Affective responses as guides to category-based inferences

Paula M. Niedenthal, Nancy Cantor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Initial nonconscious affective reactions to a target individual may influence a perceiver's selection from among descriptively plausible categories with which to organize his impression of the target. Specifically, a perceiver may be more likely to employ a category that is consistent, in affective tone, with the tone of his affective reaction. Subjects in two studies were exposed to photographs of faces of target individuals. Degree of preference for the faces was manipulated, outside of subjects' awareness, by varying the state of pupillary dilation. Participants in Study One reported that verbal descriptions that characterized positively (compared to negatively) evaluated category prototypes were more likely to be descriptive of targets with dilated pupils. Similarly, participants judged descriptions that characterized negatively (compared to positively) evaluated prototypes as more likely to be descriptive of targets with constricted pupils. In Study Two, subjects' recall of personality descriptions that were (evaluatively) inconsistent with their initial affective response to the target was superior to their recall of descriptions that were (evaluatively) consistent with the tone of their initial response. The data are interpreted as evidence for the importance of nonconscious affective reactions in guiding the process of impression formation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)217-232
Number of pages16
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1986
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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