PSYC 215 Chapter Notes -Nonverbal Communication, Social Perception, Eye Contact
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Chapter 4 – Perceiving Persons
Social perception – processes by which people come to understand one another.
People are both perceivers and targets of others’ perceptions.
Observation: The Elements of Social Perception
People use indirect cues in order to know others:
Persons: Judging a Book by Its Cover
Our first impressions of people are influenced by a person’s appearance, the colour of their
clothing, their name, etc.
Physiognomy – reading a person’s character from their face
People not only read traits from faces, but also use prior knowledge in order to read traits into
faces (ex-when told that a man was kind -> later judged his face to be fuller, rounder, and more
Why do we judge others by appearances? 3 possibilities:
o Genetically programmed inferences
o Learned judgements followed by generalization
o An actual link between physical appearances and behaviour (correlations seen between
strangers’ judgements and an individual’s self-description).
Situations: The Scripts of Life
We also hold preset notions about what might occur in a particular setting, these are called
The more experience one has had in a particular situation, the more detailed the script will be.
For example, a study was done looking at the “first date” script, students listed a sequence of
events that were then scrambled and organized in order again by participants. Those that had
had more experience dating organized the events more quickly than those that had less
Scripts can influence social perceptions in 2 ways:
o We see what we expect to see (ex-ambiguous face was interpreted differently based on
a given situation).
o We use scripts to explain causes of behaviour – an action provides more information
when it deviates from a particular script.
People derive meaning fro, their observations by dividing human behaviour into discrete units.
Some people break a stream of behaviour into a large number of units, whereas others break it
into a small number of larger units.
The way that behaviour is divided can influence perceptions. When an event is broken into
smaller units, participants attend more closely to actions and are able to detect more
meaningful actions and remember more details than when the event is broken into larger units.
These participants also become more familiar with the actor that they’ve observed, so they also
end up viewing the actor in more positive terms (familiarity often increases attraction – ch.9).
The Silent Language of Nonverbal Behaviour
o Behavioural cues are used to determine the inner state of an individual, in addition to
helping to identify actions. However, this can be difficult because people often try to
hide their true emotions.
o Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals – he proposed facial
expressions are innate and are understood by all people.
People can reliably identify at least 6 primary emotions – happiness, fear,
sadness, anger, surprise, and disgust.
o However, other studies do not fully support the claim that basic emotions can be
Elfenbein & Ambady – Cross-cultural meta-analysis – Results show that while
people cross-culturally are able to recognize primary emotions from
photographs, people are 9% more accurate at judging faces from their own
national, ethnic, or regional groups.
Darwin also believed that the ability to recognize emotions in others had
survival value., suggesting that it might be more adaptive to be able to identiy
some emotions over others.
Angry (threatening) faces are more arousing than happy (non-
Disgust – when confronted with an aversive stimulus, people react with
disgust. This might be adaptive because food poisoning is a threat and it
might be necessary to recognize it in the faces of others via the emotion
o fMRI showed insula activation both when smelling a aversive
odour, as well as when watching others sniff it.
o The importance of non-verbal behaviour is especially evident in the fact that online
communication often involves the use of emoticons to avoid misinterpretation.
o Other non-verbal cues like body language are also important in making judgements. The
ways in which people stand, sit, walk, and use gestures are a big part of social
o Eye contact is another form of non-verbal communication. People are very attentive to
gaze and will often follow the gaze of another person. This can be seen even in one year
olds. In many cultures, people assume that certain kinds of eye contact denote an
emotion. However, eye contact can also be interpreted in regards to a pre-existing
relationship; frequent eye contact when a relationship is positive is seen positively and
o Touch has long been seen as an expression o friendship, nurturance, and sexual interest.
Henley – Saw that men, older persons, and those of high socioeconomic status
were like likely to touch women, younger people, and those of lower
socioeconomic status. This touching may also be an expression of dominance
In addition, handshakes are also capable of influencing first impressions.
o Importantly, nonverbal communication varies from one culture to another.
Distinguishing Truth from Deception
o Freud – said that it would be impossible for a person to lie because the individual’s non-
verbal cues would give them away.
Ekman & Friesen – showed series of films to female nurses. Nurses were
instructed to either give their honest impressions of the films or to conceal their
true feelings. Observers later judged whether the responses were truthful or
deceptive. Results showed that accuracy rates were greater when observers
watched tapes focused on the body rather than the face. Thus, the face is easier
to control, unlike the nervous movements of the body.
o In other studies as well, people frequently make mistakes in their judgements of
truth/deception and often accept what others say at face value.
o In addition, people are confident of their judgements in lie-detection, regardless of
whether they are correct or incorrect.
o Some people are better at detecting lying compared to others. However, even
professionals are highly prone to error.
o Why are we so prone to error?
Zuckerman – there is a mismatch between behavioural cues that signal
deception and those that are used by perceivers to detect deception. We often
focus on words and the face and forget about the cues from the body and voice.
4 means of communication provide information:
Words – cannot be trusted alone
Face – controllable
Body – more revealing than the face (fidgeting, shifting)
Voice – most revealing cue (rise in pitch, increased hesitation)
Attribution: From Elements to Dispositions
In order to understand people well enough to predict their future behaviour, we need to
identify their dispositions (personality, attitudes, abilities).
In order to make sense o our social world, we try to understand causes of other people’s