Categorization under uncertainty: Resolving vagueness and ambiguity with eager versus vigilant strategies

Daniel C. Molden*, E. Tory Higgins

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations

Abstract

Attempts to categorize others' actions often involve uncertainty. In this article, two variables are identified that could influence this categorization under uncertainty. The first variable is whether the type of uncertainty created by a particular behavior arises from generally weak evidence (i.e., vagueness) versus generally strong, but conflicting evidence (i.e., ambiguity. The second variable is whether people have general preferences for the use of gain-focused (i.e., eager) versus loss-focused (i.e., vigilant) strategies of resolving such uncertainty. Three studies demonstrate that, when a target's behaviors are vague, preferences for eager decision strategies lead people to apply more possible categories to this target than do preferences for vigilant decision strategies. In contrast, when behaviors are ambiguous, preferences for vigilant decision strategies lead people to apply more possible categories than do preferences for eager decision strategies. The implications of these results for categorical inferences based upon uncertain social targets are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)248-277
Number of pages30
JournalSocial Cognition
Volume22
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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