Associated Systems Theory: A Systematic Approach to Cognitive Representations of Persons
Donal E. Carlston Purdue University
What is all Knowledge too but recorded Experience . . . of which, therefore, Reasoning and Belief, no less than Action and Passion, are essential materials?
-- Carlyle ( 1907, p. 84)
People's impressions of other people have been extensively studied within the areas of impression formation, attribution, person perception, and social cognition ( Fiske & Taylor, 1991). Within these realms, research has seemingly equated impressions with trait ascriptions, group memberships, or interpersonal attraction. A central theme of the current chapter is that impressions embody these cognitions and more. As Carlyle said about knowledge more generally, impressions are "recorded experience," and what they record is arguably a wide range of cognitions that represent "easoning and belief," as well as "action and passion."
In current parlance, impressions potentially may incorporate appearance images, categorizations, trait inferences, liking evaluations, affective reactions, relationship orientations, habitual responses, and episodic memories. Most of these constructs have been individually studied within social cognition, or within psychology more generally. However, little attention has been paid to the manner in which these diverse impression-related contents are organized, how they evolve or interact, or how they ultimately influence various interpersonal responses. One exception, Associated Systems Theory (AST; Carlston, 1992), seeks to integrate these different cognitive constructs within a single, organized structure, and suggests both the origins and consequences of impressions differing in representational form.