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Chapter 4: Social Perception
Terms in this set (57)
How people form impressions of and make inferences about other people. Although the process of making attributions about someones attitudes and behaviour may seem like a very rational and straightforward process, we aren't always very accurate at assessing the cues of another persons behaviour. People from individualistic cultures often focus too much on the role of personal factors, while ignoring \, or minimizing, the often considerable influence of the situation.
How do we think about why other people do what they do?
Different types of attributions can impact approaches to resolving a conflict as well as marital satisfaction. There are four major theories that describe how we think about why people engage in particular types of behaviour: the theory of naive psychology, correspondent inference theory, the covariation theory, and Weiner's attribution theory. .
Heider's Theory of Naive Psychology
According to Fritz Heider (1958), an Austrian psychologist who is often described as the
"father of attribution theory"
, people practice naive psychology as they use casual theories to understand their world and other peoples behaviour. As these theories have similar structure to scientific theories, everyone is therefore a naive scientist. Heider's idea is based on three principles.
1. People have the need to explain the cause of other peoples behaviour in order to understand their motivation.
2. People are motivated to try to figure out why a person acted in a given way so they can predict how the person will act in the future.
3. When people make causal attributions, they make distinctions between internal and external causes of behaviour.
Heider's theory that people practice a form of untrained psychology as they use cause and effect analyses to understand their world and other people's behaviour.
Seeing the behaviour as caused by something external to the person who performs the behaviour i.e., it related to something about the situation.
Refers to whether the person's behaviour is caused by personal factors, such as traits, ability, effort, or personality.
Jones and Davis's Theory of Correspondent Inference
Edward Jones and Keith Davis (1965) developed a theory to explain why people make the attributions they do.
Correspondent inference theory
is based on their observation that people often believe that a persons disposition corresponds to his or her behaviour. This theory predicts that people look at various factors related to a persons actions to try to infer whether an action is caused by the persons internal disposition. Correspondent inference theory proposes that there are three factors that influence the extent to which you attribute behaviour to the person rather than the situation:
1. Does the person have the
to engage in the action?
2. Is the behaviour
based on the social role or circumstance?
3. What are the
of the persons behaviour?
Correspondent Inference Theory; Factor 1: Does the person have the
to engage in the action?
If you want to know that the person was forced to engage in a given behaviour, it is reasonable to assume that the action is due to the situation and not the person.
Correspondent Inference Theory; Factor 2: Is the behaviour
based on the social role or circumstance?
Behaviour that isn't necessarily required, but is largely expected in a situation, doesn't tell us much about the person.
Correspondent Inference Theory; Factor 3: What are the
of the persons behaviour?
To make an attribution, Jones and Davis believe that people are likely to look at the effects of a persons behaviour. If there is only one intended effect, then you have a pretty good idea of why the person is motivated to engage in the behaviour. If there are multiple good effects, it os more difficult to know what to attribute the behaviour to.
Correspondent Inference Theory
The theory that people infer whether a person's behaviour is caused by the person's internal disposition by looking at various factors related to the person's action. According to this theory, we are best able to make a dispositional attributions, and see peoples behaviour as caused by their traits, when the behaviour is freely chosen, is not a function of situational expectations, and has clear non-common effects.
Kelley's Covariation Theory
An alternative theory of attribution was developed by Harold Kelley (1967). His
focuses on the factors that are present when a behaviour occurs and the factors that are absent when it does not occur. The three main components of the
correspondent inference theory
consensus, distinctiveness, and consistency
. In sum, according to the covariation model, we make different attributions depending on the consensus, distinctiveness, and consistency of a persons attitude and/or behaviour. If consensus and distinctiveness are low and consistency is high, we make a
. In cases where a persons attitude or behaviour is low in consistency, we are unable to make any attributions whether dispositional or situational.
The theory that people determine the cause of a person's behaviour by focusing on the factors that are present when a behaviour occurs and absent when it doesn't occur, with specific attention on the role of consensus, distinctiveness, and consistency.
Covariation Theory: (1.) Consensus
The first component of the
of the attitude or behaviour (whether other people generally agree or disagree with a given person). If many people agree with that person or behave in a similar manner, we are more likely to make a
than we would if few people agreed with the target individual.
Covariation Theory: (2.) Distinctiveness
Second, we consider
of the persons attitude or behaviour, meaning whether the persons attitude or behaviour in the situation is highly unusual or whether the person generally acts in a similar way across different situations.
Covariation Theory: (3.) Consistency
Third, we consider the
of the persons attitude or behaviour (i.e., whether the persons attitude and/or behaviour is similar over time). If a persons behaviour is highly consistent over time and across situations, we are likely to make a
. On the other hand, if a given behaviour is unusual for a particular person, we are likely to make a
Information about whether a person's behaviour toward a given stimulus is the same across time.
The first component of the covariation theory and it refers to whether other people generally agree or disagree with a given person.
Refers to whether the person generally reacts in a similar way across different situations.
Weiner's Attribution Theory
Bernard Weiner developed a framework for attribution based on achievement. According to Weiner, people attribute their achievements (i.e., success or failures) in terms of three dimensions:
(whether the location of the cause is internal or external to the person),
(whether the cause stays the same or can change), and
(whether the person can control the cause). This produces eight different types of explanation for achievement. According to his theory, people often attribute their own success to internal factors (e.g., skills) and others success to external factors (e.g., task difficulty) and others failures to internal factors (e.g., ability). His theory is based on the assumption that people want to maintain a positive self-image. People therefore attribute success and failure to factors that enable them to feel good about themselves.
Weiner's Attribution Theory: Individual and Group Levels
Weiner's theory can be applied to both individual and group levels. According to his theory, the likelihood of helping depends on the perceived
locus of causality
(i.e., whether the victim has caused the negative event) and
(i.e., whether the negative event could have been predicted and prevented). Across two studies it was found that attributing responsibility to the victims of natural disaster was associated with low rates of helping.
A Variation of Weiner's Attribution Theory Model
A variation of the three-dimensional model of attribution uses the dimensions of
(whether the same outcome would occur again or whether this was an isolated occurrence of this outcome), and
(whether the same outcome would occur in other situations or is specific to this situation only). This model was used in a theory addressing the cognitive aspects of depression, or depressive thoughts,. The suggestion is that if a person habitually explains negative outcomes (i.e., bad events), using attributions that are internal (I am to blame), stable (I always mess up!), and global (I can't do anything right), then this will be associated with depression. There is some support for the idea. Although it presents an attractive idea that makes intuitive sense, support for the theory is mixed as it isn't clear how generalizable the theory is.
Making attributions about one's own and other's behaviours based on group membership.
Attribution theories are generally framed within the context of individuals (i.e., individual making attributions about themselves or other individuals). But attributions can also be made on an intergroup basis, which is when individuals make attributions for their behaviour based on the others being members of a different group (i.e., an intergroup, from the perspective of the person making the judgement). Stated differently, when behaviour is explained in terms of characteristics ascribed on the basis of group membership, an
is being made. One of the characteristics of intergroup attribution is
, which refers to attributing desirable characteristics to ones own group while attributing undesirable characteristics to members of outgroups. Intergroup attributions are essentially attributions based on stereotypes, and as they are often ethnocentric they are part of the broader subject of prejudice and discrimination, which are defined in terms of making judgements about a person based on group membership rather than individual characteristics.
A tendency to attribute desirable characteristics to one's own group and undesirable characteristics to outgroups.
Research Focus on Gender: Gender Difference in Attribution
Studies suggest that people make different attributions for men and women. In one meta-analysis, researchers found that observers tend to attribute men's success to ability and women's success to effort. This pattern of attribution reverses in the case of failure, with observers seeing mens poor performance as caused by bad luck or low effort and womens poor performance as caused by lack of ability. Such gender differences also match parents beliefs as parents tend to attribute their sons math performance to talent and their daughters math achievement to effort. The finding reflect the tendency for women to believe that they have to put in more effort to succeed and the tendency for me to be confident in their abilities.
What types of errors do we make in thinking about other people?
There are two common errors that people make in attributing the causes of peoples behaviour: the
fundamental attribution error
Fundamental Attribution Error (or Correspondence Bias)
The tendency to overestimate the role of personal causes and underestimate the role of situational causes in explaining behaviour.
This type of error is a very common type of attribution error made in Western cultures. Although people may use various pieces of information about the situation (e.g., choice or distinctiveness) to interpret behaviour, individualistic cultures have a strong tendency to focus on the role of personal causes in explaining behaviour while ignoring situational influences.
Why do some people make the fundamental attribution error?
We believe that when peoples behaviour is caused by the situation, they give obvious clues that reflect this external pressure. We all believe that engaging in behaviour that is in line with attitudes is easier. So, we are particularly likely to attribute strong performance to a persons true attitude. Although, the attributions we make about peoples behaviour can have negative consequences.
The tendency to see other people's behaviour as caused by dispositional factors, but see our own behaviour as caused by the situation.
Although we have a general tendency to see peoples behaviour as caused by dispositional factors, we are much less likely to see our own behaviour in this way. In fact, we are very likely to focus on the role of the situation in causing our own behaviour, a phenomenon called the
. Prisoners tend to see their crimes as caused by the situation, whereas guards tend to see the crimes as caused by dispositional factors.
Actor-Observer Effect: Access to Internal Thoughts and Feelings
One explanation to why the actor-observer effect occurs is that observers can only see other peoples behaviour as they don't have access to others internal thoughts and feelings. When we consider our own behaviour as an actor, we have access to our won thoughts and feelings. Additionally, we may not know how others behave in other situations but we know how we do. In line with this view, we are less likely to make the actor-observer error with our close friends than with strangers, presumably because we have greater access to our friends internal thoughts and feelings.
Actor-Observer Effect: Desire to Maintain a Positive Self-Image
Motivational factors can also contribute to the actor-observer effect. We are highly motivated to see ourselves in positive ways. We also use different explanations to describe our own and others behaviour. Motivational factors can also lead us to blame others for their own misfortunes again as a way of protecting ourselves from potentially experiencing such an outcome. In fact, we tend to assume good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people, a phenomenon known as
belief in a just world
Belief in a Just World
The phenomenon in which people believe that bad things happen to bad people and that good things happen to good people.
This belief is another strategy that helps maintain our idealistic self-views because it lets us see ourselves as relatively safe from harm (since surely we all see ourselves as good people) and even if we know that we have done some bad stuff, we may attribute it situationally, thereby protecting our self-image. People who have a strong belief in a just world are more likely to hold negative attitudes toward poor people, and therefore see them as deriving their plight. Belief in a just world has more than one facet: people believe in a just world because this belief allows them to commit to long-term goals that are seen as deserved. The more people preserve their belief in a just world by blaming innocent victims, the more they focus on long-term and deserving goals.
Why do we make errors when we think about other people?
One factor that influences how people make attributions for a persons behaviour is the presence of an ulterior motive. Other explanations include salience, lack of cognitive capacity, belief about others abilities, and self-knowledge.
Different factors are salient(i.e. obvious) for actors and observers. Specifically, as an actor in an event you are very aware of the situational factors that led to your behaviour. If you are the observer of someone else behaviour, what is most salient in the event is the person rather than the situation. When situational factors are salient we are less likely to make a dispositional attribution. The salience of the person influences our attributions, and that usually others are more salient to us than ourselves. Question difficulty may be very salient for observers, and that they take the situational factor into account. When the challenge posed by the situation is highly salient, people take this external factor into account in attributing the cause of contestants wrong answers.
Lack of Cognitive Capacity
People may initially focus on the internal factors underlying a persons behaviour, and only later adjust the weight of these facts by taking the situation into account. Moreover, distraction adds to peoples tendency to give insufficient weight to the situation, and therefore overestimate the impact of disposition. According to the
two-stage model of attribution
, we first automatically interpret another persons behaviour as caused by their own disposition, and only later adjust our interpretation by taking into account situational factors that may have contributed to the behaviour. In line with this models predictions, people who are bust or distracted when they must make an attribution are particularly likely to rely on dispositional factors and fail to take into account situational factors that may have contributed to the behaviour.
Two-Stage Model of Attribution
A model in which people first automatically interpret a person's behaviour as caused by dispositional factors, and then later adjust this interpretation by taking into account situational factors that may have contributed to the behaviour.
Beliefs About Others Abilities and Motivations
The majority of research indicated that research participants tend to believe that people are unable to persuasively engage in counter-attitudinal behaviour (i.e., act in ways that go against their attitudes). There is a corresponding assumption that a persons behaviour must reflect their true attitudes. One factor that contributes to the fundamental attribution error is our erroneous belief that people simply can't effectively argue for a position they do not support. Although our default position is to assume that people only engage in behaviour that is consistent with their true attitude, if we are given another plausible motive for a persons behaviour, we are able to take situational factors into account. Providing an plausible motive for a persons behaviour influences the attributions we make because the presence of a motive leads us to more effortful and critical thinking. We are more likely to make a dispositional attribution when we learn that a person received a positive incentive for engaging in dishonest behaviour than when we learn the person received a negative incentive. People see a positive incentive as motivation only certain people (e.g., those who already have certain dispositions). A negative incentive is seen as a strong situational pressure that would influence most peoples behaviour.
We see ourselves as behaving in different situations and with different people, but we typically see other people in relatively few situations. Because we have more information about our own behaviour than we do about others behaviour, we assume that our behaviour is more variable than do those who observe us. You may describe your own behaviour as highly influenced by situational factors, but your classmates, who see you only generally in the classroom setting, are likely to see your nervous reaction as a reflection of your own disposition. Because we have access to our own internal attitudes and beliefs, we can also give ourselves credit for having good intentions, even when we don't carry them out. In a study, it was found that participants saw their own intentions to perform a given behaviour as a stronger predictor of whether they actually had this trait compared to other peoples intentions.
Final Thoughts of Attribution Errors
We can overcome our tendency to make dispositional attributions when we are strongly motivated (thanks to our personality or the situation we are in) and avoid making quick and easy judgements. In fact, people do understand that the situation impacts on behaviour, and most people even believe that other make more extreme dispositional attributions (i.e., other people consider the situation even less); people want to see themselves as better than others. We tend to make dispositional attributions because they are quick and easy, the personal behaviour is immediately apparent through the situational factors that influenced the behaviour may be more subset. So its easier to make dispositional attributions, but they are not necessarily accurate. We should therefore try to consider the role of the situation before jumping to dispositional conclusions.
How do we form impressions of people based on non-verbal behaviour?
Researchers who study social perception have examined how people detect deception. Both verbal and nonverbal behaviour communicate important information to others. Two distinct issues in nonverbal behaviour: the effects of communicating in nonverbal ways, and how nonverbal behaviour can aid in detecting deceptive communications.
Communicating in Nonverbal Ways
We typically think of communication as involving verbal expressions. However, in many cases people communicate in nonverbal ways, including through body language, eye gaze, facial expressions, gestures, and even handshakes.
Research Focus on Neuroscience: The Special Processing of Eye Contact
The power of eye contact as a social cue is very strong. In fact, research suggests that particular parts of the brain respond to receiving eye contact. Research findings indicated that a mutual gaze led to greater activity in the superior temporal sulcus (STS) region of the brain, compared to an averted gaze. These results suggest that different parts of the brain are involved in processing general information about faces. The STS is involved in processing the social information that is conveyed in eye gaze. The authors argue that the STS region plays a role in social perception and social cognition and is sensitive to the degree to which the action signals approach or avoidance.
Causes of Error in Communication
Although nonverbal communication provides important information about people emotions, several factors can lead to lower accuracy. First, people try to hide their emotions in order to avoid the consequences of letting others know how they are feeling. Second, when facial expressions conflict with information about the situation, we interpret the emotion in line with the situation and not the expression. Finally, people are more accurate when identifying emotions expressed by people within their own culture or by those with greater exposure to that culture.
People often conceal or even lie about their true thoughts, and they do so on an average one to two times per day. Although we are often lied to, we are unable to detect exactly when someone is lying: we are only accurate in distinguishing lies from the truth about 54% of the time. One reason why we have trouble detecting lies is that we make the fundamental attribution error, and assume that peoples statements reflect their honest and trustworthy dispositions. Some people are simply better able to appear truthful than others, perhaps because some people are better able to control their facial expressions.
Cues for Detecting Deception
Verbal cues can be useful for detecting deception. People who are lying make fewer references to the self (e.g., I, my, me), use more negative emotion words (e.g., hate, worthless, enemy), and use fewer "exclusive" words (e.g., but, except, without). This patterning suggests that people who are lying try to distance themselves from the lie (and hence make fewer self references), experience greater tension and guilt (and hence use greater negative emotion words), and focus their attention on creating a story (and therefore use more simplistic, and less exclusive, language). People who are lying also describe events in shorter more general ways than those who are telling the truth, who tend to use more intricate and elaborate descriptions. Nonverbal cues can also help us determine when someone is trying to deceive us. People who are genuinely smiling tend to be telling the truth, but those who are putting on a false smile may be lying. In sum, people who are lying differ from those who are telling the truth in both the verbal and nonverbal cues they provide, but these can be relatively sublet differences and they are not consistent (i.e., some people are better at lying than others).
Individual Differences in Detecting Deception
As well as varying in our ability to lie persuasively, we also vary on our accuracy at determining other peoples lies. Those who are most accurate at detecting lies rely both on nonverbal and verbal cues, in contrast to most of us who rely primarily on verbal cues. Finally, yet another factor helps in detecting lying is familiarity with the persons culture, presumable because some non-verbal cues for lying are culture specific. People are better at detecting lies told by a person from their culture than lies told by someone from a different culture.
The Power of Facial Expressions
One of the most common and effective ways that people communicate nonverbally is through facial expressions. People in different cultures tend to use the same facial expressions to convey a limited number of major, or basic, emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, anger surprise, and disgust. The expressions of emotions are universal since people in diverse cultures agree on emotions showed in a picture. Tribe members were able to identify the emotions that were portrayed on the photographs, providing further evidence for the universality of emotional expression and recognition. The finding hat emotions are recognized across cultures suggests and evolutionary basis for this consistency, and, if this is correct, it would be logical for "important emotions" to be understood more rapidly than less important ones, which is exact;y that the research shows.
How does culture relate to social perception?
Culture not only influences how people see themselves but also how they see and make sense of the social world. Cross-cultural research shows that the tendency to attribute behaviour to dispositional factors that is commonly seen in western cultures is much less common in other cultures. Culture impacts the types of attributions people make, the factors that influence these attributions, and the expression of emotion.
Types of Attributions
Although the fundamental attribution error is one of the most commonly described biases in the field of social psychology, and until recently was thought to describe a universal human tendency, this error is much harder to find in collectivistic cultures than in individualistic ones. Although people in different cultural contexts believe that dispositions do influence behaviour, people in collectivistic cultures see situations as having more powerful impact on behaviour. It turns out that the fundamental attribution error is not fundamental after all. These cultural differences in reliance on internal attributions are found not only in laboratory studies but also in naturalistic studies that use archival data.
Factors Influencing Attributions
1. View of personality as changeable
2. Stronger focus on the situation
3. The impact of distraction
Factors Influencing Attributions: (1.) View of personality as changeable
One explanation is that in collectivistic cultures personality is seen as more changeable than in individualistic cultures.
Factors Influencing Attributions: (2.) Stronger focus on the situation
Another explanation for the greater prevalence of the fundamental attribution error in individualistic cultures is that people in collectivistic cultures pay more attention to the impact of the situation on behaviour, and therefore see more connection between events. There is an emphasis placed on these different cultures on the salient object versus the background. In sum, collectivistic cultures engage in patterns of holistic thought, and are more attentive to relationships and context, whereas individualistic cultures engage in analytical thought and focus on themselves. Research all shows that when people from collectivistic cultures make the fundamental attribution error, they are better able to overcome this bias than are people from individualistic cultures. Research found that Koreans are as likely as Americans to make dispositional attributions when there is no situational information, and Koreans otherwise make stronger situational attributions and are more responsive to salient situational information than are Americans.
Factors Influencing Attributions: (3.) The Impact of Distraction
Distraction also has a different impact on attribution errors in people from different cultures. People tend to make dispositional errors when they are distracted and therefore can't adjust for the situational pressure on behaviour. When people in individualistic cultures are busy, they make dispositional attributions whereas collectivistic cultures don't make this error, even when they are busy.
How does emotion influence expressions of emotion?: Emotional Display Rules
Facial expressions of emotion are universal and cultural factors do nonetheless have an influence on emotion. One difference involves
cultural display rules
, meaning the rules in a culture that govern how to express universal emotions. It was found that participants from collectivistic cultures reported expressing more positive emotions than negative emotions toward in-group members. In contrast, individuals from individualistic cultures reported expressing more negative emotions and fewer positive emotions toward their in-group members, reflecting their lesser importance of maintaining harmony and adhesion in in-groups in these societies, which makes it more acceptable to display negative emotions. people in individualistic cultures are also more commutable in expressing self-reflective emotions, such as pride and guilt, as there is more focus on the person and individual uniqueness and more value was given to the expression of self-reflective emotion. People from collectivistic cultures show more socially engaging emotions, such as friendliness and shame, than people from individualistic cultures, who show more disengaging emotions, such as anger and disdain. This reflects the importance of harmony within groups and affiliation to a group in collectivistic cultures. Emotions that don't disturb the social connections between group members are accepted while those that are harmful are discouraged and rejected.
Cultural Display Rules
Rules in a culture that govern how universal emotions should be expressed.
Choice of Words
Culture also influences how people talk about emotion. It was found that European Americans used fewer social words than chinese americans who were not very oriented toward american culture. chinese americans who were oriented toward american culture used a pattern that was more similar to that of european americans.
Emphasis on Tone
Finally, cross-cultural research reveals differences in peoples focus on verbal content versus verbal tone. It was found that americans tended to focus on verbal content over verbal tone. Japanese participants showed the opposite pattern as they emphasized the tone of the delivery of the word over the words meaning. Once again, this study provides evidence of cultural difference in the importance of different types of communications.
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