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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, PSYCHOLOGY (psychology.oxfordre.com). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 16 October 2018

Summary and Keywords

Categorization is a process whereby we make sense of the world around us by separating things into different classes or groups. When we learn which categories that objects belong to, we also learn about relationships between those objects. Social categorization involves applying that same process to people, including ourselves. It is not only a cognitive process for understanding and explaining the world, but it is part of the way we organize the world. That is, the groups we belong to such as genders, ethnicities, religions, and nations are based on social categories, and thus phenomena such as stereotyping and person perception rest on social categorization. The study of social categorization has drawn heavily on the study of object categorization and many of the core insights from that field are relevant, but there are also some important differences that suggest social categorization is more, indeed much more, than object categorization. The first key difference is that social categories, unlike object categories, are made up of people who can choose to unite or divide. Social categorization can help us not only to understand why other people are similar to each other and different from us but also to predict when they will be similar and different to us. The second key difference is that when we categorize ourselves, we learn who we can cooperate with, who shares our goals and interests, and who we might cooperate with. It is hard to imagine effective human functioning without the abilities that social categorization grants us.

Keywords: categorization, self-categorization, stereotyping, person perception, sense-making, self-stereotyping, cognitive load, prototypicality

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