Categorization is the process of simplifying the social world by placing people into categories on the basis of characteristics such as age, race, gender, clothing style, height, ability status, or other cues. These categories are based on cognitive structures that contain a person’s knowledge and beliefs about social groups and that cue what people attend to and use to organize their social world (Macrae & Bodenhausen, 2000). Categorization happens very quickly and the first cues people attend to are another’s race and gender (Ito & Urland, 2003). However, people also attend to nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and posture (Zebrowitz, 1996) and to physical appearance cues such as attractiveness (Etcoff, 1999) and clothing (Stangor, Lynch, Changming, & Glas, 1992). Once a person has been categorized, the stereotypic beliefs associated with that category are activated, a process that often occurs automatically. However, stereotype activation can be inhibited when people are motivated to do so by goals such as the desire to see oneself in a positive light or the need to form accurate impressions of others (Kunda & Spencer, 2003).
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