Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

David Washburn

Second Advisor

Kevin Swartout


Spontaneous trait inferences have been the focus of impression formation research for nearly a century. Spontaneous trait inferences impact the judgments and decisions we make about these objects and people particularly when the group membership of that object or person is meaningful to us, such as their race/ethnicity. Research on extralist cues has suggested the spontaneous trait interferences act via the encoding specificity principle: only items stored can be retrieved, and the effectiveness of retrieval depends on the contextual information that is stored with the word in episode memory. Other research suggests that stereotypes may disrupt the spontaneous inferences process. However, no research has been conducted to investigate the degree to which racial stereotypes may impact the spontaneous trait-inferencing process based on face-type. This present research presented participants with a variety of behavioral sentences paired with photographs of people. Participants then saw a trait probe word that was related to the behavior sentence. The behavior sentences varied in the degree to which they may be considered stereotypical of African American individuals. The faces presented also varied in the degree to which they will be considered prototypical of an African American face. I expected that the degree to which a face is considered to be prototypical of race would influence the stereotypical associations that were activated. I expected that the activation of stereotypical knowledge would impact the speed at which people responded to the trait probe word. However, the results suggest that all African American faces, regardless of face-type, were categorized similarly and elicited similar inferencing responses. Implications from this present research could suggest that no matter how representative a face may be of a racial category, if that face is categorized within a particular race, there may similar consequences in the initial impression formation stages for all faces. Implications from the research will aid in the development of bias prevention by illustrating the ways in which people encode information about others and their behaviors.


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