Positive-negative asymmetry of priming effects on impression formation
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European Journal of Social Psychology, Vol. 23,l-I6 (1993)
Positive-negative asymmetry of priming effects on impression formation
TOMOKO IKEGAMI Department of Psychology, Aichi University of Education, 1 Hirosawa, Iga ya-cho, Kariya Aichi, 448, Japan
The present study investigates the effects of evaluative processing of hostile and friendly words on impression formation. Two experiments were conducted. Subjects were first asked to complete sentences using hostile (Experiment I ) or friendly (Experiment 2) words. Then they participated in an ostensibly unrelated impression task, where they rated a stimulusperson on a series of trait scales based on aparagraph of behavioural descriptions that was ambiguous regarding hostility (Experiment 1) or friendliness (Experiment 2). It was found that the hostile sentence completion tasks increased the likelihood that subsequent behavioural information would be assimilated into the primed hostile constructs, whereas the friendly sentence completion tasks increased the likelihood that behavioural information would be contrasted to the primed friendly constructs. The underlying mechanism of the positive-negative asymmetry of priming effects was discussed in terms of the socio-cultural expectancy for normality of friendli- ness being evoked by priming manipulations. In addition, a supplementary experiment was conducted to assess the feeling states following the hostile or friendly priming tasks. It was found that the hostile priming elicited negative affects, whereas friendly priming had no eflects on the feeling states of subjects. This asymmetric effect of priming on the feeling states was also considered as a result of the influences of the socio-cultural expectancy.
People may form a personality impression of a particular person from hidher utter- ances and behaviours in a variety of situations. However, it is often the case that behavioural information about others has multiple meanings and hence is interpre- table in various ways. The processes whereby inferences and interpretations are drawn
This paper was originally submitted for the Special Issue, Positive-negative asymmetry in affect and evaluations.
00462772/93/0 1000 1-1 6$13.00 0 1993 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Received 29 January 1991 Accepted 15 January 1992
2 T. Ikegami
from the given behavioural information are determined to a certain extent by a perceivers cognitive structure. In recent years, social cognitive psychologists, taking an information processing approach, have been exploring why the same individual will interpret the same information differently in different occasions or contexts. This temporary contextual effect on impression formation has been demonstrated by numerous experimental studies using priming technique, and has been conceptua- lized as category or construct accessibility. The notion of category accessibility was in fact first proposed by Bruner (1957) and still has been a key concept for understanding the contextual effects on person impressions in recent social cognitive studies. Most of the previous studies have demonstrated that subjects tend to assimi- late their impressions and evaluations of a target person to the constructs activated in the priming tasks.
A provocative demonstration was reported by Higgins, Rholes and Jones (1977). Subjects were first exposed to 10 words during an experiment presented to the subjects as a study on perception. In one condition, four trait words related with braveness were included in the list, whereas in another condition four trait words related with recklessness were included. After being exposed to one of these sets of trait words as part of the perceptual study, subjects participated in an ostensibly unrelated task of impression formation. Here, they were presented with a paragraph of behavioural descriptions about a stimulus person, Donald, whose behaviour could be interpreted either as recklessness or as braveness. Subjects were asked to characterize Donald in their own words and to evaluate him. As a result, it was found that in characteriza- tion of Donald subjects typically used trait words and phrases that were semantically or descriptively similar to the priming words. Besides, the overall evaluation of Donald increased with the favourableness of the implications of the prime words. The findings reported by Higgins et al. (1977) suggest that the effect of information on ones impression may be influenced substantially by prior, objectively irrelevant experiences that increase the accessibility of a set of constructs for use in interpreting the information.
Srull and Wyer (1979, 1980) carried out a series of studies to explore in more detail the underlying mechanisms of the effects of category accessibility and the conditions in which these effects would occur. They reasoned that trait schemata should contain prototypic behaviours that exemplify the trait and that trait categories or schemata could be made accessible by priming behavioural instances of these categories or schemata as well as trait names. Subjects were asked to perform a sentence construction task in which they were exposed to instances of hostile or kind behaviour. After completing the sentence construction task, subjects partici- pated in an impression formation task, where subjects read a paragraph describing the events in one afternoon of a target persons life and rated the target person on a series of trait scales. In one condition, the paragraph described behaviours which were ambiguous with respect to hostility, and in another condition, ambiguous with respect to kindness. It was revealed that exposure to hostile or kind behaviours activated and increased accessibility of the trait schema in which the behaviours were contained, with the result that more ambiguous behaviours with respect to hostility or kindness were led to be interpreted in terms of that trait schema. This happened even if the second set of behaviours were presented in a completely unrelated context after the first set were presented in the preceding tasks.
Priming efects and impression formation 3
One of the most important things which these studies suggest and should be noted here, is that the processes whereby prior processing of stimuli activates a particular trait schema and then assimilates subsequent behavioural information into that schema, may occur automatically without subjects conscious awareness. In a str- ingent test of this issue, Bargh and Pietromonaco (1982) demonstrated that the prim- ing effects on the impression ratings would appear even if the prime words were presented subliminally in a prior vigilance task.
Another important and interesting point is that the magnitude of priming effects are not symmetric for positive versus negative prime words. For example, the findings reported by Srull and Wyer (1979) showed that the priming effects were more pro- nounced and durable when the prime words were negative than when they were positive. In other words, more priming was required to activate favourable trait schemata than unfavourable ones (Wyer and Srull, 1981). This suggests that assimilat- ive processes should be more likely to occur in cases of negative priming than in cases of positive priming.
Besides, several other studies suggest that the level of conscious awareness or the recallability of the priming events may influence the typical pattern of assimilation effects on the impression ratings (Lombardi, Higgins and Bargh, 1987; Martin, 1985, 1986; Ikegami and Kawaguchi, 1989). It seems that the more con- sciously are priming stimuli processed, the less likely are assimilative effects to occur.
A study by Ikegami and Kawaguchi (1989) was an attempt to relate the issue of consciousness with the positive-negative asymmetry of priming effects. They con- ducted a series of experiments, using a modification of Bargh and Pietromonaco (1982)s paradigm. Subjects first performed a perceptual task in which they inciden- tally processed hostility- or friendliness-related words, consciously or subcons- ciously. To be more precise, in their experiments hostile or friendly jukugo words (Chinese compound words) were presented on a CRT screen either on the right or the left side of a fixation point with a dummy stimulus of # # being simulta- neously presented on the other side. In the conscious priming condition, stimulus words were presented for long enough to identify what they were, whereas in the subconscious priming condition words were presented so briefly that subjects were unable even to identify them. Subjects were instructed to press quickly and accu- rately the left or the right button on a response box corresponding to the side of the fixation point on which a jukugo word had appeared. In a second ostensibly unrelated task, subjects rated a stimulus person on 12 trait scales based on a paragraph of behavioural descriptions that was ambiguous, regarding hostility or friendliness. As a result, under the conscious priming condition, asymmetric effects were observed for positive versus negative priming words. Specifically, the assimilat- ive effects on the impression ratings were obtained when the prime words were related with hostility, whereas the effects were not obtained when they were related with friendliness. On the other hand, under the subconscious priming condition, the symmetric assimilation effects were observed for positive versus negative words. In sum, the conscious processing was influenced by the positivity and the negativity of conceptual stimuli, whereas the subconscious processing was not. In other words, it was demonstrated that the level of conscious awareness of priming events should be one of the critical factors for the positive-negative asymmetry of effects to appear.
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In Ikegami and Kawaguchi (1989), it was presumed that the conscious processing of friendly or hostile words might evoke the chronic expectancy that people would emit positive traits and behaviours in usual cases, which is well known as Polyanna hypothesis (see Boucher and Osgood, 1969; Fiske, 1980). Consequently, the impact of positive priming words congruent with the expectancy was mitigated, but the impact of unexpected negative priming words was not. The subconscious processing of prime words hardly evoked such expectancy so that the impact of either positive or negative prime words was not affected. They reasoned further that under the subconscious priming condition, evaluative components of the words could not be processed sufficiently to evoke such expectancy. That is, purely semantic components of the words were processed in this case. Under the conscious priming condition, evaluative implications of the words could be processed well enough to evoke the socio-cultural expectancy on the subjects part.
Generally speaking, a trait word carries with it some evaluative components as well as descriptive components, and it is very probable that the processing of such components of the word should evoke some kind of evaluative expectancy on the subjects part. According to the reasoning of Ikegami and Kawaguchi (1989) the evoked evaluative expectancy may circumvent or suppress the purely cognitive activa- tion processes which are reflected in the symmetric assimilation effects in the subcons- cious priming condition. It is inferred that such evaluative information processing may occur when the prime words are processed consciously enough at least to identify what they are.
However, it is still questionable whether the subjects actually processed evaluative implications of the words under the conscious priming condition in Ikegami and Kawaguchi (1989). What the subjects had to do was just to decide whether a stimulus being presented was a jukugo word or not. Such kinds of tasks may not necessarily require subjects to process the evaluative implications of the words. Most of the other previous studies have investigated the effects of prior tasks that were character- ized as perceptual and nonevaluative processing tasks. Further investigations are needed to confirm that the positive-negative asymmetry of priming effects will appear under the condition where subjects apparently enter the evaluative implications of the words and hence they are reminded of the socio-cultural expectancy as described in Ikegami and Kawaguchi (1989). Thus the purpose of the present study is to examine whether the positive-negative asymmetry of priming effects obtained thus far will be observed when prime words receive such evaluative processing as mentioned above.
OVERVIEW OF THE STUDY
Two experiments were conducted to investigate the effects of prior tasks upon the impression formation of others. In the impression formation tasks subjects rated a target person on several trait scales based on a paragraph of behavioural descrip- tions that was ambiguous with regard to hostility (Experiment 1) or friendliness
Priming efects and impression formation 5
(Experiment 2). In the prior priming tasks subjects were asked to complete sentences using hostile (Experiment 1) or friendly words (Experiment 2), in combination with 1. It was assumed that such sentence completion tasks should require of subjects evaluative processing of the conceptual words. Subjects had to comprehend evaluative as well as descriptive aspects of the words in order to convey their own personal beliefs. Subjects were exposed to six hostile (Experiment 1) or six friendly (Experiment 2) words in the priming tasks.
The hostile and the friendly words were selected among the stimulus words used in the priming tasks in Ikegami and Kawaguchi (1989). The selection was based on the hostility or friendliness ratings of each stimulus word on a 7-point scale which had been gathered in the preparatory study of Ikegami and Kawaguchi (1989). The averaged hostility rating values of the six hostile words used in Experiment 1 was 6.26, while the averaged friendliness rating values of the six friendly words used in Experiment 2 was 6.24. The distance from the midpoint of 4 was 2.26 and 2.24, respectively. Thus it was assured that the extremity (the distance from the midpoint) in hostility or friendliness implied by the prime words was equalized between Experiment 1 and Experiment 2.
Also, the same paragraphs of behavioural descriptions that had been constructed by Ikegami and Kawaguchi (1989) were used in the subsequent impression tasks. The paragraphs were Japanese versions of Srull and Wyers (1979) material with some changes. Since the symmetric effects had been obtained under the subconscious priming condition in Ikegami and Kawaguchi (1989), it had been proved that these hostile and friendly descriptive paragraphs in themselves were equally susceptible to the priming. The normative rating data, which had been collected in the prepara- tory study of Ikegami and Kawaguchi (1989), revealed that the hostile paragraph received the rating value of 5.18 on a 7-point hostility scale, while the friendly para- graph received the rating value of 4.98 on a 7-point friendliness scale (the midpoint was 4 for both scales). This indicated that either the hostile or the friendly paragraph was moderately hostile or friendly, respectively. In addition, it was confirmed that the discrepancy between the implications of the prime words and the implications of the behavioural information was the same under the priming conditions in Exper- iment 1 and 2. The calculated discrepancy on a hostile-friendly scale between the prime words and the behavioural information to be judged was 1.08 for hostile priming condition (Experiment 1) and 1.26 for friendly priming condition (Exper- iment 2). This eliminated the alternative possibility that the obtained difference between the hostile versus friendly priming conditions could be attributed to the asymmetry of discrepancy between the implication of the prime words and that of the behavioural information. Thus it was assured that the positivity and the negati- vity of the primed trait per se should account for the obtained differences between the two priming conditions. Moreover, if a different pattern of effects were to be found in the present study compared with that of Ikegami and Kawaguchi (1989), it might be also attributed to the difference in the nature of processing of the prime words.
Finally, as it was predictable that the evaluative processing might produce side- effects on the feeling states of subjects, a supplementary experiment was conducted to assess the feeling states following the sentence completion tasks in order to ensure that the same amount of affective reactions might be elicited by the hostile versus friendly priming manipulations.
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The purpose of Experiment 1 is to investigate the effects of evaluative processing of hostile words upon the person impression.
Forty-four university students (23 males, 21 females) served as subjects. The subjects were divided into two experimental (hostile versus neutral) condition groups.
Three experimental tasks as follows were conducted by group administration. ( I ) Priming task Subjects were asked to perform a sentence completion task which
included two experimental (hostile versus neutral) conditions. In the hostile condition, subjects completed sentences beginning with, for example, I hate most people who . . ., and in the neutral condition the sentences that they were to complete began with, for example, When I make explanations to others, I . . .. In either of the conditions, subjects were given six minutes to complete six sentences. Half the subjects were assigned to the hostile condition and the other half were assigned to the neutral condition. The number of male and female subjects was counterbalanced.
(2) Interpolated task After the sentence completion task, subjects performed a one-minute arithmetic task where they were instructed to count backwards from 1000 by 3s as quickly as possible. This task was administered with the aim of disguis- ing the relationship between the sentence completion task and the subsequent impres- sion task.
( 3 ) Impression task After the interpolated task subjects were led to engage in the impression task. Subjects were read by the experimenter just once a paragraph of 20 descriptions, which contained five somewhat hostile but ambiguously depicted behaviours of a target person, Mr Nakamura (e.g. refusing to let a salesman enter his apartment, telling a garage mechanic he would have to go somewhere else if he couldnt fix his car the same day, etc.). Subjects rated the target person on 12 monopolar 7-point trait scales ( 1 indicates not at all, 7 indicates extremely). Six of the trait scales were relevant to the hostility-friendliness dimension: Three were evaluatively negative (negative relevant, e.g.: hostile, cold, selfish) and three were evaluatively positive (positive relevant, e.g.: friendly, warm, considerate). The remain- ing six scales were irrelevant to hostility-friendliness: Three were negative (negative irrelevant, e.g.: boring, irresponsible, fainthearted) and three were positive (positive irrelevant, e.g.: interesting, responsible, smart). It was assured from the questionnaire that none of the subjects was aware of the covert relation between the impression task and the preceding sentence completion task.
( 4 ) Recall test After completing the impression rating task, a 10-minute recall test was administered. Subjects were instructed to recall and write down as many descriptions as possible that they had heard in the impression task.
Priming eflects and impression formation 7
Results and discussion
Impression ratings on three scales of each scale type were averaged and mean ratings and S.D. of each scale type for hostile and neutral conditions were shown in Table 1. Three-way ANOVA of priming condition (hostile versus neutral) X scale value (negative versus positive) x scale relevance (relevant versus irrelevant) was performed. As a result, the significant main effect of scale value was found (F(1,42) = 70.99, p c 0.001), indicating that Mr Nakamura was in general evaluated unfavourably. Specifically Mr Nakamura was rated high on the negative scales and low on the positive scales. The interactional effects of priming condition X scale value, priming condition x scale relevance, scale value x scale relevance, and priming condition x scale value x scale relevance were also significant (in serial order, F(1,42)=36.14, p ~ 0 . 0 0 1 , F(1,42)=4.23, pC0.05, F(1,42)=97.05, p
8 T. Zkegami
in interpretation of the behavioural information. It is inferred that the hostile con- structs were activated and made more accessible for use by the prior evaluative processing of the hostile words in the sentence completion tasks and then the subse- quent ambiguous behavioural information was assimilated into the activated hostile constructs.
The purpose of Experiment 2 is to investigate the effects of evaluative processing of the friendly words upon the person impression.
Forty-two university students (20 males, 22 females) served as subjects. The subjects were divided into two experimental (friendly versus neutral) conditions.
The procedure was basically the same as in Experiment 1 except for the following two points. One was that subjects were exposed to friendly words instead of hostile ones in the priming sentence completion task (e.g. The person I love very much is . . .). Another was that subjects were presented with a paragraph containing five ambiguously depicted friendly behaviours instead of hostile ones in the impression task (e.g. inviting his friend to his home, proposing to introduce a car-repair shop to his friend, etc.).
Results and discussion
Impression ratings on three scales belonging to each scale type were averaged and mean and S. D. of each scale type for friendly and neutral conditions were shown in Table 2. Three-way ANOVA of priming condition (friendly versus neutral) X scale value (positive versus negative) x scale relevance (relevant versus irrelevant) was performed on the impression ratings. First, the main effect of scale value was significant (F( 1,42) = 44.00, p < 0.001), which indicated that Mr Nakamura was rated high on the positive scales and low on the negative scales. The main effect of the priming condition was not significant (F1,42) < 1, 3). However, the interactional effect of priming condition X scale valence was significant (F1,42) = 1 1.02, p < O.Ol), and the interactional effect of scale value x scale relevance was also significant (F(1,42) = 58.61, p < 0.001). Further analyses revealed that there were significant simple effects due to the priming conditions on the positive relevant (F(1,168) = 8.709 p < 0.01) and the negative relevant scales (F(1,168) =9.958 p < 0.01). The results did indicate that subjects under the friendly condition rated Mr Nakamura as less friendly and more hostile than those under the neutral condition. Besides, signifi-
Priming efsects and impression formation 9
cant differences were found between the two priming conditions on the positive irrelevant (F(1,168) = 2.820 p < 0.1) and the negative irrelevant scales (F( 1,168) = 6.21 5 p < 0.05), indicating that subjects under the friendly condition rated him less favourably on these scales than those under the neutral condition.
Table 2. Mean and S. D. of impression ratings after the friendly or the neutral sentence com- pletion task
Trait scale Positive Negative
Relevant Irrelevant Relevant Irrelevant
Friendly Mean 4.49 3.70 (S. D.) (0.93) (0.88)
3.08 3.58 (1.04) (0.92)
Neutral Mean 5.36 4.20 2.14 2.83 (S. 0.) (0.94) (0.68) (1.20) (1.05)
The recall test showed that there were no significant differences between the two priming conditions either in the total number of descriptions recalled (the means were 13.6 and 15.3 for the friendly and the neutral condition, respectively; t = 1.60, df = 40, NS) or in the number of friendliness-related descriptions recalled (the means were 3.33 and 3.57 for the friendly and the neutral condition; t < 1, df = 40, NS). These results were basically the same as those of the recall test in Experiment 1. It was repeatedly suggested that the construct priming task should have effects on the understanding and interpretation of behavioural information, but not on the selection and memory of the behavioural information.
It was possible to predict that friendly sentence completion tasks should prime the friendly constructs and then the subsequent ambiguous behavioural information should be assimilated into the primed friendly constructs, but this result was not the case. The present results show indeed that the impression ratings shifted in the opposite direction to the implication denoted by the primed friendly constructs. It suggests that the primed friendly constructs served as a high standard or a reference point and so the behavioural information of a target person was contrasted to them. As a consequence, the overall evaluation of the friendliness of the target person was discounted. Given that the friendly sentence completion tasks were assumed to require of subjects the evaluative processing of friendly words, the present data imply that under this sort of condition positive priming should produce contrast effects on the impression formation.
The purpose of Supplementary Experiment is first to examine the degree of negative or positive affect that would be elicited by hostile or friendly sentence completion tasks, and then to assure that the induced feeling states should be maintained through-
10 T. Ikegami
out the counting backward task being interpolated between the priming sentence completion task and the impression formation task.
Thirty university students served as subjects. The subjects were assigned to three experimental condition groups.
Two ostensibly unrelated tasks were carried out by group administration. First, subjects were asked to complete sentences containing hostile, friendly or neutral words. The tasks were the same that were used in Experiments 1 and 2. Ten subjects were assigned to each of the three experimental (hostile, friendly, and neutral) con- ditions. They were given six minutes to complete six sentences in each condition. Immediately after the sentence completion task, all the subjects were asked to rate their own subjective current feeling states on eight monopolar 5-point adjective scales (immediate rating). Half the scales were negative (e.g. irritated, gloomy, depressive, unpleasant), and the other half were positive (e.g. comfortable, cheerful, peaceful, happy). Second, subjects were required to perform the same counting-backward task as was used in Experiments 1 and 2. After the counting-backward task, they were again asked to rate the subjective feeling states at the moment on the same eight scales mentioned above (delayed rating). This was done to make sure that the counting-backward task should not alter the feeling states induced by the sentence completion tasks.
Results and discussion
The ratings were averaged over the four relevant scales of positive versus negative type for each subject. The difference between the positive and the negative affect was computed for each subject by subtracting the averaged negative rating value from the averaged positive rating value. The difference measure was supposed to reflect the net effect on the feeling states. The mean positive and the mean negative affect measures together with the mean difference measure of immediate and delayed ratings as a function of sentence completion task were shown in Table 3. Two-way ANOVAs of sentence completion type (hostile, friendly and neutral) X rating timing (immediate versus delayed) were performed on the three dependent measures (positive affect, negative affect, difference). As a result, for all the three dependent measures, the main effects due to the task type were statistically significant (positive affect: F(2,27) = 6.145, p < 0.01; negative affect: F(2,27) = 48.844, p < 0.001; difference: F(2,27) = 35.492, p < 0.001). However, the main effects of rating timing and the inter- actional effect of task type X rating timing were not significant for any of the three measures. It indicated that the different feeling states were induced in the subjects by the hostile, friendly and neutral sentence completion tasks, and that the effects due to the type of sentence completion tasks were preserved throughout the counting- backward task.
Priming effects and impression formation 1 1
Table 3. Subjective feeling ratings immediately after hostile, friendly or neutral sentence com- pletion tasks (immediate rating) and after an arithmetic task (delayed rating) in the Supplemen- tary Experiment
Immediate Delayed Type of task Type of task
Me as u r e Hostile Neutral Friendly Hostile Neutral Friendly
Positive 1.97 2.77 3.13 1.95 2.67 3.13 Negative 2.85 1.27 1.85 2.85 1.22 1.70 Difference -0.88 1 S O 1.28 -0.90 1.45 1.43
Therefore, one-way ANOVAs were administered only on the delayed ratings for each dependent measure. As a result, the significant main effects due to the type of sentence completion tasks were observed for all the three measures (positive affect: F(2,27) = 4.539, p < 0.05; negative affect: F(2,27) = 32.826, p < 0.001; difference: F(2,27) = 16.060, p < 0.001). Multiple comparisons on the negative affect measure revealed that the hostile sentence completion tasks evoked significantly more negative affect than did the neutral and the friendly sentence completion tasks, but it was not shown that the friendly sentence completion tasks evoked less negative affect than the neutral ones (See Table 4). Multiple comparison of the positive affect measure showed that the friendly sentence completion tasks evoked significantly more positive affect than the hostile ones. There was, however, no tendency that the friendly sen- tence completion tasks evoked more positive affect than the neutral ones (see Table 4). Multiple comparison of the difference measure also revealed that the hostile sentence completion tasks elicited significantly more negative affect than did the neutral sentence completion tasks, while the friendly sentence completion tasks had no substantial effects on the subjects feeling states.
Table 4. Summary of multiple comparisons on the delayed ratings among hostile, friendly, and neutral conditions
Positive Hos. = Neut. Hos. < Friend. Neut. =Friend. Negative Hos. > Neut. Hos. > Friend. Neut. = Friend. Difference Hos. < Neut. Hos. < Friend. Neut. = Friend. < o r > = p < 0 . 0 5 ; = = n s . Hos. = Hostile condition; Friend. = Friendly condition; Neut. = Neutral condition.
The results of the Supplementary Experiment demonstrate in general that the different feeling states were induced in the subjects by the hostile and friendly sentence completion tasks. It was apparent that the subjects feeling states in the hostile con- dition were more negative and less positive than the ones in the friendly condition. However, it was shown at the same time that the friendly sentence completion tasks did not elicit as much positive affect as the hostile ones elicited negative affect on the subjects part. It seems that the evaluative processing of hostile and friendly words produce differential effects on the feeling states. It was presumed that both the hostile and the friendly sentence completion tasks would lead subjects, to the same extent, to be keenly aware of hostility or friendliness in others. So it was
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predicted that the equally enhanced awareness of hostility or friendliness in others would be accompanied by the same amount of affective reactions. The results failed to support this prediction, however. From this, one might infer that compared to the friendly conceptual nodes, the hostile conceptual nodes are more strongly asso- ciated with the feeling nodes in memory structure and hence the activation of hostile nodes is more likely to spread to the negative feeling nodes.
The results of Experiment 1 demonstrated that the hostile sentence completion tasks increased the likelihood that the subsequent person information was assimilated into the hostile constructs. It was reasoned that hostile constructs were primed and activated by evaluative processing of the hostile words in the sentence completion tasks. Consequently those hostile constructs became more accessible and applicable in the subsequent interpretation of behavioural information. On the other hand, the results of Experiment 2 demonstrated that the friendly sentence completion tasks increased the tendency that the subsequent behavioural information was contrasted to the primed friendly constructs and that the friendliness of the impression of a target person was discounted. This suggests that primed friendly constructs served as a high standard or a reference point in the interpretation or evaluation of beha- vioural information.
The results of Experiment 2, coupled with those of Experiment 1, imply that it may depend upon the positivity or the negativity of the primed constructs whether behavioural information is assimilated or contrasted to the primed constructs. In some of the previous studies it was found that assimilation effects occurred where prime stimuli were moderately discrepant from the stimuli to be judged, but that contrast effects occurred when they were highly discrepant (Herr, Sherman and Fazio, 1983; Herr, 1986). In the present study, it was assured, as was mentioned before, that the discrepancy of the priming words from the behavioural information was equalized between the hostile versus friendly priming conditions. Therefore, the asym- metric pattern of the present results could not be interpreted in terms of the discre- pancy of the prime words.
Some other previous studies have suggested that the consciousness or recallability of the prime words plays an important role for priming to produce an assimilation effect or a contrast effect on the categorization of the stimulus person (Lombardi eta) . , 1987; Martin, 1985, 1986; Ikegami and Kawaguchi, 1989). According to those studies, assimilation effects have been found more often under conditions where priming events hardly come into the subjects consciousness while subsequent beha- vioural information is being received and interpreted. On the other hand, contrast effects have been found more often when subjects are likely to be conscious of the priming events at the time of interpretation of the behavioural input. In the present case, as the priming tasks which subjects were administered were of the same nature over Experiment 1 and 2, it is hard to see that the level of conscious awareness of the priming words should be different under the hostile versus friendly priming conditions. Therefore, there was little possibility that the difference in the level of awareness of the priming events might account for the two opposing effects of priming obtained here. Thus the significant implication of the present study is that the valence
Priming effects and impression formation 13
(positivity or negativity) of prime words might be one of the critical factors as determi- nant for priming to produce an assimilation effect or a contrast effect.
By the way, Ikegami and Kawaguchi (1989) have also demonstrated that the con- scious processing increases the likelihood that the positive-negative asymmetry of processing effects appears. Specifically, they found that the more consciously were priming stimuli processed, the more likely was the tendency that assimilation effects were lessened in positive priming than in negative priming. Concerning this, they have reasoned as follows: Evaluative components as well as semantic or descriptive components of the words were more likely to be processed in the case of conscious priming. It was because subjects were given enough time to identify the words and so to process multiple aspects of the words under the conscious priming condition in their experiment. The processing of evaluative aspects of the words evoked subjects evaluative expectancy that the occurrence of friendly traits and behaviours was more usual and normal whereas the occurrence of hostile traits and behaviours was more unusual and abnormal, as was indicated by the Polyanna hypothesis. Under the subconscious priming condition, on the other hand, subjects were only given extre- mely brief processing time so that they could only process descriptive or purely semantic aspects of the words and the above evaluative expectancy could not be evoked. Once it was evoked, this socio-cultural expectancy interfered with the purely cognitive processes. Specifically, the impact of friendly prime words congruent with such expectancy was mitigated with the result that the corresponding friendly nodes were not activated. This non-activation was not observed for hostile prime words which were incongruent with the expectancy. This reasoning leads to the conclusion that the positive-negative asymmetry of priming effects is due to the difference in the activation level of the positive versus negative nodesper se.
Such explanation seems tenable for the pattern of asymmetry that positive priming effects are not so powerful as negative priming effects. However, it does not provide a full account for the present pattern of results that assimilation is more likely to occur in negative priming and that contrasting is more likely to occur in positive priming. In order for priming to produce a contrast effect, it is necessary that the activation level of the corresponding nodes should be higher in the priming condition than in the control (neutral) condition. Such contrast effects as observed in the Experiment 2 could not have appeared if the activation level of the friendly conceptual nodes had not exceeded in the positive priming condition as compared with the neutral control condition. The present results suggest that friendly constructs were activated by the priming tasks as strongly as were hostile constructs, but that the primed friendly constructs functioned differently than did the primed hostile con- structs in the subsequent information processing. The primed hostile constructs func- tion in such an assimilative manner that the hostility of subsequent behaviour input is exaggerated, whereas the primed friendly constructs function as a high standard or a reference point so that the friendliness of subsequent behavioural input is dis- counted. To put it in another way, negative priming facilitates assimilation, but positive priming facilitates contrasting.
However, it should be noted that contrast effects were not obtained under the positive priming conditions of the previous studies (e.g. Srull and Wyer, 1979; Ikegami and Kawaguchi, 1989). Srull and Wyer (1979) found assimilation effects of priming kindness on the judgments of an ambiguously kind behavioural paragraph though these effects were obviously weaker than the effects of priming hostility. In Ikegami
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and Kawaguchi (1989), it was shown that assimilation effects disappeared under the condition of conscious priming of friendliness, but they were certainly not contrast effects. Therefore, it is necessary to confine the conditions where the current asymmet- ric pattern of priming effects will be obtained.
The differences mentioned above might probably be attributed to the differences in the nature of the priming tasks. The sentence completion tasks that the present study adopted as priming tasks required of subjects more evaluative processing of prime stimuli as compared with any other priming tasks in the previous studies. Subjects had to comprehend evaluative aspects as well as purely semantic or descrip- tive aspects of prime words in order to convey their own personal beliefs in completing sentences. On the other hand, in the sentence construction tasks as Srull and Wyer (1979) used, subjects were more likely to be led to concentrate on syntactic relations. As for the priming tasks that Ikegami and Kawaguchi (1989) adopted, subjects were asked to decide on which side of the fixation point a jukugo word had appeared. In such tasks, even in the conscious priming condition, subjects were expected first to pay attention to structural and then to descriptive aspects of the stimulus words, at best. They did not necessarily require of subjects evaluative processing of the words, as was previously mentioned.
Hence, one could tentatively formulate that positive priming should produce assi- milation effects under nonevaluative processing conditions, but contrast effects under evaluative processing conditions. On the other hand, negative priming should produce assimilation effects under either evaluative or non-evaluative processing conditions. This tentative conclusion implies anyway that the priming effects on target judgments should not reflect directly the activation level of primed concepts. The priming effects should be considered as a result of the way how activated concepts function in interpretation or evaluation of relevant behavioural inputs. It seems that the amount of evaluative processing in priming tasks determines how primed concepts function in target judgments.
Nevertheless, it is quite plausible that the chronic socio-cultural expectancy for normality, as was described by Ikegami and Kawaguchi (1989), should be evoked by processing of the evaluative aspects of the words. However, it is difficult to admit that such expectancy would inhibit the purely cognitive-based activation processes in case of positive priming. It is more reasonable to think that the socio-cultural expectancy influences the manner in which activated trait concepts are being used in behavioural information processing. Putting the present results together with the other results previously obtained, one might conclude that as the amount of evaluative processing increases in priming tasks, subjects will be more keenly aware of the social norms and as a consequence they will be more liable to raise the criterion for friendliness in target judgments.
However, the results of the Supplementary Experiment posed some questions about the assertion that the currently found positive-negative asymmetry should entirely be attributed to evaluative valence of primed concepts. The Supplementary Exper- iment revealed that the hostile sentence completion tasks elicited more negative affects in the subjects compared with neutral sentence completion tasks. On the other hand, it was shown that the friendly sentence completion tasks elicited no more positive affects than did neutral sentence completion tasks. In other words, the hostility priming induced more negative affects than did the neutral priming, whereas the friendliness priming did not induce any affects in the subjects. It was very probable
Priming effects and impression formation 15
that the asymmetric effects of priming on the feeling states produced the asymmetric effects of priming on the target judgments. It might possibly be inferred that contrast effects are more likely to occur when primed concepts are not accompanied by affec- tive reactions than when otherwise.
Although this interpretation seems tenable here in the present study, it comes to be controversial when taking into account the fact that assimilation effects were obtained in the subconscious priming conditions in the previous studies (e.g. Ikegami and Kawaguchi, 1989; Bargh and Pietromonaco, 1982). It is hard to see that subcons- ciously primed trait concepts were accompanied by any affective reactions as were reflected in the self-ratings in this study. It is because purely semantic concepts are supposed to be activated under the conditions of subconscious priming (Ikegami and Kawaguchi, 1989). Viewed in this light, it does not seem to be a matter of critical importance whether or not affective reactions are accompanied with primed traits. Therefore, one could hardly conclude that the current asymmetric priming effects should be a result of direct effects of the feeling states. Rather, one should note that the socio-cultural evaluative expectancy can hardly be evoked under the subconscious priming condition, whereas it can be evoked under the present con- dition. Taking these into consideration, the most acceptable interpretation here is that the socio-cultural expectancy for normality of friendliness should play a critical role for priming to produce the current positive-negative asymmetry. It would be better to think that the asymmetry in the feeling states was a by-product of the evoking of the socio-cultural expectancy. Specifically, the expectancy for normality of friendliness triggered strong negative affects in the subjects under the hostile prim- ing condition, but weakened the evoking of positive affects under the friendly priming condition. Thus, the asymmetric effects of the hostile and the friendly priming on the feeling states should also be considered as a sort of supportive evidence of the influences of the socio-cultural expectancy.
In the present study, the sentence completion tasks which required of subjects evaluative processing of the words were adopted as priming tasks. As a consequence, a new type of asymmetry in priming effects have been found. That is that negative priming produces assimilation effects while positive priming produces contrast effects. This type of asymmetric pattern in priming effects have not been found in the previous studies, where the priming tasks seemingly demanded of subjects less evaluative processing. It is concluded that evaluative processing of hostile or friendly words evokes subjects chronic socio-cultural expectancy, which influences the way that primed concepts function in evaluation of behavioural information. The most signifi- cant implication of the present study is that the socio-cultural evaluative expectancy might underlie the positive-negative asymmetry of priming effects on the impression formation.
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