Process tracing in social psychology : information search and impression formation

A study was conducted for the purpose of demonstrating the effects of sex of subject, sex of target person, attributes of the target person, and search stage on the order and amount of information accession during the impression formation process. Equal numbers of male and female subjects were given the opportunity to access appearance, behavior, and trait information about either male or female targets. The targets and their attributes were represented in an information board, which is a matrix with each row representing a different target person, and each column representing either an appearance, behavior, or trait attribute of the target. Each cell contained cards with information regarding how the attribute in the column characterized the person in the row. Subjects were given the task of choosing which target impressed them most favorably by removing cards from the cells of their choice and reading the information printed on the cards. Two quadruple interactions were hypothesized. Male subjects were hypothesized to search a greater amount of appearance information about female targets in the first search stage than subjects in all other experimental conditions. Male subjects were also hypothesized to conduct a higher within-attribute search when searching appearance information about female targets in the first stage than subjects in all other conditions. Neither of these hypotheses was confirmed. It was found that subjects executed a higher within-target search in the second search stage than the first. The effect of subject sex on search sequence and the effect of attribute type on search depth were tested post hoc. It was found that females conducted a higher within-target search than males. Surprisingly, an overall preference for searching trait information than appearance or behavior information was also found. Results are discussed in light of existing models of information search.