Social Judgment: Warmth and Competence are Universal Dimensions

Although perceptions of individuals and groups operate in similar ways, some subtle differences appear. When we judge an individual person as warm, we tend to judge her or him as competent too (a phenomenon called the "halo effect" in social psychology) (Judd, James-Hawkins, Yzerbyt, & Kashima, 2005Rosenberg et al., 1968Zanna & Hamilton, 1972). In contrast, and curiously, when we judge entire social groups as warm or competent, we judge quite differently (Fiske, 1998Fiske at al. 1999Yzerbyt, Provost, & Corneille, 2005). When thinking about groups, people tend to create  warmth- competence trade-offs or "compensations." A group may be warm or competent but not both (except our own group, of course). For groups, at least groups not our own ("outgroups"),  warmth and  competence do not go hand in hand.

Warmth and competence and their relationship with discrimination and stereotypes

Combinations of  warmth and  competence matter because they predict unique forms of  discrimination. Not all bigotry is identical. Fiske and colleagues call this pattern of relationship BIAS, for Behaviors from Intergroup Affect and  stereotypes (Cuddy et al., 2007). Because the  warmth dimension is the primary factor in social perception, it predicts active behaviors towards the member of the  outgroup: Active facilitation (helping) versus active harming (attacking). Because  competence is the secondary factor in social perception, it predicts passive behaviors: passive facilitation (association) and passive harm (neglect). The typical societal  ingroup usually receives both active and passive facilitation (i.e., helping and association), whereas the lowestoutgroups, such as homeless people receive both kinds of harm (i.e., active attacks and passive neglect). 

Some interesting observations result from the mixed combinations. For example, old and disabled people elicit active helping and passive neglect; institutionalization actively aids them but socially isolates them. By contrast, envied groups elicit passive association and active harm; for example, neighbors might shop at the stores of entrepreneurial outsiders, but, under societal breakdown, they might attack and loot these same shops. Jews during the Holocaust, Koreans in the Los Angeles riots, and Chinese in the Indonesian riots all exemplify this unfortunate profile. 

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