Social categories as a context for the allocation of attentional control.
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Recent studies of cognitive control have highlighted the idea that context can rapidly cue the control of attention. The present study shows that faces can be quickly categorized on the basis of gender, and these gender categories can be used as a contextual cue to allocate attentional control. Furthermore, the results reported here reveal processes implicated in the development and operation of implicit social stereotypes. Three of 4 faces from 1 gender group were associated with a high proportion of congruent trials in a flanker task, while 3 of 4 faces of the other gender group were associated with a low proportion of congruent trials. A single inconsistent face within each gender group was associated with the proportion congruency of the opposite gender group. A social context-specific proportion congruent effect (PCE) was observed (i.e., larger interference for the gender category associated with a high proportion of congruent trials), even for inconsistent members of the category. This effect is consistent with the view that a new implicit stereotype was created, linking gender with a specific proportion of congruency. In Experiment 2, the task goals modulated the use of the new created stereotype. Instructions to categorize versus individuate the target faces, respectively, led participants to allocate attention either toward the category-diagnostic or the identity-diagnostic facial features. Furthermore, and in line with stereotyping research, under instructions to categorize faces this social-context-specific PCE generalized to new faces of the same gender group with whom participants did not have previous experience. These results link attention with social categorization processes.
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