“Categorization is a psychological process that people use to make sense of the world around them. The sensemaking power of categorization comes from the idea that people understand things by working out in what ways those things are like some things and different from others. The process is widely studied in both cognitive and social psychology but the real interest for social psychology comes from the fact that people categorize people. That is, categorization is not just the way we make sense of objects in the world around us but it is also the way we make sense of people including ourselves. In other words, our sense of self, or our identity, is derived from a process of [social categorization]” (from McGarty, C., Mavor, K. I., & Skorich, D. P., in press. Social Categorization. In J. D. Wright (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral sciences. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Elsevier).
We use a wide range of paradigms to explore the ways in which the self is implicated and enacted through the process of categorisation, from self report measures of homogeneity and complexity to free recall memory, recognition memory and reaction time tasks.
A particular theme of this work is investigating the process of social categorisation not just applied to collections of people, but to the nature of the personal identity part of the self as well. in the process of doing that we challenge common notions about what social categories are, and what they are for.
Categorisation and Social Abstraction
We broadly take a view of social and self categorisation consistent with (and derived from) Self-categorization theory (SCT; Turner et al., 1987; see also McGarty, 1999). In this perspective, categorisation processes operate at all levels of social perception, not just as collections of people. We have been exploring the implications of this insight for understanding a wide range of effects and phenomena in social psychology, such as homogeneity, attribution, self-complexity, entitativity, and social memory. We highlight a number of methodological blind-spots in traditional research, and highlight the advantages of a more universal understanding of social and self-categorisation.
Categorisation and Individuation of Faces
Faces are often the first reference point in the the perception processes underlying social impression formation. In social cognition research a distinction has been made between categorisation of faces and recognising individual faces, but we have been exploring ways in which both processes rely on categorisation.