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Cue-recognition mechanisms and person perception Park, Justin H.

Abstract

Our different responses to different individuals depend on psychological mechanisms that detect specific kinds of people and produce context-appropriate cognitions and emotions. These mechanisms often respond to heuristic cues (e.g., symmetry) that may signal some underlying information (e.g., health). Many cue-recognition mechanisms may be usefully understood as evolved adaptations that served specific functions in ancestral environments. These mechanisms may operate in a wide range of situations in contemporary contexts, which may help us better understand many aspects of social cognition. In this dissertation, I describe mechanisms of kin recognition and parasite recognition, and I describe empirical studies that tested some of the implications of these mechanisms. One study tested the hypothesis that attitude similarity may serve as a heuristic kinship cue. The results showed that the perception of an attitudinally similar other may activate kinship-relevant cognitions, which may enhance prosocial motivations. A second study tested the hypothesis that physical disabilities may serve as a heuristic parasite cue. Although the results showed that disabilities may activate disease-relevant cognitions, the evidence for the hypothesis was not strong. Finally, a set of studies tested the hypothesis that obesity may serve as a heuristic parasite cue. The results showed that people may be especially motivated to avoid physical (versus nonphysical) contact with obese individuals; that chronically heightened concerns about parasites are positively correlated with dislike of fat people; and that the perception of obesity may activate disease-relevant cognitions, especially when the threat of parasites has been made salient. I discuss some of the broader implications as well as the methodological limitations.

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