Although the face is unquestionably the most valuable source of information available to social perceivers, quite how humans exploit physiognomic cues to make sense of unfamiliar social targets has yet to be fully elucidated. The present investigation explores the possibility that bottom-up visual processing of faces (e.g., the detection of diagnostic social category features) increases the accessibility of social group knowledge structures in memory. Two experiments were undertaken in which the inevitability and strength of category and stereotype activation were assessed by having participants make judgments on centrally presented words that were flanked by a varying number of congruent or incongruent distracter faces. Results showed that despite perceivers' intentions to ignore them, the mere presence of faces increased the accessibility of sex categories (Expt 1) and gender stereotypes (Expt 2). However, whereas category-based responding was modulated by the number of faces present, no such effect was observed for the accessibility of stereotypical knowledge. We consider the implications of these findings for contemporary treatments of person perception.
Mason, Malia, J. Cloutier, and C. Neil Macrae. "On construing others: Category and stereotype activation from facial cues." Social Cognition 24 (2006): 540-563.
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