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Who are they, and what are they to us? The empirical testing of connectionist predictions of group perception biases

Monday, 6 February, 2006 - 18:00
Campus: Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering campus
Faculty: Psychology and Educational Sciences
Tim Vanhoomissen
phd defence

This dissertation was initiated to test a connectionist model for group perception
biases (Van Rooy, Van Overwalle, Vanhoomissen, Labiouse & French, 2003).
Specifically, the aim was to test if this neurally inspired model would be capable of
accurately explaining and predicting the accentuation effect, the illusory correlation
effect and the self anchoring effect.

In a replication of typical accentuation experiments and consistent with earlier
theories, it was found that attitude positions expressed in behavioral statements were
accentuated in a correlated condition (where the attitude position and the statements’
source were correlated) as compared to an uncorrelated condition (with uncorrelated
attitude position and source), and that memory for these attitude positions was also
better (as measured by correct assignment of the original statements to their source).
In contrast, as predicted by the connectionist model, behavioral (episodic) memory in
this assignment task (as measured by decoys with reversed attitudinal position) and
free recall of behavioral information showed better performance in the uncorrelated
condition than in the correlated condition. Alternative models of accentuation predict
the typical effect accurately, but do not make predictions about behavioral (episodic)
memory, making the connectionist model the only satisfactory theory to account for
all observed effects.

The results of two illusory correlation-experiments demonstrated that the
distinctiveness of the undesirable minority-group behavior is not a crucial factor in
creating the illusion, and that the illusion occurs when memory for behavioral
information is enhanced rather than impaired. This suggests that illusory correlation
is not directly related to differential memory as earlier distinctiveness or exemplar
accounts suggested. In contrast to these earlier theories, the connectionist approach
provides a parsimonious and elegant explanation for all the data, including the
typical evaluative bias in which smaller groups are evaluated less favorable, and the
memory effects found in free recall and assignment tasks (better behavioral memory
for smaller groups and for undesirable behaviors).

Finally, the same connectionist approach is used to support the claim that ingroup
favoritism is caused by self anchoring (i.e., projecting features of the self in defining
the ingroup) and outgroup derogation by self competition (i.e., using opposite
features of the self for defining the outgroup). In a minimal group context, this
analysis accounted for all typical effects found in research including self anchoring,
ingroup favoritism and outgroup derogation. The present findings extend the earlier
studies by exploring the role of self priming on these effects, and further demonstrate
that outgroup derogation is a direct consequence of self competition rather than a
result of contrasting the outgroup away from the ingroup.

After comparing the connectionist account to other theories of group perception
regarding their capability of explaining all effects in the experiments, it is stated that
the proposed connectionist model generally complies with the expectations, whereas
other theories fail to provide a coherent framework to account for all observed
effects. Moreover, the connectionist framework is the only one able to explain the
three differing group perception biases using a single model.