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Chapter 4

PSYC 215 Chapter Notes - Chapter 4: Confirmation Bias, Pluralistic Ignorance, Illusory Correlation

Course Code
PSYC 215
John Lydon

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Bona Kim PSYC215 Chapter Summary
CHAPTER 4 - Social Cognition: Thinking about People and Situations (pgs.
- Social Cognition: the study of how people think about the social world and arrive
at judgments that help them interpret the past, understand the present and
predict the future
oSocial psychologists have been interested in cognition: social judgments
are important in everyday life
oHowever, our judgments are always perfect but they still help us figure
out how to do better in the future.
They provide particularly helpful cues about how people think
about other individuals and make inferences about them
They give psychologists hints about the strategies or rules people
follow to make judgments - both those that are successful and
Whether rate or common, mistakes often reveal a lot about how a
system works by showing its limitations
- Thus, researchers in social cognition have often explored the limitations of
everyday judgment
- Social cognition depends first of all on information
- Understanding other people depends on accurate information
oSometimes people have little or no information on which to base their
oSometimes the available information is misleading
oSometimes the way that they acquire information overly affects their
- Each of these circumstances presents special challenges to achieving an
accurate understanding of others
Minimal Information: Inferring Personality from Physical Appearance
- in an empirical study demonstrating “snap judgments”, Janine Willis and Alex
Todorov showed participants a large number of faces (in photos) and had them
rate how attractive, aggressive, likable, trustworthy, and competent each
person seemed
oWhat they did: some participants were given as much time as they
wanted to make each rating, and their estimates were used as the
standard of comparison
oOther participants were asked to make the same ratings, but after
seeing each face for 3 different time intervals: 1 sec, half a sec, or a
tenth of a second
oWhat they found: a great deal of what we conclude about people based
on their faces is determined almost instantaneously (Table 4.1)
Perceiving Trust and Dominance:
- What is it that people so quickly think they see in another’s face?
oTodorow et al. ventured to find out
Participants were asked to rate a large number of photographs of
different faces, all with neutral expressions, on the personality
dimensions people most often spontaneously mention when
describing faces
When they looked at how these judgments correlated with one
another, they found two dimensions that stand out:

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Bona Kim PSYC215 Chapter Summary
1. Positive-negative dimension involving such assessments
as whether someone is seen as trustworthy or
untrustworthy, aggressive or non-aggressive
2. Centers around power involving such assessments as
whether someone seems confident or bashful, dominant or
It appears that people are set to make highly fictional judgments
about others:
(Dimension 1): whether they should be avoided or
(Dimension 2) where they are likely to stand in a status of
power hierarchy
Todorov used computer models to generate faces that represent
various combinations of these two dimensions, including faces
that are more extreme on each trait dimension than what we’d
encounter in real life (Figure 4.1)
In these faces, we can see the hypermasculine features
like a pronounced jaw that make someone look dominant
and the features such as the shape of the eyebrow and
eye socket that make someone look trustworthy
The faces that are seen as trustworthy and non dominant
tend to look like baby faces
oLeslie Zebrowitz et al. showed that adults with such baby-faced
features as large round eyes, a large forehead, high eyebrows, and a
rounded, relatively small chin are assumed to possess many of the
characteristics associated with the very young
They are judged to be relatively weak, naïve and submissive
Whereas, with small eyes, a small forehead and an angular,
prominent chin tend to be judged as strong, competent, and
oKonrad Lorenz (renowned ethologist) speculated that the cuteness of
the young in many mammalian species triggers a hardwired, automatic
reaction that helps ensure that the young and helpless receive adequate
The automatic nature of our response to infantile features makes
it more likely that we would overgeneralize and come to see even
adults with such features as trustworthy and friendly
These assessments have dramatic implications:
Baby-faced individuals receive more favourable treatment
as defendants in court but have a harder time being seen
as appropriate for “adult” jobs such as banking
The Accuracy of Snap Judgments
- How accurate are the snap judgments we make of peopled based on their
appearance or upon witnessing very brief samples of their behaviour? Are the
facial features people associate with different personality traits valid cues to
those traits?
oA question that has not satisfactorily answered
oSome investigators report moderately high correlations between the
judgments made about people based on their facial appearance and
those individuals’ own reports of how approachable, extraverted and
powerful they are
Similar studies have found no connection between judgments
based on facial appearance and self-reports of agreeableness and

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Bona Kim PSYC215 Chapter Summary
oWhen behavioural observations rather than self-ratings are used as the
criterion of accuracy, evidence that people can accurately assess other
people’s personalities based on facial appearance alone is even harder
to find
oThe fairest summary of current research: people’s snap judgments about
facial appearance may hold some truth, but very small.
- Sometimes, it is more important to predict not what a person’s true personality
is, but rather what other people in general think
oThen you’d ask, how well do snap judgments predict more considered
consensus opinion. Evidence indicates that they predict rather well
oTodorov et al.
Participants were shown, for 1 sec, pictures of the Republican and
Democratic candidates in U.S. congressional elections and asked
to indicate which candidates looked more competent
Those judged to be more competent by most of the participants
won 69% of the races
The person judged to be more competent might not actually be
more competent. What matters in predicting the outcome of
elections is not what is really true, but what the electorate
believes to be true
oAmbady and Rosenthal
Participants were shown “thin slices” of professor’s performance
in the classroom (10 sec silent video clips) and asked to rate the
professors on a variety of dimensions such as how anxious,
competent, active, professional and warm they seemed
A composite of these quick assessments significantly correlated
with students’ evaluations of their professors at the end of the
Misleading Firsthand Information: Pluralistic Ignorance
- The information we have about the world comes to us through direct experience
(immediate impressions of others) or secondhand (gossip, news, textbooks,
- Firsthand information
oIn many cases, this kind of information is more accurate because it
hasn’t been filtered by someone else
oCan also be deceptive, as when we are inattentive to information about
events that occur before our eyes or when we misconstrue certain
oOur own experience can also be unrepresentative, as when we judge
what the students are like at a given university from the one student we
encounter during a campus tour
oSome of it is information we extract from other people’s behaviour (i.e.
when the prof asks, “if anyone has any questions” and no one raises
their hands. You think you are the only one who’s confused).
^ Example of Pluralistic ignorance: misperception of a group
norm that results from observing people who are acting at
variance with their private beliefs out of a concern for the social
consequences - actions that reinforce the erroneous group norm
In other words, occurs when people act in ways that
conflict with their private beliefs because of a concern for
the social consequences
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