People are remarkably adroit at understanding other social agents. Quite how these information-processing abilities are realized, however, remains open to debate and empirical scrutiny. In particular, little is known about basic aspects of person perception, such as the operations that support people's ability to categorize (i.e., assign persons to groups) and individuate (i.e., discriminate among group members) others. In an attempt to rectify this situation, the current research focused on the initial perceptual stages of person construal and considered: (i) hemispheric differences in the efficiency of categorization and individuation; and (ii) the neural activity that supports these social-cognitive operations.
Noting the greater role played by configural processing in individuation than categorization, it was expected that performance on the former task would be enhanced when stimuli (i.e., faces) were presented to the right rather than to the left cerebral hemisphere. The results of two experiments (Experiment 1—healthy individuals; Experiment 2—split-brain patient) confirmed this prediction. Extending these findings, a final neuroimaging investigation revealed that individuation is accompanied by neural activity in regions of the temporal and prefrontal cortices, especially in the right hemisphere. We consider the implications of these findings for contemporary treatments of person perception.