A Dynamic Interactive Theory of Person Construal

Jonathan B. Freeman, Nalini Ambady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A dynamic interactive theory of person construal is proposed. It assumes that the perception of other people is accomplished by a dynamical system involving continuous interaction between social categories, stereotypes, high-level cognitive states, and the low-level processing of facial, vocal, and bodily cues. This system permits lower-level sensory perception and higher-order social cognition to dynamically coordinate across multiple interactive levels of processing to give rise to stable person construals. A recurrent connectionist model of this system is described, which accounts for major findings on (a) partial parallel activation and dynamic competition in categorization and stereotyping, (b) top-down influences of high-level cognitive states and stereotype activations on categorization, (c) bottom-up category interactions due to shared perceptual features, and (d) contextual and cross-modal effects on categorization. The system's probabilistic and continuously evolving activation states permit multiple construals to be flexibly active in parallel. These activation states are also able to be tightly yoked to ongoing changes in external perceptual cues and to ongoing changes in high-level cognitive states. The implications of a rapidly adaptive, dynamic, and interactive person construal system are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-279
Number of pages33
JournalPsychological Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • Connectionist models
  • Dynamical systems
  • Face perception
  • Person perception
  • Social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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