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A method for studying the development of impressions of real people

Author(s): Park B

Abstract

Investigated the development of impressions of real people in a class of 7 college students (aged 20–27 yrs) who wrote open-ended descriptions of one another each week for 2 wks and completed a series of reaction-time (RT) trait judgments. Data were analyzed with respect to 4 issues: (a) The content of the written protocols was dominated by trait attributes and behaviors. Over time, the use of trait information increased and behaviors decreased, suggesting that the impressions became more abstract with familiarity. (b) RT measures revealed faster responses to items previously used in the written protocols to describe a target and faster RTs with increasing frequency of use. (c) Data supported a passive primacy effect in which information that appeared in Ss' first descriptions was more likely to be repeated later. This was a function of the majority of unique attributes ever used to describe a target appearing in the initial description. (d) Analysis of overlap in the content of the descriptions as a function of the judge and target revealed that when only the dimension of overlap was considered (e.g., intelligence), overlap owing to the judge writing the description was greatest. When the valence on the dimension was considered (e.g., intelligent vs stupid), overlap attributable to the target being described was greatest. It is argued that the development of an impression is analogous to building a mental model of a target. This model guides judgments and attributions with regard to the target and enables predictions and expectations of future behavior.

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