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Social: 4. Perceiving Persons

Terms in this set (100)

Over the years, studies have shown that accident victims are held more responsible for their fate when the consequences of the accident are severe rather than mild, when the victim's situation is similar to the perceiver's, when the perceiver is generally anxious about threats to the self, and when the perceiver identifies with the victim.

Apparently, the more threatened we feel by an apparent injustice, the greater is the need to protect ourselves from the dreadful implication that it could happen to us, an implication we defend by disparaging the victim.

(*) Ironically, recent research shows that people may also satisfy their belief in a just world by enhancing members of disadvantaged groups—for example, by inferring that poor people are happy and that obese people are sociable, both attributes that restore justice by compensation.

Study: In a laboratory experiment that reveals part of this process at work, participants watched a TV news story about a boy who was robbed and beaten. Some were told that the boy's assailants were captured, tried, and sent to prison. Others were told that the assailants fled the country, never to be brought to trial—a story that strains one's belief in a just world. Afterward, participants were asked to name as quickly as they could the colors in which various words in a list were typed (for example, the word chair may have been written in blue, floor in yellow, and wide in red). When the words themselves were neutral, all participants—regardless of which story they had seen—were equally fast at naming the colors. But when the words pertained to justice (words such as fair and unequal), those who had seen the justice-threatened version of the story were more distracted by the words and hence slower to name the colors. In fact, the more distracted they were, the more they derogated the victim.
Research has shown that our motivation and even our social behavior are also subject to the automatic effects of priming without awareness.

Study 1: John Bargh and Tanya Chartrand (1999) gave participants a "word search" puzzle that contained either neutral words or words associated with achievement motivation (strive, win, master, compete, succeed). Afterward, the participants were left alone and given three minutes to write down as many words as they could form from a set of Scrabble letter tiles. When the three-minute limit was up, they were signaled over an intercom to stop. Did these participants, who were driven to obtain a high score, stop on cue or continue to write? Through the use of hidden cameras, the experimenters observed that 57 percent of those primed with achievement-related words continued to write after the stop signal, compared to only 22 percent in the control group.

Study 2: Bargh, Chen, and Burrows (1996) gave people 30 sets of words presented in scrambled order ("he it hides fi nds instantly") and told them to use some of the words in each set to form grammatical sentences. After explaining the test, which would take five minutes, the experimenter told participants to locate him down the hall when they were finished so he could administer a second task. So far so good. But when participants found the experimenter, he was in the hallway immersed in conversation, and he stayed in that conversation for 10 full minutes without acknowledging their presence. What's a person to do, wait patiently or interrupt? The participants didn't know it, but some had worked on a scrambled word test that contained many "politeness" words ( yield, respect, considerate, courteous), while others had been exposed to words related to rudeness (disturb, intrude, bold, bluntly).

Would these test words secretly prime participants, a few minutes later, to behave in one way or the other? Yes. Compared with those given the neutral words to unscramble, participants primed for rudeness were more likely—and those primed for politeness were less likely—to break in and interrupt the experimenter.
Individuals can reliably be distinguished from one another along five broad traits, or factors: extroversion, emotional stability, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Some of these factors are easier to judge than others.

1. Study: Social perceivers are most likely to agree in their judgments of a target's extroversion: that is, the extent to which he or she is sociable, friendly, fun-loving, outgoing, and adventurous.

2. The valence of a trait—whether it is considered good or bad—also affects its impact on our final impressions. Over the years, research has shown that people exhibit a "trait negativity bias," the tendency for negative information to weigh more heavily on our impressions than positive information.

It seems that we tend to view others favorably, so we are quick to take notice and pay more careful attention when this expectation is violated.

One bad trait may well be enough to destroy a person's reputation, regardless of other qualities. Research on American political campaigns confirms the point: Public opinion is shaped more by a candidate's "negatives" than by positive information.

In light of all this research, Baumeister and others (2001) have concluded that bad is stronger than good in a "disappointingly relentless pattern."

When you think about it, it's probably adaptive for people to stay alert for and pay particularly close attention to negative, potentially threatening information. Recent research suggests that people are quicker to sense their exposure to subliminally presented negative words such as bomb, thief, shark, and cancer than to positive words such as baby, sweet, friend, and beach.

This sensitivity to negative information is found in infants less than a year old.
Study 1: Imagine you are looking at a slide that is completely out of focus. Gradually, it becomes focused enough so that the image is less blurry. At this point, the experimenter wants to know if you can recognize the picture. The response you're likely to make is interesting. Participants in experiments of this type have more trouble making an identification if they watch the gradual focusing procedure than if they simply view the final, blurry image.

In the mechanics of the perceptual process, people apparently form early impressions that interfere with their subsequent ability to "see straight" once presented with improved evidence.

Study 2: John Darley and Paget Gross (1983) asked participants to evaluate the academic potential of a 9-year-old girl named Hannah. One group was led to believe that Hannah came from an affluent community in which both parents were well-educated professionals (high expectations). A second group thought that she was from a run-down urban neighborhood and that both parents were uneducated blue-collar workers (low expectations). As shown in Figure 4.12, participants in the first group were slightly more optimistic in their ratings of Hannah's potential than were those in the second group. In each of these groups, however, half the participants then watched a videotape of Hannah taking an achievement test. Her performance on the tape seemed average. She correctly answered some difficult questions but missed others that were relatively easy. Look again at Figure 4.12 and you'll see that even though all participants saw the same tape, Hannah now received much lower ratings of ability from those who thought she was poor and higher ratings from those who thought she was affluent.

Apparently, presenting an identical body of mixed evidence did not extinguish the biasing effects of beliefs; it fueled these effects.

Conclusion: Events that are ambiguous enough to support contrasting interpretations are like inkblots: We see in them what we want or expect to see.

Study 3: Researchers had people rate from photographs the extent to which pairs of adults and children resembled each other. Interestingly, the participants did not see more resemblance in parents and offspring than in random pairs of adults and children. Yet when told that certain pairs were related, they did "see" a resemblance, even when the relatedness information was false.
Study: do we seek information objectively or are we inclined to confirm the suspicions we already hold?

Mark Snyder and William Swann (1978) addressed this question by having pairs of participants who were strangers to one another take part in a getting-acquainted interview. In each pair, one participant was supposed to interview the other. But first, that participant was falsely led to believe that his or her partner was either introverted or extroverted (actually, participants were assigned to these conditions on a random basis) and was then told to select questions from a prepared list. Those who thought they were talking to an introvert chose mostly introvert-oriented questions ("Have you ever felt left out of some social group?"), while those who thought they were talking to an extrovert asked extrovert-oriented questions ("How do you liven up a party?"). Expecting a certain kind of person, participants unwittingly sought evidence thatwould confirm their expectations. By asking loaded questions, in fact, the interviewers actually gathered support for their beliefs.

Thus, neutral observers who later listened to the tapes were also left with the mistaken impression that the interviewees really were as introverted or extroverted as the interviewers had assumed.

Conclusion: Simply by going along with the questions that are asked, you supply evidence confirming the interviewer's beliefs. Thus, perceivers set in motion a vicious cycle: Thinking someone has a certain trait, they engage in a one-sided search for information and in doing so, they create a reality that ultimately supports their beliefs.
1. Covert communication

The teacher forms an initial impression of students early in the school year based, perhaps, on their background or reputation, physical appearance, initial classroom performance, and standardized test scores. The teacher then alters his or her behavior in ways that are consistent with that impression. If initial expectations are high rather than low, the teacher gives the student more praise, more attention, more challenging homework, and better feedback. In turn, the student adjusts his or her own behavior.

If the signals are positive, the student may become energized, work hard, and succeed. If negative, there may be a loss of interest and self-confi dence. The cycle is thus complete and the expectations confirmed.

2. Accurate expectations

But wait. That same result is also consistent with a more innocent possibility: that perhaps the expectations that teachers form of their students are accurate.

Study 1: Addressing this question in a longitudinal study of mothers and their children, Stephanie Madon and others (2003) found that underage adolescents are more likely to drink when their mothers had earlier expected them to. Statistical analyses revealed that this prophecy was fulfilled in part because the mothers "influence" their sons and daughters, and in part because the mothers are able to "predict" their children's behavior.

Study 2: In a study of 1,000 men assigned to 29 platoons in the Israel Defense Forces, Dov Eden (1990) led some platoon leaders but not others to expect that the groups of trainees they were about to receive had great potential (in fact, these groups were of average ability). After 10 weeks, the trainees assigned to the highexpectation platoons scored higher than the others on written exams and on the ability to operate a weapon.

Study 3: Kassin and others (2003) had some college students but not others commit a mock crime, stealing $100 from a laboratory. All suspects were then questioned by student interrogators who were led to believe that their suspect was probably guilty or probably innocent. Interrogators who presumed guilt asked more incriminating questions, conducted more coercive interrogations, and tried harder to get the suspect to confess. In turn, this more aggressive style made the suspects sound defensive and led observers who later listened to the tapes to judge them guilty, even when they were innocent.

Other studies: Judges unwittingly bias juries through their nonverbal behavior, and that negotiators settle for lesser outcomes if they believe that their counterparts are highly competitive.