

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  • 1Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA. jasmin.cloutier@dartmouth.edu


Guided by a heuristic account of social-cognitive functioning, researchers have attempted to identify the cognitive benefits that derive from a categorical approach to person construal. While revealing, this work has overlooked the fact that, prior to the application of categorical thinking as an economizing mental tool, perceivers must first extract category-triggering information from available stimulus cues. It is possible, therefore, that basic perceptual processes may also contribute to people's propensity to view others in a category-based manner. This possibility was explored in 3 experiments in which the authors investigated the ease with which perceivers can extract categorical and identity-based knowledge from faces under both optimal and suboptimal (i.e., inverted faces, blurred faces, rapidly presented faces) processing conditions. The results confirmed that categorical knowledge is extracted from faces more efficiently than identity-related knowledge, a finding that underscores the importance of perceptual operations in the generation of categorical thinking.

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