ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (3): 443-454.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2023.00443

• Regular Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Perceived warmth and competence: The role of physiological cues in social cognition

CHENG Jieting1, SHI Mengwei2()   

  1. 1School of Law, Shandong University at Weihai, Weihai 264209, China
    2School of Psychology, Guizhou Normal University, Guiyang 550025, China
  • Received:2022-04-16 Online:2023-03-15 Published:2022-12-22
  • Contact: SHI Mengwei


Warmth and competence provide universal frameworks for analyzing social cognition. They were found to be central to context-driven evaluations of individuals and groups. Consequently, one of the critical questions regarding social cognition is the relationship between these two dimensions and social factors. From a functional perspective, many physiological cues were also thought to reflect the primary concern of the social perceiver in gathering information about someone’s warmth and competence. For example, facial cues were derived from their traits and expression; vocal cues from pitch, intonation, rate, fundamental frequency, and their changes; and body cues from the in-out effect, powerful gesture, vertical motion, and temperature. Individuals attributed the information on these cues to warmth and competence, aiming to assess others’ intentions and ability to enact them. Further, they simultaneously try to follow stereotypes and specific psychological conditions.
Individuals bring physiological cues into their physical perception and information about warmth and competence in social cognition. Notably, there might be two ways to connect the physical and social domains: correspondence or priming. The correspondence hypothesis between physical perception and social cognition emphasizes the existence of a matching basis, including the same brain regions, social categorization and social concept as mediation, associated memory between non-human subjects and social cognition, and conceptual networks extending the correspondence boundary. The priming hypothesis emphasizes that warmth and competence are the basic dimensions through which individuals interpret all information, including physiological cues. Individuals constantly try to understand the world through specific dimensions, which can be primed by any stimulus from an abundance of physical or social information. Warmth and competence also work similarly, where information about humans, organizations, objects, and artificial intelligence play the role of stimulus. Notably, facial sensory information is essential for classifying warmth and competence. During this priming process, perceivers would translate all sensory information into a coherent understanding based on their own expectations without considering the consistency between the processing results and information content.
Figuring out the relationship between physical perception and social cognition helps understand how warmth and competence represent the fundamental dimensions of social evaluations and improve their flexibility to interpret myriad situations. First, the relationship between physical perception and social cognition might be so complex that it is necessary to describe which physiological cue of a particular context is drawn by perceivers to assess their own or others’ warmth and competence. Suppose there are multiple physiological cues strongly related to the evaluation of warmth and competence. In that case, this would change the evaluation outcome of warmth and competence efficiently and compendiously. Second, physiological cues are numerous, and each plays only a small role in determining the warmth and competence evaluation results. Therefore, the configuration of physiological cues, as a combination of conditions relevant to a given evaluation outcome of warmth and competence, might correspond significantly to the social cognition process from theoretical and ecological perspectives. The configuration model has two advantages. One is seeking out how various combinations of physiological cues efficiently explain individuals’ intention and action based on the real situation; another is ascertaining whether specific physiological cues have independent influence, including how it works. Finally, physiological cues are maneuverable in most situations and could be changed any time or anywhere. Based on this character of physiological cues and the relationship between physical perception and social cognition, exploring how factors in reality could change individuals’ evaluation outcome of warmth and competence would influence social bias.

Key words: warmth, competence, social cognition, physiological cues

CLC Number: