How do you form your first impressions of others? Do you look at their clothes or body language? Do you compare them in some way to someone else you know with similar characteristics? Do you allow your personal biases and prejudices to influence how you perceive the person? Does culture influence your impressions of others? Think about an example of making a social judgment about another person or a group of people. For instance, if you met a mother with four young children, you probably would have some preconceived ideas of what she is like and how she will behave. This expected behavior will be very different from a distinguished looking elderly man in a suit and bowtie. You probably make some kind of judgment with every encounter you have or observation you make of others.
This week, you explore social cognition and perception which deal with how people make sense of the world around them. This week’s readings focus on how the brain uses schemas and heuristics to make automatic inferences. You also study how additional factors, such as unintentional nonverbal communication, impact our impressions of other people.
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- Apply causal attribution theories to human behavior
- Analyze information and processes important in impression formation
- Analyze processes and influences involved in making social inferences
- Identify and apply social psychology concepts, principles, and processes related to person perception and social cognition
Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., & Sommers, S. R. (2019). Social psychology (10th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.
Chapter 3, “Social Cognition: How We Think About the Social World”
Chapter 4, “Social Perception: How We Come to Understand Other People”
“Social Psychology in Action 3: Psychology and the Law” (pp. 4831-493 on Eyewitness Testimony)
Boeree, C. G. (1999). Person perception. In Social psychology basics.
Click on the Person Perception link above to access a PDF copy of the article.
Credit: Boeree, C. G. (1999).Available from http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/socpsy.html
Simons, D. (2010, March 10). Selective attention test [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo
This video shows selective attention task to demonstrate social perception and misperception. [1:21 minutes]
Na, J., & Kitayama, S. (2011). Spontaneous trait inference is culture specific: Behavioral and neural evidence. Psychological Science, 22(8), 1025–1032.
Assignment: Social Cognition and Perception
Social cognition is the study of the ways people think about themselves and the social world, including how they select, interpret, remember, and use social information. Two types of social cognition are controlled thinking and automatic thinking. Controlled thinking is thinking that is conscious, intentional, voluntary, and effortful, such as when you are weighing the pros and cons of an issue to make an important decision or are learning a skill for the first time. Automatic thinking is just as it sounds—thinking that happens without conscious thought—and it is this type of thinking that you will concentrate on this week.
Schemas, one example of automatic thinking, are mental structures that organize our knowledge about the social world and influence what we notice, think about, and remember. Schemas are important for making sense of the world. They help us to create continuity to relate new experiences to old ones and are especially helpful when information is ambiguous. We also engage in a second type of automatic thinking when we use mental strategies and shortcuts, or heuristics, that make judgments and decisions easier, allowing us to proceed with our lives and not turn every decision into a major hurdle. Examples of heuristics include availability, representativeness, and counterfactual thinking. Schemas and heuristics significantly influence our impressions of a social situation and facilitate our social cognition processes. Schemas are highly determined by the cultures in which we grow up, and they strongly influence what we notice and remember about the world.
Think back to this week’s Introduction. When you meet someone new, you no doubt use many different kinds of information available to you and process that information in a way that allows you to make sense of their behavior. You may see if a person fits into some group with which you are familiar and then try to make sense of the person’s behavior in light of others in that group. In addition, you probably have your own goals for relating to the person, which also influence your impression. If your goal is to form a long-term relationship with the person, you will process the information differently than you would the information from a store clerk with whom you don’t plan to have any kind of relationship.
The information you focus on, the strategies you use in processing the information, and the resulting impressions and preconceived ideas you form about a person make up what is called person perception. Since social psychology is all about relating to others, be it an individual or a group of people, person perception is an important topic.
In addition to understanding how people form impressions of others, it is helpful to dig deeper into why people might behave as they do. In doing so, you can more easily predict how people will behave and then control the environment accordingly. By having a better understanding of why people behave as they do, you also can understand your own emotions and feelings toward the situation, which impact your own future behavior. The simple question of “What causes what?” is essential in understanding those around you and your social environment. And, since it would be cumbersome to constantly ask the question “What causes what?”—people tend to ask and answer it automatically. The social psychology term for this concept is causal attribution. There are many related social psychological theories that you can use to understand why people behave as they do. This understanding in turn, helps you to better understand how people relate to one another and to the environment, predict behavior, and partly control social situations—all major goals of social psychology.
- Review Chapters 3 and 4 of the course text, Social Psychology.
- Review the article, “Person Perception” found in this week’s Learning Resources.
- Watch the video on selective attention.
The Assignment (2–4 pages):
- Select one person in each category below:
- A person you do not know and who you probably will not see again (clerk at the grocery store, etc.)
- A person you have known for some time and for whom you can remember your first impressions (acquaintance, friend, spouse, etc.)
- Briefly describe each person including his or her specific behavior at your first meeting, the context of your interaction with each person, and your first impression of each person.
- Explain whether you made external (situational) and/or internal (dispositional) attributions for each person’s behavior during that first meeting.
- Did you engage in automatic thinking or controlled thinking in forming your first impression of each person? Explain. What, if any, schemas or heuristics did you use?
- With which culture(s) do you identify? According to the information in this week’s readings, how does your culture influence your impressions of others? For example, (a) how does your culture influence the content of a particular schema (Aronson, Wilson, & Sommers, 2019, p. 70), (b) which culturally-specific display rules influence your impressions (Aronson, Wilson, & Sommers, 2019, pp. 889-90), or (c) when have you engaged in holistic or analytic thinking as your culture would predict (Aronson, Wilson, & Sommers, 2019, p. 110)?
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