The role of valence in the perception of agency and communion

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Abstract

Social judgments necessarily carry evaluative connotations that may mask other dimensions of interest. With reference to bi-dimensional models of stereotype content, we analyzed the role of valence in the study of agency and communion. Because agency and communion are both positively evaluated dimensions, we hypothesize that valence may function as a “third variable” that obscures their obverse relation. In Study 1, investigating people's lay understanding of agency and communion, ratings of 130 adjectives revealed a positive correlation between the two dimensions, unless valence was controlled for, in which case the correlation became negative. In Study 2, exemplifying the role of valence in the case of gender stereotyping, a word frequency analysis of Italian language revealed that more agentic traits were more likely to occur in masculine and more communal traits in feminine form, but again this link emerged only after controlling for valence. This research highlights the importance of controlling for valence when studying the distinct roles of agency and communion in social perception. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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