ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2018, Vol. 50 ›› Issue (10): 1180-1196.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2018.01180

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles    

Situational evolution of the relationship between warmth and competence in intergroup evaluation: Impact of evaluating intention and behavioral outcomes

Bin ZUO1,2,Fangfang WEN1,2(),Yang WU3,Taotao DAI1   

  1. 1 School of Psychology, Center for Studies of Social Psychology, Central China Normal University, Wuhan 430079, China
    2 Key Laboratory of Adolescent Cyberpsychology and Behavior, Ministry of Education, Central China Normal University, Wuhan 430079, China
    3 School of Marxism, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan 430074, China
  • Received:2017-11-13 Published:2018-10-25 Online:2018-08-23


Two critical dimensions, warmth and competence, feature prominently in people’s social cognitive processes, and there is a great deal of research examining the nature of these two dimensions and their relationships. Recently, researchers have become increasingly interested in the situational dependency that may characterize people’s perceptions of these two dimensions. However, past research has only considered the effect of simple and repeated interactions, leaving the nature and outcomes of the interactions unexamined. According to social interdependence theory, the competitive or cooperative interactions between groups may elicit disparate downstream effects on perceptions of group members. Various theoretical perspectives converged on the notion that the outcomes of previous interaction sessions may exercise a crucial but differential impact on the warmth and competence rating of outgroup members. The current work aimed to investigate the joint effect of the competitive/collaborative context and the interaction outcomes on people’s warmth and competence ratings as well as the relationship between the two dimensions.

The current research explored this problem in two studies. We investigated how the result of success or failure affects intergroup evaluation in different situations of competition and cooperation. A total of 496 undergraduates were recruited. In all four of our experiments, we used the Distant Planetary Paradigm and imagined a four-stage encounter with an alien prospecting team, with the characteristics and outcomes of each session manipulated according to experimental design. After each stage of the encounter, participants rated their perceptions of the warmth and competence of the alien groups.

The results showed that: (1) a positive relationship between warmth and competence ratings was observed when participants inferred competence from warmth-related information, and when they inferred warmth from competence-related information, the relationship reversed; (2) during the first stage of interaction, knowing the coaction intention of the outgroup exerted an overarching “centralizing” effect over people’s perception of the member of that outgroup, with the ratings on both dimensions showing a compensatory tendency; and (3) the effect of interaction outcome was contingent on the coaction contexts, such that in a competition context, ratings of warmth and competence exhibited an anti-parallel tendency as the four-stage interactions unfolded, such that a successful outcome may cause a rising-warmth-falling-competence tendency and a failure outcome may cause a warmth-falling-competence rising tendency, whereas in a cooperation context, ratings on the two dimensions evolved in a parallel fashion, such that a successful cooperation may cause an overall increase in ratings on both dimensions and a failed cooperation may cause overall falling ratings on both dimensions.

In conclusion, the current research is the first to explore the situational evolution of the relationship between warmth and competence ratings in intergroup evaluations, and has important implications for the future inter-group relationship research. This line of inquiry makes a novel contribution to the field by examining how social relationships within joint activities could influence behavior and intentions toward members of an outgroup.

Key words: stereotype content, warmth, competence, situational evolution, success-failure, intergroup evaluation

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