Cultural normality and social perception

Michael A Zarate, Purdue University


Reported are three studies testing social categorization processes and the effects of those categorizations on social perception. It is hypothesized that in social interactions, deviations from being either white or male attract attention on that dimension leading to categorization of the target on that dimension. This effect is called the white male norm hypothesis. Experiment 1, using a frequency estimation task, found clear support for the contention that deviation from being either white or male leads to social categorization. Analysis of frequency estimation rankings found that subjects consistently categorized white females as women, and black males and black females as black. No clear findings concerning white male targets were found. Experiment 2 replicated and extended to measures of stereotyping a result found earlier, that familiarity leads to perceptions of normality. Using the social category verification task, the effects of one prior exposure of a particular target on social perception were tested. Experiment 2 confirmed the finding that familiarity is misattributed to normality, which in turn leads to categorization and stereotyping effects. Familiar male targets were perceived as more male stereotypic and familiar female targets as less female stereotypic than new targets. Similarly, familiar white targets were perceived as more white stereotypic while familiar black targets were perceived as less black stereotypic than were new targets. Thus, familiar targets were perceived as more white or male, depending on the question. Experiment 3 tested the effects of specific prior categorizations on social perception. Subjects practiced making particular categorizations and the effect of those categorizations on stereotypic trait ratings of the targets were tested. The practiced categorizations had no effects on assignment of stereotypic trait ratings. Classifying a particular black male target, for example, as black vs. classifying the target as man did not have different effects on later stereotypic trait ratings. It was concluded that stereotyping is a well practiced behavior not easily altered by small experimental manipulations. Implications for social stereotyping are discussed.




Smith, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Psychology|Experiments

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