How orthogonal are the Big Two of social perception? On the curvilinear relationship between agency and communion


Humans make sense of their social environment by forming impressions of others that allow predicting others’ actions. In this process of social perception, two types of information carry pivotal importance: other entities’ communion (i.e., warmth and trustworthiness) and agency (i.e., status and power). Although commonly thought of as orthogonal dimensions, we propose that these Big Two of social perception are curvilinearly related. Specifically, as we delineate from four different theoretical explanations, impressions of communion should peak at average agency, while entities too high or too low on agency should be perceived as low on communion. We show this pattern for social groups across one novel and five previously published data sets, including a meta-analysis of the most comprehensive data collection in the group perception literature, consisting of 36 samples from more than 20 countries. Addressing the generalizability of this curvilinear relation, we then report recent and unpublished experiments establishing the effect for the perception of individuals and animals. On the basis of the proposed curvilinear relation, we revisit the primacy of processing communion (rather than agency) information. Finally, we discuss the possibility of a more general curvilinear relation between communion and dimensions other than agency

Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12, 122-137