Distinctiveness and the salience of social category memberships: Is there an automatic perceptual bias towards novelty?



It was hypothesized that the effects of novelty on social category membership salience may be mediated by perceivers' current tasks, rather than by an automatic perceptual bias (Taylor and Fiske, 1978). Subjects viewed tape-slide portrayals of mixed-sex groups (1 male—5 females, 2M—4F, 3M—3F, 4M—2F, 5M—1F) under ‘individual’ (focus on one target person) or ‘collective’ (focus on entire stimulus group) task conditions. Results on measures of sex stereotyping strongly supported the hypothesis, indicating that ‘individual’ task subjects tended to maximize stereotyping in the 1M—5F and 5M—1F conditions whilst ‘collective’ subjects did so in the 3M-3F condition. It is concluded that novel category memberships are not automatically prepotent in social perception, and the results are discussed in the context of a functional approach to the salience problem.