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“Rapid Social Perception Is Flexible” by Cunningham et al. Essay


Introduction

The article selected for this assignment is “Rapid social perception is flexible: Approach and avoidance motivational states shape P100 responses to other-race faces” by Cunningham, Van Bavel, Arbuckle, Packer, and Waggoner. This is an original research study that was published in 2012 in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience. In this article, the authors focused on the attention and cognitive resources that are usually involved in the process of visual categorization based on racial characteristics.

Summary of Question

Introducing the purpose of the study and its research question, the authors stated that, often, people tend to categorize one another based on the visual signs of racial or ethnic background (Cunningham, Van Bavel, Arbuckle, Packer, & Waggoner, 2012). When it comes to the bigger picture, in this study, the authors attempted to research perceptual and cognitive processing that underlies positive automatic evaluations of people based on their racial features. In other words, the authors tried to find out whether or not an individual’s response to the appearance of other members of the society regarding their race occurs on the cognitive level. This is a necessary question to research in order to understand the nature of racial biases, as well as their inevitability, prevalence, and persistence.

Regarding a more specific research question of the selected article, it is possible to notice that the authors were determined to find out whether or not there was any difference in the ways white participants processed faces of white and black persons. In order to find answers to this question, Cunningham et al. (2012) collected information using electroencephalography (EEG). The independent variables were the racially different faces shown to the study participants. The dependent variable was the speed with which the participants processed the faces. To operationalize the variables, the researchers assumed that the cognitive reaction stood for the social categorization patterns driven by motivational processes included in one’s perception of same- or other-race individuals. This was, in fact, the major hypothesis of the study.

Summary of Design Method

A sample of fourteen white male participants was selected for this study. All of the participating males were undergraduate psychology students who went to the University of Toronto at the time (Cunningham et al., 2012). A minor incentive was used as a gratitude for the decision to participate. The subjects could choose between a monetary reward (15 dollars) and partial completion of course credit; moreover, all of the participants signed consent forms providing their informed consent to become a part of this research study.

Overall, the study had the experimental design. The participants were tested for the purpose of examining the brain activity that is responsible for social cognition (Cummingham et al., 2012). The procedure was carried out in a lab where the participants were to use a joystick in order to respond to a series of photographs of racially diverse faces. They had to provide responses as quickly as they could. The entire experiment was organized in accordance with the block design. The task of the participating individuals was to pull or push the joystick in order to approach or avoid various faces. Practically, it is possible to notice that visual stimuli were employed for this study to which the participants were to react using a joystick and move it to mark symbolically their avoiding or approaching responses.

Summary of Results and Discussion

In order to process and interpret the collected data, the researchers measured and compared the time it took the participants to provide a response to the presentation of faces. There were several kinds of tests based on the kinds of response the participants had to give. Specifically, in one test the respondents had to push the joystick seeing a white face and pull it seeing a black one, in the other – the required reactions were reversed.

The measurements of time the respondents too to react to faces showed that in an all-white group, the reactions to same-race faces were slightly faster. As a result, having their participants engage in avoiding responses towards own-race individuals, the researchers were able to create a motivational process that influences one’s perception. In turn, the findings of this study challenged a common idea that the early cognitive biases that occur in social categorization are inevitable and can be interrupted or changed by controlled processing only (Cunningham et al., 2012). In addition, the authors noted that this study could add to the growing body of literature that suggests that via motivational relevance top-down processes have the ability to override attentional effects that occur automatically (Cunningham et al., 2012). The authors concluded that the early patterns of social categorization could be modified and modulated before being able to influence evaluation, judgment, or behavioral responses.

Critique

The strong point of the arguments presented in this article includes the connection between early categorization and the following behavioral response, as well as the need to focus on the inevitability of the early responses. However, in many calculations of the collected response time measures, no statistically significant difference between responses was detected. The weakness of this argument is the fact that it was based on the flawed design that included no control group and representatives of only one race. It is quite unreasonable to make any final conclusions without repeating the same study with the inclusion of representatives of diverse races. Since the early social categorization happens very fast, the evidence for both strong and weak points of the argument can be characterized as quite weak.

Extension

As noted in the previous section, a replication study is required in order to test responses of representatives of races other than white would be in line with the findings of Cunningham et al. The issue of same- and other-race processing has been researched for a while. For instance, Golby, Gabrieli, Chiao, and Eberhardt (2001) found that people tend to memorize own-race faces better than those of other races. Additionally, Martin and Macrae (2007) revealed that specific cues usually drive early perceptions and categorization. As a result, one future hypothesis for this field of research may state that the tests help with non-white participants might show the same results.

Furthermore, Ito, Thompson, and Cacioppo (2004) carried out a study focusing on the detection of the degree of social prejudice using neural processing and found that some correlations could be identified. In turn, Van Bavel and Cunningham (2009) and Phills, Kawakami, Tabi, Nadolny, and Inzlicht (2011) state that social categorization can be modulated. In that way, it is possible to conclude that processes responsible for certain social categorizations patters that affect the emergence of social biases can be identified and modified. This could be done for the purpose to eliminate a deep underlying layer of biases that can occur in people’s minds uncontrollably.

References

Cunningham, W. A., Van Bavel, J. J., Arbuckle, N. L., Packer, D. J., & Waggoner, A. S. (2012). Rapid social perception is flexible: Approach and avoidance motivational states shape P100 responses to other-race faces. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 1-7.

Golby, A. J., Gabrieli, J. D. E., Chiao, J. Y., & Eberhardt, J. L. (2001). Differential responses in the fusiform region to same-race and other-race faces. Nature Neuroscience, 4, 845–850.

Ito, T. A., Thompson, E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2004). Tracking the timecourse of social perception: The effects of racial cues on event-related brain potentials. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 1267–1280.

Martin, D., & Macrae, C. (2007). A face with a cue: Exploring the inevitability of person categorization. European Journal of Social Psychology, 37, 806-816.

Phills, C. E., Kawakami, K., Tabi, E., Nadolny, D., & Inzlicht, M. (2011). Mind the gap: Increasing associations between the self and blacks with approach behaviors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 197–210.

Van Bavel, J. J., & Cunningham, W. A. (2009). Self-categorization with a novel mixed-race group moderates automatic social and racial biases. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35(3), 321-335.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "“Rapid Social Perception Is Flexible” by Cunningham et al." January 6, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/rapid-social-perception-is-flexible-by-cunningham-et-al/.

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