Attempts to categorize others' actions often involve uncertainty. In this article, two variables are identified that could influence this categorization under uncertainty. The first variable is whether the type of uncertainty created by a particular behavior arises from generally weak evidence (i.e., vagueness) versus generally strong, but conflicting evidence (i.e., ambiguity). The second variable is whether people have general preferences for the use of gain-focused (i.e., eager) versus loss-focused (i.e., vigilant) strategies of resolving such uncertainty. Three studies demonstrate that, when a target's behaviors are vague, preferences for eager decision strategies lead people to apply more possible categories to this target than do preferences for vigilant decision strategies. In contrast, when behaviors are ambiguous, preferences for vigilant decision strategies lead people to apply more possible categories than do preferences for eager decision strategies. The implications of these results for categorical inferences based upon uncertain social targest are discussed.
25, (January 01, 2004):