Confusing one instrumental other for another: goal effects on social categorization.
How do everyday goals shape the way people categorize others in the social environment? Research on social categorization has emphasized the role of feature-based categories such as race and gender, showing that people rely on such categories when perceiving and remembering others. We tested the hypothesis that social perception may depend on a new type of category--what we call "goal instrumentality," or the extent to which others are useful for an active goal. We demonstrate that people make more memory errors within the categories of "instrumental" and "noninstrumental," and fewer between-category errors, when a goal has been subtly activated. We also demonstrate that people perceive others within the categories of "instrumental" and "noninstrumental" to be more similar, and others from the two different categories to be less similar, following subliminal goal activation. We discuss implications for the understanding of social categorization and the influence of goals on social cognition.
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