Term of Award

Spring 2003

Degree Name

Master of Science in Psychology

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (restricted to Georgia Southern)


Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

John D. Murray

Committee Member 1

Elizabeth Cralley

Committee Member 2

Richard Rogers


Social categories facilitate cognitive processing because they activate expectations of behavior and other associated knowledge. Whereas most research has focused on the role of stereotypes in social perception, the present research investigated the differential processing associated with traits and stereotypes in impression formation. According to the encoding flexibility model, perceivers conceptually encode schema-consistent information better than schema-inconsistent information and perceptually encode schema-inconsistent information better than schema-consistent information when forming impression of others Given the structural differences in stereotypes and traits, perceivers were expected to demonstrate altered encoding patterns depending on how the target was labeled. These differences emerged using a primary impression formation task followed by an implicit memory task. Under low cognitive capacity, participants primed with a stereotype perceptually encoded inconsistent words to a much greater extent than consistent words. The pattern was reversed for conceptual target words. In contrast, participants primed with a trait did not demonstrate encoding variability perceptually or conceptually. Furthermore, these differences did not emerge under high cognitive capacity conditions. The implications for these findings are discussed as they relate to social perception.


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