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Social categories constitute discontinuous divisions of the social world reflecting cognitive representations of the self and others. Such representations come to influence the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of people through depersonalization, which occurs when people perceive themselves or others as undifferentiated and interchangeable components of a group. Social categories thus provide the foundation of group behavior as well as stereotypic perception.

A person’s perception of a social category, according to John C. Turner, depends on two factors: fit and the accessibility. Accessibility refers to the influence that a person’s past experiences, expectations, motives, values, goals, and needs have on the categories he or she is likely to perceive. Fit, in contrast, is comprised of two additional elements: comparative fit and normative fit. The principle of meta-contrast ...

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