Finger in flight reveals parallel categorization across multiple social dimensions

Jonathan B. Freeman, Ken Nakayama, Nalini Ambady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


On catching sight of another's face, multiple social categories may be potentially extracted. Prior work has often found that one category (e.g., sex) comes to dominate perception at the expense of others (e.g., race) being ignored. In the present study, participants categorized a face's sex or race by tapping a response with their finger. While the participants were en route to indicating their response, the authors measured the finger's trajectory through midair. Before tapping the correct category, the finger showed a partial, simultaneous attraction to the response location for the task-irrelevant (but nonetheless applicable) category membership, demonstrating that the task-irrelevant category was partially active in parallel. This is evidence that face-perceptual processing triggers parallel, partially active representations of a target's multiple applicable category memberships, which come to stabilize onto a focal categorization over time. Thus, even when perceivers focus on one category dimension, they also incidentally categorize by other dimensions in parallel.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)792-805
Number of pages14
JournalSocial Cognition
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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