People Accounting: Social Category-based Choice

Stephen M. Garcia, Oscar Ybarra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper presents people accounting-a hypothesis that describes how a simple numerical imbalance in representation along nominal social category lines can affect people's choice of candidates in highly competitive situations (e.g., awards, jobs, etc.). For example, two scholarship finalists from California and New York may be equally qualified, but the award-winning chance for the California candidate will drop precipitously if 8 of the past 10 winners were from California. Studies 1-3 illustrate this effect. Study 4 links people accounting to intergroup fairness concerns and suggests that people accounting is more likely to occur when the category dimension is meaningful (e.g., Stanford/Princeton) than when it is not (e.g., left/right-handedness). Study 5 shows that candidates from overrepresented categories (e.g., "Californians") must achieve higher minimum standards in order to be selected. The implication is that highly competitive decisions are often influenced by headcounts along mundane social category lines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)802-809
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Affirmative action
  • Allocations
  • Competition
  • Decision making
  • Fairness
  • Social categories

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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