Investigating the early processes of person construal using ERPs
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According to the dynamic interactive theory of person construal (Freeman & Ambady, 2011), upon perception of a person, multiple social categories become simultaneously active and are refined through the integration of bottom up and top down processes over iterations to arrive at a stable person construal (e.g. set of social categories that apply to the perceived person). In the current study, sixty-five participants viewed Black and White male faces during two behavioral tasks while EEG was recorded. Participants fixated either between the eyes or on the forehead. The amplitude of early ERP components involved in face processing (N170) and early allocation of attention (P2) were both sensitive to the race of the face, demonstrating the encoding of race within 165 millisecond of seeing a face. Importantly, a PCA approach revealed three early components during person construal. Examination of the changing effect of race (a top down variable) and fixation (a bottom up variable) over this sequence of components revealed an initially large but decreasing effect of fixation and an initially small but increasing effect of race. This pattern emerged, regardless of whether participants intentionally categorized faces by race or if faces were task-irrelevant. These results provide support for the DI model using a methodology that has not previous been used to investigate processes of person construal and suggest that perceived bottom up perceptual cues are integrated with top down cues to arrive at a stable social categorization of the face within 230 ms, and that this occurs relatively automatically, regardless of whether social categorization is goal-relevant.