Implicit learning in attractiveness evaluation: The role of conformity and analytical processing
We address the question how people’s opinion and features of information interact in the process of indirect social influence. Implicit learning was considered as a mechanism for conformity in social perception. We carried out 2 experiments using a hidden covariation detection paradigm. In a learning phase, participants memorized a set of female photographs presented together with their attractiveness ratings. The ratings correlated with the hairstyle of the photographed women. The participants who did not consciously detect this correlation demonstrated a systematic bias toward the correlation when evaluating the new stimulus persons. Information about the source of the ratings in the learning phase (other people’s opinions or nonsocial sources) did not modulate learning. Learning was not observed when participants critically evaluated the ratings during the memorization phase. The study shows that (a) conformity may be based not only on reinforcement learning mechanism (as was previously suggested) but also on unsupervised implicit learning; (b) implicit learning occurs automatically irrespective of the context (social or not); and (c) a critical attitude toward learned material may prevent implicit learning from being manifested in a test phase. We conclude that indirect social influence may be affected by people’s opinion toward the provided information. The study contributes to both implicit learning and social perception research.