Activation of Exemplars in the Process of Assessing Social Category Attitudes

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Three experiments used process measures of concept activation to provide evidence—consistent with previous research, which had used only outcome and self-report measures—that people use category exemplars to assess their social category attitudes. The studies were based on the well-established principle that individuals selectively activate different aspects of their knowledge about a topic, depending on which aspect is relevant for a specific judgment. Exemplar activation was measured through ambiguous anagrams (Experiment 1), word fragment completions (Experiment 2), and response latencies (Experiment 3). In each case, exemplar activation was greater when participants had recently judged their attitudes toward a social category than when they had recently judged a definition of the category. Implications for theories of attitude change and attitude–behavior consistency are discussed.

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