Academic journal article Ethnic Studies Review

Saliency of Category Information in Person Perception for Ingroup and Outgroup Members

Academic journal article Ethnic Studies Review

Saliency of Category Information in Person Perception for Ingroup and Outgroup Members

Article excerpt

The saliency of category information in person perception for ingroup and outgroup members was investigated. European American participants were presented with a fictional character that varied in race (African American or European American) and occupational garb (military, judge, doctor, or athlete). Occupations were chosen to be either stereotypical or nonstereotypical for African Americans and European Americans with the aid of the Statistical Abstract of the United States (1992) percentages. Based on prior research findings (Park & Rothbart, 1982; Mackie & Worth, 1989), it was predicted European American participants would spontaneously describe an outgroup character by race (superordinate category information), but would mention occupation (subordinate category information) when spontaneously describing the ingroup character. As predicted, results indicated race was rarely mentioned when describing the ingroup character, but was usually the first label applied for the outgroup character. Moreover, when describing the ingroup character, as compared to the outgroup character, occupation was mentioned earlier. Thus, differential utilization of organizing information about a seemingly mundane stimulus may provide a clue as to the origins of intergroup categorizations and bias.

Assignment of persons to social categories is an efficient method of simplifying social information we encounter on a daily basis. Categorization of persons into groups allows us to enter social situations with a sense of control over interaction outcomes and can guide behavior during interaction. Moreover, salient characteristics aid the categorization process with minimal expenditure of cognitive effort. Usually, the salient features used to categorize are visual and may include race, sex, physical disability, attractiveness, (Hamilton & Trolier, 1986; Jones, 1997; Stangor & Lange, 1994; Zebrowitz, 1990) and even hair color (Clayson & Maughan, 1986).

Although categorization of persons allows for simplifying and efficiently managing the social world, it can result in biased social information processing. For example, stereotyping (or a belief system about the category and its members) occurs as a result of categorization (Hamilton & Trolier, 1986; Linville, Salovey, & Fischer, 1986; Oakes, Haslam, & Turner, 1994) and can produce perceptions of outgroup homogeneity (Brigham, 1971; Park & Rothbart, 1982; Rothbart & John, 1985). Physical characteristics that denote group membership can result in different expectations for personality, activities, occupations (Duncan, 1976; Martin, 1987), and even prejudice level (Willis-Esqueda, Hoffman, & Wulf, 1999).

Another categorization outcome is that perceivers make finer distinctions between ingroup members than outgroup members (Fiske, 1998; Rothbart & John, 1985), which can enhance perceptions of ingroup differentiation and outgroup homogeneity (Linville, Salovey, & Fischer, 1986). Ingroup differentiation implies that diversifying information would be applied to the ingroup, while outgroup homogeneity would foster less attention to diversifying information for the outgroup. Thus, perceivers may attend to higher, more superordinate levels of categorization (e.g., race) for outgroup members (Fiske, 1998) and attend to lower, more subordinate levels of categorization (e.g., occupation) for ingroup members (Mackie & Worth, 1989; Park & Rothbart, 1982). Race can be considered an example of superordinate category information. It provides little individuating or diversifying group information and invokes or activates stereotypic information (Devine, 1989; Linville & Jones, 1980). However, subordinate information, such as occupational knowledge, can provide more individualized knowledge about a person, such as approximate income, education, lifestyle, etc. (Rothbart & John, 1985).

The purpose of the present research was to determine if visual stimuli (i. …

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