Transference of Self Concept in First Impressions of Similar Others
Forming rapid and reasonably accurate impressions of other people to determine the potential for threat is a crucial human skill that has evolved over millennia. That said, often these first impressions may be inaccurate as the processes underlying person perception are subject to bias. Transference is one such bias which occurs when an encountered novel individual, for whatever reason, is similar enough that he or she activates the mental representation of a ‘significant other’ which is then “transferred” to that novel individual. In particular, judgments of the new person are assimilated to both evaluations (positive or negative) as well as the specific trait content of the activated representation. The current research proposed that the self-concept as activated by self-similar stimuli can act in a similar fashion. Specifically, it was proposed that activation of the self-concept – through encountering an individual who is similar to the self – may trigger transference of self-concept-related feelings and emotions to a novel other. The current research tested this prediction in four experiments by comparing participant judgements of own self-concept with trait-related judgements about novel targets, half of which were modified to resemble the perceiver. It was expected that participants would rate participant-similar stimuli as more similar to themselves than non-similar stimuli. Overall, experimental results did not support this hypothesis in that participant judgements and evaluations of self-resembling faces did not differ significantly from judgements and evaluations of stranger-similar faces in any reliable pattern. The implications of these findings are discussed in relation to previous research on first impressions, transference, and self-concept.