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Experiment Author: Susan Campbell. Adapted from STEP and used with permission of Brian MacWhinney
Some participants were given words in a memory task that related to a later passage. The words either suggested a positive or a negative connotation to the actions of the person described in the passage (there were also two control groups given positive or negative traits that didn't relate to the passage).
The prediction was that the words that were presented would be more accessible to the participants as they read the passage, so they would be more likely to be used to describe the behaviors depicted. For instance, "bungee jumps" would be more likely to be described as "adventurous" if that had been in the memory task, or alternatively as "reckless" if that had been in the memory task instead.
There are three parts to this experiment. In the first part, participants say the word presented, then say the color presented, then type the word that was first displayed. The second part of the experiment displays a paragraph and participants answer questions about the paragraph. For the final section of the experiment, participants recall the previous paragraph word for word.
Higgins, E. Tory; Rholes, William S.; Jones, Carl R. (1977). Category Accessibility and Impression Formation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 13, 141-154.
Cited Experiment Abstract
The present study examined the immediate and delayed effects of unobtrusive exposure to personality trait terms (e.g., “reckless,” persistent”) on subjects’ subsequent judgments and recollection of information about another person. Before reading a description of a stimulus person, subjects were unobtrusively exposed to either positive or negative trait terms that either could or could not be used to characterize this person. When the trait terms were applicable to the descriptions of the stimulus person, subjects’ characterizations and evaluations of the person reflected the denotative and evaluative aspects of the trait categories activated by the prior exposure to these terms. However, the absence of any effects for nonapplicable trait terms suggested that exposure to trait terms with positive or negative associations was not in itself sufficient to determine attributions and evaluations. Prior verbal exposure had little effect on reproduction of the descriptions. Moreover, no reliable difference in either evaluation or reproduction was found between subjects who overtly characterized the stimulus person and those who did not. Exposure to applicable trait terms had a greater delayed than immediate effect on subjects’ evaluations of the stimulus person, suggesting that subjects may have discounted their categorizations of the stimulus person when making their immediate evaluations. The implications of individual and situational variation in the accessibility of different categories for judgments of self and others are considered.
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