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In three experiments we investigated the dynamics of impression formation when perceivers encounter unsurprising (e.g. male mechanic) versus surprising (e.g. female mechanic) social category conjunctions. In Experiment 1, participants took longer to form an impression of targets described using a surprising versus an unsurprising conjunction of categorizations. In Experiment 2, we investigated the stages during which impressions of category conjunctions are formed. While unsurprising category combinations were characterized with reference to 'constituent' stereotypic traits, surprising combinations were characterized initially by stereotypic traits but later by 'emergent' impressions. In Experiment 3, we investigated motivational states that drive the dynamics of category conjunction. We found that higher Personal Need for Structure (PNS) predicted the use of more emergent and fewer constituent attributes in the impressions formed of surprising combinations. Across all three experiments, more 'causal attributes' were used in descriptions of the surprising combination. We discuss the implications of these findings for developing a model of the dynamics and composition of social category conjunctions. Copyright © The Author(s), 2009.

Original publication




Journal article


Group Processes and Intergroup Relations

Publication Date





673 - 686