Learning what to inhibit: The influence of repeated testing on the encoding of gender and age information.

Psychological research has devoted considerable attention to the relationship between the multiple category dimensions that can be extracted from faces. In the present studies, we investigated the role of experience and learning on the way the social perceiver deals with multiple category dimensions. Specifically, we tested whether learning which of 2 dimensions is the most relevant to the task at hand influences the encoding and retrieval of both task-relevant and irrelevant dimensions. In our studies, participants went through several cycles, each consisting of a study and a test phase. We manipulated the structure of the tests such that participants were probed on only 1 category dimension (age or gender), despite viewing faces of both category dimensions in all study phases. We hypothesized that when participants were repeatedly tested on 1 dimension, they would proactively control their attention toward that specific dimension and away from the nonrelevant dimension. Five studies demonstrated that: (a) participants learned which dimension was test-relevant such that they gradually became faster and more accurate on that dimension; (b) when the gender dimension was test-relevant, participants were faster and more accurate retrieving information concerning the target faces’ gender than age, while the opposite did not happen when the age dimension was test-relevant; and (c) this dominance of the gender dimension is mainly caused by the inhibition of the age dimension. Implications about the importance of previous experience and control for research on social categorization in general and research examining the interplay between gender and age are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)