Thin(g)king Outside of the Box: How Person-Thing Orientation Affects Categorization Processes
Person-thing orientation (PTO) describes how interests in people (person orientation; PO) and things (thing orientation; TO) motivate behavior. These orientations have been shown to be predictive of important outcomes, but little is known about how these orientations work as motivational systems for behavior. The current paper explored whether different levels of PO and TO among participants affect individual categorizations of stimuli as “person-like” or “thing-like.” Participants (N = 170) were asked to rate how person-like and thing-like they perceived 100 individual stimulus items to be, and their PO and TO scores were measured. I hypothesized that TO would predict higher ratings of stimuli as thing-like, especially when PO levels were lower, and that PO would predict higher ratings of stimuli as person-like, especially when TO levels were lower. I predicted that this pattern of results would be stronger among stimuli categorized as ambiguous than among stimuli categorized as an unambiguous person or thing. The findings did not support the main hypotheses. Instead, the person category stimuli showed the hypothesized pattern of results. Among these stimuli, PO predicted person ratings and TO predicted thing ratings (but in the negative direction). The results and implications of these findings were discussed.