Motivated social categorization: Fundamental motives enhance people's sensitivity to basic social categories

Jon K. Maner*, Saul L. Miller, Justin H. Moss, Jennifer L. Leo, E. Ashby Plant

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


This article presents an evolutionary framework for identifying the characteristics people use to categorize members of their social world. Findings suggest that fundamental social motives lead people to implicitly categorize social targets based on whether those targets display goal-relevant phenotypic traits. A mate-search prime caused participants to categorize opposite-sex targets (but not same-sex targets) based on their level of physical attractiveness (Experiment 1). A mate-guarding prime interacted with relationship investment, causing participants to categorize same-sex targets (but not opposite-sex targets) based on their physical attractiveness (Experiment 2). A self-protection prime interacted with chronic beliefs about danger, increasing participants' tendency to categorize targets based on their racial group membership (Black or White; Experiment 3). This work demonstrates that people categorize others based on whether they display goalrelevant characteristics reflecting high levels of perceived desirability or threat. Social categorization is guided by fundamental evolved motives designed to enhance adaptive social outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)70-83
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • Categorization
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Mating
  • Motivation
  • Prejudice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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