Perceptions of Valence and Arousal Uniquely Contribute to Perceptions of Ambiguous Group Membership From Faces

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Abstract

Although previous research has considered the role of emotional valence in the perception and communication of group membership, the influence of perceived emotional arousal remains relatively unexplored. Here, we examined how valence and arousal simultaneously contribute to perceptions of sexual orientation and political affiliation at 3 distinct levels of analysis: within perceivers, between perceivers, and between targets. We found that valence distinguished targets best, reflecting socioemotional stereotypes, whereas arousal largely accounted for individual differences among perceivers, suggesting that perceptions of group membership partly depend on how each perceiver evaluates targets’ level of arousal. Valence and arousal therefore provide distinct information during social categorization, highlighting the importance of considering different levels of analysis to achieve a more complete understanding of person perception.

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