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J Pers Soc Psychol. 1989 Aug;57(2):165-88.

Perceived distributions of the characteristics of in-group and out-group members: empirical evidence and a computer simulation.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520.


This research studied 2 properties of perceived distributions of the characteristics of social category members: the probability of differentiating (making distinctions) among category members and the perceived variability (variance) of category members. The results of 4 experiments supported the hypothesis that greater familiarity with a social group leads to greater perceived differentiation and variability regarding that group. In-group members formed more differentiated and variable distributions for groups defined by age and more differentiated distributions for groups defined by nationality. For gender (where students were roughly equally familiar with people of both genders), no in-group--out-group differences occurred. Also, students perceived greater differentiation and variability among classmates over the course of a semester. To explain these results, we developed PDIST, a multiple exemplar model that assumes that people form perceived distributions by activating a set of category exemplars and then judging the relative likelihoods of different feature values on the basis of the relative activation strengths of these feature values. The results of a computer simulation experiment indicated that PDIST is sufficient to explain the results of our 4 experiments. According to the perceived distributions formed by PDIST, increasing familiarity leads to greater differentiation and variability, has a concave impact, and has greater impact on differentiation than on variability.

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