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Context and perceptual salience influence the formation of novel stereotypes via cumulative cultural evolution

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  • Jacqui Hutchison
  • Sheila J Cunningham
  • Gillian Slessor
  • James Urquhart
  • Kenneth Smith
  • Douglas Martin

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)186-212
JournalCognitive Science
Early online date2 Nov 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Nov 2017


We use a transmission chain method to establish how context and category salience influence the formation of novel stereotypes through cumulative cultural evolution. We created novel alien targets by combining features from three category dimensions – color, movement, and shape – thereby creating social targets that were individually unique but that also shared category membership with other aliens (e.g., two aliens might be the same color and shape but move differently). At the start of the transmission chains each alien was randomly assigned attributes that described them (e.g. arrogant, caring, confident). Participants were given training on the alien-attribute assignments and were then tested on their memory for these. The alien-attribute assignments participants produced during test were used as the training materials for the next participant in the transmission chain. As information was repeatedly transmitted an increasingly simplified, learnable stereotype-like structure emerged for targets who shared the same color, such that by the end of the chains targets who shared the same color were more likely to share the same attributes (A reanalysis of data from Martin et al., (2014) which we term Experiment 1). The apparent bias towards the formation of novel stereotypes around the color category dimension was also found for objects (Expt. 2). However, when the category dimension of color was made less salient it no longer dominated the formation of novel stereotypes (Expt. 3). The current findings suggest that context and category salience influence category dimension salience, which in turn influences the cumulative cultural evolution of information.

    Research areas

  • stereotypes, stereotype formation, cultural evolution, social cognition, person perception

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