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Chapter 2. Person Perception: Forming Impressions of Others. Six General Principles. minimal information salience context categorization enduring cognitive structures needs and goals. What Information Do We Use?.

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Chapter 2

Person Perception: Forming Impressions of Others

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Six General Principles

  • minimal information

  • salience

  • context

  • categorization

  • enduring cognitive structures

  • needs and goals

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What Information Do We Use?

  • People often decide very quickly what others are like based on minimal information.

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What Information Do We Use?

  • Roles

    • People tend to think of others within a role context first and only then according to personality traits

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What Information Do We Use?

  • Physical Cues

    • Appearance and behavior are key determinants of our first impressions

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What Information Do We Use?

  • Salience

    • People pay attention to the figure rather than to the ground or setting

    • The most salient cues are used most heavily

      • Brightness, noisiness, motion, and novelty

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What Information Do We Use?

  • Effects of Salience

    • Draws attention

    • Influences perceptions of causality

    • Produces evaluatively extreme judgments

    • Produce more consistency of judgment

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What Information Do We Use?

  • We move very quickly from observable information (appearance & behavior) to personality trait inferences

    • Traits are more economical to remember

    • Trait inferences occur automatically

    • We use implicit personality theories to infer traits from other traits

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What Information Do We Use?

  • Which Traits?

    • We tend to evaluate others along two dimensions:

      • Competence

      • Interpersonal qualities

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What Information Do We Use?

  • Central Traits

    • Some traits may be more central than others, that is, highly associated with many other characteristics

      • “Warm-Cold” appears to be such a trait (Kelley, 1950)

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What Information Do We Use?

  • Categorization

    • We automatically perceive stimuli as part of a group or category

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What Information Do We Use?

  • Consequences of Categorization

    • leads to category-based social judgments (stereotyping)

    • speeds processing time

    • can lead to errors

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What Information Do We Use?

  • The Continuum Model of Impression Formation

    • Impressions range from stereotypic, category-based impressions to individuated impressions (dual processing)

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What Information Do We Use?

  • Dual Processing

    • We generally tend to use category-based inference because it is easy and quick

    • We use individuated information when

      • we are motivated to be accurate

      • the person doesn’t fit our categories

      • we have other reasons for wanting to know the person better

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What Information Do We Use?

  • Context Effects

    • Contrast biases judgments away from the context (sees them as different)

    • Assimilation biases judgments in the same direction as the context (sees them as similar)

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What Information Do We Use?

  • Context Effects

    • Assimilation occurs more when people are using category-based processing

    • Contrast occurs more when people are using individuated information

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Integrating Impressions

  • We move quickly from observations of appearance and behavior to inferences about personality

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Integrating Impressions

  • Negativity Effect

    • Negative traits tend to affect impressions more than positive ones (especially negative moral traits)

  • Positivity Bias

    • Overall we tend to evaluate others positively

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    Integrating Impressions

    • We infer what others are like from what emotions they express

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    Integrating Impressions

    • The Averaging Principle

      • averaging is used to combine separate pieces of information about people, some of which are positive and others of which are negative

      • A weighted averaging model, in which traits are weighted by importance, provides the best predictions

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    Integrating Impressions

    • Our perceptions of others’ personal qualities undergoes a shift of meaning depending on context

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    Integrating Impressions

    • People tend to form evaluatively consistent impressions of others (halo effect)

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    Integrating Impressions

    • Resolving Inconsistencies

      • Information that is inconsistent with other impressions may be remembered especially well

      • However, being “cognitively busy” prevents us from thinking about inconsistent information so we forget it

      • We may differentiate incongruent information by context

      • Sometimes we just recognize incongruities without integrating them

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    Integrating Impressions

    • Schemas are organized, structured sets of cognitions including knowledge about the object, relationships among its attributes, and specific examples

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    Integrating Impressions

    • Schemas

      • Person schemas

      • Role schemas

      • Group schemas (stereotypes)

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    Integrating Impressions

    • Schemas

      • Prototypes are the abstract ideal of a schema

      • Exemplars are particular instances of a category

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    Integrating Impressions

    • Schemas

      • When we have little information about another, we use prototypes to make inferences about them

      • When we have a little more information, we use both exemplars and prototypes

      • When we have a great deal of information, we use more well-developed schemas as well as exemplars

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    Motivated Person Perception

    • Our goals and feelings about other people influence the information we gather about them

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    Motivated Person Perception

    • Need for accuracy about another leads to more systematic processing

      • We remember more about another when we expect to interact with him or her

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    Motivated Person Perception

    • Communicating information about another leads to more evaluatively consistent impressions

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    Motivated Person Perception

    • When we are preoccupied we are more likely to make trait inferences

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    Motivated Person Perception

    • Factors influencing our reactions to others

      • Other’s similarity to self

      • Our prior experiences

      • Our prior expectations

      • Our beliefs about traits as stable or malleable

      • Our own emotional state or mood

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    Attribution Theory

    • Attribution theory is the area of psychology concerned with when and how people ask “why” questions.

      • Heider (1958) argued that we have needs to understand and to control the environment. These needs lead us to make attributions.

      • We are especially likely to make attributions when events are negative or unexpected.

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    Attribution Theory

    • dispositional or internal attributions

      • Refer to traits, attitudes, enduring internal states


    • situational or external attributions

      • Refer to aspects of the external environment, including other people

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    Attribution Theory

    • Correspondent Inference Theory (Jones and Davis [1965])

      • Assumes that we seek to make “correspondent inferences”

        • The behavior (e.g., rude) corresponds to an underlying characteristic of the person (rude)

      • We use information about the social context to see if we can make a correspondent inference

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    Attribution Theory

    • We tend to make a correspondent inference when

      • A behavior is not socially desirable

      • A behavior is freely chosen

      • A behavior has a “noncommon effect”

      • A behavior is not part of a social role

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    Attribution Theory

    • Noncommon Effects

      • A student is choosing between 3 colleges

      • You attribute their motive as the distinctive effect for that choice

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    Attribution Theory

    • The Covariation Model (Kelley, 1967) says that people try to see if a particular cause and a particular effect go together across situations.

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    Attribution Theory

    • Consistency

      • Is the person’s response consistent over time?

    • Consensus

      • Do other people have similar responses?

    • Distinctiveness

      • Does the person respond similarly to other similar stimuli?

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    Attribution Theory

    Why did Mary laugh at the comedian?

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    Attribution Theory

    • The discounting principle suggests that we are less likely to attribute an effect to a particular cause if more than one cause is likely.

      • E.g., if a salesperson is nice to us, we don’t necessarily assume he or she is intrinsically friendly

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    Attribution Theory

    • By and large, research findings show that people’s inferences do follow the patterns described by the covariation and discounting principles

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    Attribution Theory

    • Biases in the Attribution Process

      • Considerable research suggests that there are several prominent biases in the ways we make causal attributions

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    Attribution Theory

    • Fundamental Attribution Error

      • We are more likely to attribute others’ behavior to their dispositions than to the situation they are in

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    Attribution Theory

    • The fundamental attribution error may occur because people make dispositional attributions automatically, and then only later use situational information to discount it.

      • People don’t tend to get to the second step unless the contextual information is very compelling or salient

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    Attribution Theory

    • There are some cultural differences in attributions.

      • People in all cultures seem to share the correspondence bias (tendency to infer behaviors as due to dispositions)

      • But people in non-Western cultures are more likely to take situational and contextual information into account

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    Attribution Theory

    • The Actor-Observer Bias is that we tend to attribute other people’s behavior to their dispositions but our own to situations (Jones & Nisbett, 1972)

      • Perceptual: actors look at the situation, observers look at actors

      • Access to different information: actors have more background about themselves

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    Attribution Theory

    • False Consensus Effect

      • We tend to see our own behavior and opinions as typical. Why?

        • We have a biased sample of similar others among our friends

        • Our own opinions are more accessible/salient

        • We fail to realize that our choices reflect our construals and that others have different perceptions

        • We are motivated to see ourselves as normal & good.

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    Attribution Theory

    • The Self-Serving Attributional Bias

      • We tend to take credit for our successes but deny blame for our failures

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    Attribution Theory

    • The self-serving bias may actually be quite adaptive.

      • There is more evidence that people take credit for their successes than that they deny responsibility for failures. People may accept responsibility for failure especially if it is a factor they can control.

    • The self-serving bias is more likely in casual than in close relationships.

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    Attribution Theory

    • Where do Biases Come From?

      • Cognitive shortcuts in service of efficiency

      • Needs and motives (biases to enhance self-esteem and perceptions of control)

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    Accuracy of Judgments

    • Our judgments are both accurate and inaccurate.

      • We tend to be accurate about external visible attributes.

      • We are less accurate about inferred internal states (traits or feelings).

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    Accuracy of Judgments

    • Why are people’s personalities difficult to judge accurately?

      • Lack of objective criteria

      • People have idiosyncratic criteria for judging others

        • They agree more about likeability than about traits

      • Personality traits tend to predict behavior in only a limited set of circumstances

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    Accuracy of Judgments

    • People agree more about observable traits than about less observable ones

    • People agree more with the person’s self-perception if they know a person well

    • People are more accurate if the target’s behavior is not overly variable

    • People are more accurate if they are outcome dependent on the target

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    Accuracy of Judgments

    • We are fairly accurate in our perception of others’ emotional states

      • Facial expressions of emotions may be part of our evolutionary heritage

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    Accuracy of Judgments

    • Continuum of emotions

      • Happiness/Joy

      • Surprise, Amazement

      • Fear

      • Sadness

      • Anger

      • Disgust, Contempt

      • Interest, Attentiveness

    • We easily distinguish emotions that are at least three categories apart

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    Accuracy of Judgments

    • Two dimensions of emotion:

      • Pleasantness

      • Arousal

    • We easily distinguish pleasant from unpleasant emotions, and arousing emotions from non-arousing ones

      • The pleasantness dimension is easiest to distinguish

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    Nonverbal Communication

    • Even small amounts of nonverbal behavior can convey substantial information

    • Channels

      • Visible

        • Facial expressions, gestures, posture, appearance

      • Paralinguistic

        • Pitch, amplitude, rate, voice quality of speech

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    Nonverbal Communication

    • The Visible Channel

      • Distance

        • Indicates friendliness

      • Gestures

        • Vary by culture

      • Eye Contact

        • Indicates interest (friendship or threat)

      • Facial Expressions

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    Nonverbal Communication

    • Paralanguage

      • Paralanguage involves variations in speech other than verbal content

        • A simple statement can mean entirely different things depending on emphasis and inflection

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    Nonverbal Communication

    • The more channels of communication people have access to, the more accurate they are in judging others’ emotions.

    • However, the verbal channel tends to be the most influential.

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    Nonverbal Communication

    • Are people successful or unsuccessful liars?

      • True emotions tend to “leak” out through nonverbal channels

    • Some nonverbal channels leak more than others because they are less controllable

      • The body is more likely than the face to reveal deception

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    Nonverbal Communication

    • People are more likely to perceive a deceptive message as less truthful, but on the whole, people are not wonderful lie-detectors

    • The Giveaways

      • Liars blink more, hesitate more, make more speech errors, speak in higher-pitched voices, and have more dilated pupils

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    Nonverbal Communication

    • People use nonverbal behaviors to convey intended impressions

      • Display rules are cultural norms regarding how one conveys emotion to others

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    Nonverbal Communication

    • There are gender differences in the use of nonverbal behavior.

      • Girls and women are more expressive in their display of most emotions and are more accurate interpreters of nonverbal cues

        • Women are better at communicating happiness; Men at communicating anger

        • Both nature and nurture seem to be involved.