Cognitive Social Psychology: The Princeton Symposium on the Legacy and Future of Social Cognition

By Gordon B. Moskowitz | Go to book overview

type use and individuation should be conceived as two separate but related continua, rather than as mutually exclusive processing modes (see Chaiken, Liberman, & Eagly, 1989). As such, movement along the two continua may proceed along different dimensions of encoding at the same time. Thus, stereotyping may be increased via one mode of encoding (e.g., conceptual), while individuation is increased via a different mode of encoding (e.g., perceptual) simultaneously.

The Interaction of Motivation and Processing Capacity in Stereotyping. In a related matter, our findings also shed light on the relationship between perceiver motivations and processing capacity in stereotyping. Dual process models of stereotyping suggest that motivations to individuate a target may override or diminish the influence of stereotypes (see Monteith, chap. 23, this volume). Yet these and other models of stereotype efficiency suggest that, when processing capacity is depleted, the impact of perceivers' processing goals are limited, The working model has been that motivations may be realized only if sufficient capacity is available. Thus, perceivers who may have initially been motivated by accuracy to individuate a target are presumed to abandon that motivation when resources are scant, and revert to more miserly pursuits such as purely heuristic processing or schematic filtering processes. In contrast, our results suggest that motivations continue to exert an important influence when cognitive resources are depleted (see also Moskowitz, Gollwitzer, Wasel, & Schaal, 1999). In our efficiency studies, participants were largely motivated by concerns for accuracy and did not forsake those concerns when capacity was diminished. Rather, they distributed their resources in such a way that enabled them to flexibly encode different aspects of both stereotype-consistent and -inconsistent information. Of course, there are many situations in which perceivers are motivated by concerns for ego-defense or social identity rather than by accuracy. In these contexts, we would expect that perceivers would, in fact, be especially likely to engage in miserly/filtering processes if resources are scant. Thus, stereotypes are flexible tools that are adapted to the current goals of the user. However, resource scarcity does not determine the processing goal, but rather how an already chosen goal is pursued.


Conclusion

The preceding analyses suggest that stereotypes are much more versatile tools than crutches or filters. Perhaps the metaphor of the Swiss Army knife, with multiple tools working simultaneously, better captures the flexibility with which efficient processing may be pursued. In terms of stereotyping, the tools correspond to different attentional, encoding (including perceptual and conceptual encoding), and inference processes that proceed in parallel. On some occasions, the tools may be working in concert toward achieving a single goal (e.g., stereotype confirmation). On other occasions, different tools may be used to pursue different goals at the same time (as in the case of encoding flexibility processes).

One of the major challenges for future research on stereotyping should be to more closely examine how different processing conditions (e.g., variations in attentional capacity) and different processing motives (e.g., accuracy vs. defense vs. self-presentation) interact to determine how perceivers use stereotypes in forming impressions of others. This challenge must be met with a more complete understanding of cognitive efficiency that takes into account both effort reduction and information gain strategies, as well as both stability-maintaining and plasticity-seeking processes. Finally, progress in these endeavors can be greatly advanced by further attempts to integrate what is known about the mental representation of stereotypes and the processing of stereotype-relevant information.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Preparation of this article was supported by NIMH Grant 55037 to Jeffrey W. Sherman. Thanks to Galen Bodenhausen, Jim Sherman, and Eliot Smith for their thoughtful comments.

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