Accessibility and applicability: Some “Activation Rules” influencing judgment

E. Tory Higgins*, C. Miguel Brendl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

205 Scopus citations


Individuals with varying levels of chronic accessibility for the construct “conceited” read about a target person and gave their spontaneous impressions of the target′s behaviors. The construct “conceited” was either contextually primed or not, and the priming-to-stimulus delay was either short or long. The stimulus behaviors also varied in applicability to the construct “conceited,” with three different types of non-“unambiguous” stimuli being examined. The stimulus behaviors were either only weakly related to “conceited” (vague), strongly and equally related to both “conceited” and “self-confident” (ambiguous), or more strongly related to self-confident than to “conceited” (contrary). We found that the extremely vague target behaviors yielded conceited-related spontaneous impressions when the accessibility of the construct conceited was maximized - contextual priming [without awareness], short priming-to-stimulus delay, and relatively high levels of chronic accessibility. This result supports the “activation rule” that strong accessibility can compensate for weak applicability. Two other activation rules were suggested by the results for the ambiguous and the contrary stimuli, respectively: (a) higher accessibility can yield stronger judgments even when perceivers are aware of contextual priming events if the additional contribution to activation from applicability and chronic accessibility is sufficiently great, and (b) the relation between higher accessibility and stronger judgments is constrained when the applicability of a competing alternative construct is both strong and stronger than the target construct′s applicability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)218-243
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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