Social perceivers bring a lot to the table when meeting a person. They have ideological, religious, and personality differences (among others) that all help to determine what they'll think about another human being. How do some of these factors influence how people construct social categories? And how do those structures influence how we construe social situations?
I start by examining how children use an early cognitive bias to develop basic explanatory structures for social categories. Children appear to use this inherent heuristic to explain why certain genders are in certain roles (e.g., a woman is a pre-school teacher because of some innate quality) (Hussak, Lei, & Cimpian, in prep). And although we begin to learn about external factors (e.g., social systems) that help to explain the world around us, this core structure still remains. For example, although people suggest that women are capable leaders (a traditionally masculine role), this support is undermined when people are threatened -- leading them to revert back to these more basic, early-developed cognitive explanations (Lei & Bodenhausen, 2018).
Additionally, different people may have different structures for the same social category. In one line of work, we examine how people who are low vs. high in racial prejudice construe an interracial interaction where a Black man is the victim. We find that those who are higher in prejudice view the officer as in greater danger, which predicts people's verdicts for officer culpability (Cooley, Lei, Brown-Iannuzzi, & Ellerkamp, 2018).
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