Effects of moral and competence categories on
estimation of distance between self and others
Department of Psychology,
The Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Institute of Psychology, Gdańsk University
The "stranger" and "familiar" heuristics are judgmental heuristics used to estimate distance between self and other people.
It was predicted that the judged distance would be smaller when a person is evaluated in terms of competence rather than moral categories.
In line with the assumptions of dual-process models, it was predicted that this effect should occur only
in conditions of cognitive load or lack of motivation. In the first experiment participants (N = 38) rated moral or
competence traits of a perceived target person in conditions of free cognitive resources or under cognitive load
and then rated distance between self and the target person. The results were consistent with expectations.
Under cognitive load participants who rated the person's competence traits rated the distance as smaller
than participants who rated moral traits. In the condition of free cognitive resources there was no
difference between participants' ratings of competence and moral traits of the target person.
In the second experiment (N = 98) two different ways of category activation, relevant or irrelevant to the given task,
were manipulated. Relevant categories were activated by asking participants to list these traits of the target person
which they would like to know. Irrelevant categories were activated by asking participants to list traits that
they would like to know about an unknown person. Effects of cognitive load and of the moral/competence-related
content of traits were replicated while no significant effects of information relevance were obtained.
Key words: morality, competence, heuristics, proximity