Person-centered cognition: The presence of people in a visual scene promotes relational reasoning

David A. Kalkstein, Leor M. Hackel, Yaacov Trope

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How do people make sense of the world they encounter? In the current research, we suggest that a primary way people understand the external world is by engaging in “person-centric cognition:” they mentally organize the world in terms of how its various objects and elements relate to people. As a result, we propose that the mere presence of other people in a visual scene fundamentally shapes how observers make sense of that scene, leading observers to increase their focus on abstract relations between objects and people as opposed to just the concrete features of objects themselves. Across four studies using a picture mapping task, we found that people were more likely to process visual scenes in terms of underlying relational structure when the scenes involved another person as opposed to only non-human objects. In a fifth study, we demonstrate that other people are unique in their primacy such that observers are more likely to construe other animate entities (i.e., animals) in terms of their relationship to humans than they are to construe humans in terms of their relationship to animals. Overall, we propose that these findings reflect a tendency for person-centric construals in making sense of the external world, wherein the unique and distinctive features of various objects are construed in terms of their relationship with people.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104009
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Sep 2020


  • Analogical mapping
  • Relational reasoning
  • Social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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