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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

Moderators of Social Categorisation: How Knowledge, Goals and the Interaction Context Shape Person Construal

Categorisation of individuals into social groups (eg, “women”, “Afro-Caribbeans”) is a precursor to stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination, and yet relatively little is known about the process and thus about the feasibility of controlling it.

This research programme is dedicated to investigating the categorisation process, with the goal of understanding when and why perceivers categorise others according to social group memberships.

The programme comprises 13 experiments that use cognitive reaction-time measures and functional neuroimaging to assess when, why and how people construe others in terms of their social category membership versus unique personal characteristics. The research will investigate several factors, including the perceiver’s familiarity with the person, the person’s behaviour or emotional state, and the situation in which the person is encountered.

Ultimately, the research is expected to demonstrate that person perception - of which categorisation is one part - is a dynamic, integrative process designed to provide the best “fit” that allows the perceiver to understand and predict the target person’s behaviour within the context of the ongoing social interaction. As such, the likelihood of categorisation should be strengthened when it provides information that promotes the perceiver’s ability to navigate the interaction, and undermined when it fails to do so.