Perceiving others as distinct agents is a skill crucial to human social interaction, yet no widely accepted unifying theory explaining person perception phenomena currently exists. Focussing on just one of the primary person-distinguishing categories – sex – the purpose of this chapter is to provide a synthesis of stimulus-level, multisensory person perception research. Also discussed is the existence of pan-stimulus effects, and their bearing on recent attempts to unify related theories. Two key themes emerge from this review: Firstly, person perception appears to depend on the availability of multisensory face and body cues (both whole and partial), plus the ability to distinguish those cues in terms of social category membership. Secondly, pan-stimulus effects such as the male bias and other-race effect suggest that the fundamental categories of personhood are governed by common neural mechanisms. Whilst this article bridges two lower-level literatures on person perception (i.e., cue and category processing), it is hoped that in future those literatures will combine with higher-level person perception research (e.g., stereotypes and demand characteristics) to inform a robust and dynamic unified theory.
Gaetano, JM, van der Zwan, R & Brooks, A 2012, 'Perceiving other people on the basis of categorical multisensory data: towards a unified theory of person perception', in R van der Zwan (ed.), Current trends in experimental and applied psychology, Primrose Hall, Brisbane, Qld., vol. 1, pp. 105-115. ISBN: 9781471604461