Associated Systems Theory: A Systematic Approach to Cognitive Representations of Persons

By Robert S. Wyer | Go to book overview

8
Coherence Versus Ambivalence in Cognitiv Representations of Perso

Galen V. Bodenhausen Michigan State University

C. Neil Macrae University of Wales, Cardiff

Don Carlston's Associated Systems Theory (AST), discussed in chapter 1, represents an ambitious attempt to come to terms with the fact that our mental representations of others are much more complex and multifaceted than most social psychological theories of impression formation and person memory have previously recognized. Drawing on recent developments in cognitive psychology and neuroscience, as well as social psychology, Carlston has devised a theoretical scheme that manages to address the inherent complexity of our cognitive representations of others with considerable elegance. AST represents a new way of looking at matters of long-standing concern in social cognition research, and it also raises a number of issues that will likely comprise the basis of future empirical efforts in this domain. As such, it holds the potential promise of setting the agenda for a new generation of impression-formation research. The comments that follow are intended to stimulate further consideration of some key aspects of the impression-formation process, in the hope of contributing to the identification of central issues for this agenda.

Of the many possible intriguing departure points for commentary, we have chosen to focus on a set of issues that seem particularly relevant to the type of mental representation that has been the focus of our own research; namely, representations of stereotyped outgroup members. One of the interesting qualities that characterize many people's reactions to members of minority groups is ambivalence. Several contemporary theories of intergroup relationships emphasize this fact. For example, Gaertner and Dovidio's ( 1986) aversive racism theory proposes that reactions to minorities typically consist of both negative affect and avoidance tendencies, as

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