CHAPTER 8: SHORTCOMING AND BIASES IN PERSON PERCEPTION
• Most people do not engage in painful behavior that has no benefits, so your decision to breast-feed probably
reflects your assumption that breast feeding is essential for providing the best care for a child.
• Armed with such an attitude, it is likely that you might look at those who deny their children such benefits with
disdain (at least slightly).
• Maternal IQ: A factor that, if controlled for; is known to eliminate links between breast feeding and a child’s
• People do not form such rational impressions of others.
• If you have just engaged in years of painful behavior, disrupting your life entirely and your sleeping patterns
nightly, you are motivated to believe that you have made this sacrifice for a reason.
• Antagonism to those who choose not to-presumably because they are now even more motivated (by the
suggestion that some data invalidate their own reasons for choosing to breast-feed) to believe that mothers like
Anne are depriving their children of important health and intellectual benefits.
• Such attributions are defensive and self-serving, and nicely represent a type of motivated attributional reasoning.
• When an important self-relevant behavior is challenged, we all tend to defend the self and attack the source of
• This is particularly interesting in the above example, because a bottle feeding mother is making no diatribe
against breast feeding.
• It is not uncommon to find breast-feeding women who deride those who do not perform this socially accepted
• The need to justify themselves will steer their attributions so that their own behavior is seen as reasonable, while
that of threatening others is seen as negative and unwarranted.
THE POSITIVE SENSE OF SELF
• One way we deviate from making “rational” judgements when forming impressions of other people: the
correspondence bias (and the related actor-observer difference).
• It is said to occur because the pursuit of accurate assessment is derailed by limitations in cognitive processing
abilities. Perceivers deal not only with limitations faced by our processing system in the pursuit of accuracy, but
with subjective biases inflicted on us by our wants, needs, and desires.
• We actively twist and fit every piece of information we receive in a way that allows us to meet the needs driving
• Other than attaining accurate meaning-high self-esteem, control, and affiliation, we see our own behaviour,
beliefs, and traits to be consensual: the false consensus effect.
• However, we not only see ourselves as having popular beliefs; we also see ourselves as better than most other
people (at least in areas that are self-relevant).
Most of us have a tendency to see ourselves as more moral than the average person. Not all people can be above
average in morality.
• Despite this relentless fact of life, most of us maintain positive views of our ability, traits, behaviour, and
• We have an exaggerated sense of positivity regarding the self. Alicke (1985) found that when asked to judge how
self-descriptive various adjectives were, people overwhelming chose positive over negative traits.
• We have not only a tendency to see ourselves positively, but a tendency to rationalize away the negative
components of our life.
• If we are bad at it, we come to see it as irrelevant. This tendency has gone by many names: positivity bias, ego-
protection, self-esteem enhancement, and positive illusions. The premise is that we are motivated to enhance the
positivity of our self-conceptions and to protect the self from negative information.
1 • Evaluations are motivated by a need to feel good about the self.
SELF-SERVING BIASES AND POSITIVE ILLUSIONS
• Taylor and Brown (1988) argue that positive illusions, or unrealistic positive views of the self, are important
ingredients of mental health and well-being.
• The realism and accuracy of depressive individuals perhaps contribute the poor mental health, while the positive
illusions into three general categories: unrealistically positive views of the self, unrealistic optimism about the
future, and exaggerated perceptions of personal control.
Unrealistically Positive Views of the Self
• Attaining and maintaining positive self-esteem can be accomplishment if people can assert that they possess
mostly positive traits and mostly positive causes for their action.
• They can do this by using their cognitive apparatus to meet their esteem-promoting needs.
• People can attend to, interpret, and recall information that is consistent with their predominantly positive self-
• They can also process information in a biased manner, so that negative information is kept at bay.
• People maintain a sense of positivity by selectively processing self- relevant information, so that they attend to
and evaluate information with favourable implications for the self and avoid information with negative
• The tendency to see the self as positive can be discussed as an instance of an “attributional bias,” because it is
through the manner in which people account for their own behavior and outcomes that they are able to maintain
and enhance a positive view of themselves.
• Despite sometimes violating what we would consider to be moral behavior, we still manage to find ways to
consider ourselves to be fair and moral, even more moral than the average person.
• We may accomplish such feats of positivity bias by using attributions to treat instances of immoral behavior as
atypical and resulting from unusual situational constraint.
• Attributions come into play in a discussion of positive illusions, because people attribute their own negative
outcomes and actions to the situation, while positive behaviors are seen as arising from dispositional and stable
causes (what is known as self-serving bias).
The notion of a self-serving attribution suggests a modification to the actor observer difference.
• Instead of actors’ being described as focused on the situation in forming attributions, actors are now also said to
be people driven by self-interest and a desire to enhance positive self-view.
• Another difference between actors and observers is that a self-serving attributional pattern emerges for judgments
that actors make of themselves, but not for the judgements they make of others (unless they are “significant
others” to whom one’s identity is linked-spouses/partners, parents, siblings, friends, church members, etc.).
• Steven and Jones (1976) provided an excellent illustration of the self-defensive nature of attribution. They
reasoned that if attribution pattern can be used to protect self-esteem is threatened.
• Research participants had their self-esteem threatened by giving them false feedback that allowed them to believe
that they consistently failed at a task while others consistently succeeded.
Participants were told that they got the vast majority of these judgements either wrong or right.
• In addition to false feedback, they received consensus information that informed them how other participants had
• Participants attributed success on the task to personal ability and failure on the task to bad luck.
• The most threatening case was the one where participants, but few other people, were said to fail on the task.
2 • In this case, the smallest percentage of points (18%) was used by people to claim that personal ability had
anything to do with their performance, and the greatest percentage of points (40%) was assigned to luck.
• This was a defensive attribution pattern, because people were ascribing their failure in the face of the success of
others to external and unstable factors, and very little to stable, personal qualities.
• Miller (1976) extended these findings by also using false feedback to threaten the self-esteem of research
Participants were asked to take a test purported to measure their “social perceptiveness”.
• Miller delivered this self-esteem threat by telling people either that the test used to measure their social
perceptiveness was a well-established one, or that it was a new and unproven measure.
• It was predicted that the threat to self-esteem would be reduced by the fact the test was unproven, because
participants could attribute poor scores to the inadequacy of the test.
If they believed the test was valid, the only shelter from negative feedback would be provided by ego-defensive
• The results provided evidence for the self-serving bias. When people received positive feedback, they attributed
their test scores to internal factors.
• Negative feedback, however, was rationalized away through external attributions, and the esteem protecting the
test was valid and well-established, they were even more likely to attribute their poor scores to luck and their
good scores to personal ability.
• Sicoly and Ross (1977) obtained similar results. In their study, participants were given false feedback that led to
believe that they either succeeded or failed at a task.
• However, they also then received (false) feedback from an observer (actually another student who worked for the
experimenters) that informed the person how much personal responsibility that observer thought the person
• Participants made internal attributions for their successes and external attributions for failures.
• The new twist concerned what people thought about the observers. Here again, there were signs of ego protection
• When the observer stated that the person was responsible for his/her success, the observer was seen as accurate
• When the observer stated that the person was responsible for his/her failure, suddenly the observer was judged to
be less accurate than when the person was said to be not responsible for the same failure (ego protection).
Shelter from the Storm and Motivated Skepticism
• First, because of the norms of interpersonal communication, people do not typically provide each other with
scathing (or even mildly negative) feedback. Feedback is typically positive, and when negative, it is sugar-
• Second, people choose acquaintances and friends with similar views, thus reinforcing their own opinions and
keeping away dissenting views.
• Third, people promote positive illusions in how they handle negative feedback when it is present.
• Given that most utterances are somewhat ambiguous, and that most feedback is open to interpretation, people
have a tendency to see ambiguous feedback in the most positive light.
• If feedback is unambiguous and negative, it is ignored. Even if negative feedback is taken to heart, it has a habit
of not planting roots there; its effects are only temporary.
• Beliefs about the self can change radically in the short term, but tend to drift back to their original state.
• Finally, if people are unable to ignore the feedback, they opt to denigrate the source of the negative feedback by
labelling it either as inaccurate or as coming from tainted source.
3 • Ditto and Lopez (1992) argue that one way people maintain their positive view of the self (and ward off
negativity) is through motivated skepticism-a tendency to be skeptical and critically examine information they do
not want to receive, yet to readily accept (with critical examination) information they are happy to receive.
• Sometimes it is correct to be sceptical of a negative outcome. Rather than being biased, it allows for justice to be
served and an incorrect decision to be overturned.
• To illustrate that people receiving positive news will challenge it (see it as valid), and that people receiving
negative news will challenge it (see it as invalid), they had research participants receive either negative or
positive (actually fictitious) news about their health.
• Some participants were led to believe that they lacked an enzyme that would make them susceptible to pancreatic
disorders later in life.
• Others were led to believe that they had sufficient levels of this enzyme. As predicted, people given the bad news
exhibited a defensive pattern of responding.
• Participants led to believe they had an enzyme deficiency rated this deficiency as a less serious medical disorder
than people who believed they had an enzyme.
• Furthermore, “enzyme-deficient” people saw this deficiency as a fairly common disorder and also saw the saliva
test as being inaccurate.
• However, despite thinking that the test was less accurate, these people were also more likely to engage in the
equivalent of “getting a second opinion” by taking the saliva test multiple times to make sure the results were
• These people also spent more time before making their decisions about how serious the disease was and how
common it was, suggesting that they were analyzing their situation more thoroughly than people who received a
clean bill of health.
Ditto and Lopez also found that participants who believed they had the enzyme deficiency generated far more
alternative explanations for the test results than people who had received a positive test result.
• Negative feedback triggered motivated scepticism and a more thorough cognitive analysis of the information.
Cognitive Dissonance Reduction
• Dealing with negative and aversive thoughts about the self is the primary concern of social psychology’s most
well-known phenomenon-cognitive dissonance.
• The premise of cognitive dissonance theory is that when people experience an inconsistency between 2
cognitions, this causes an aversive drive state (similar to hunger or thirst) that people are motivated to eliminate.
• To eliminate this state, they must restore consistency between the discrepant cognitions.
• As an example, receiving negative feedback about the self represents a case of a person having discrepant
• This discrepancy between the 2 cognitive elements is not ignored or dismissed by the person; instead, it is
experienced as aversive and disturbing.
• It motivates him/her to reconcile these discrepancies and remove the state of dissonance. However, dissonance
reduction is only motivated when the level of dissonance rises to the point where it is experienced as aversive to
• A person may receive discrepant information, but unless it matters to the person, he/she will not be motivated to
reduce the dissonance, because the dissonance will not otherwise be experienced as particularly aversive.
• This leads to the prediction that people with high self-esteem should experience dissonance more powerfully than
people with low self-esteem, due to a greater tendency to expect positive things to happen to the self and for
negative consequences to be interpreted as dissonant.
• Festinger (1957) purposed 2 general routes toward removing the aversive state. First, one could eliminate the
negative behavior that is serving as the source of one of the discrepant cognitions.
• Behavior change is not always easy (or possible). If one could act in a way that would result in positive feedback,
presumably one would have acted that way initially.
4 • The other way can reduce dissonance and stop experiencing negative and aversive states relating to the self by
justifying or rationalizing the discrepant act and attempting to accommodate the undesirable behavior.
• Rather than changing what one does, one changes what one thinks about one does! This is a rationalization.
Rationalizations are the most important thing people do.
• Rationalizing a behavior that causes dissonance with one’s sense of self as positive can be accomplishment in
First, one can recruit cognitions that are consistent with the discrepancy. Rather than thinking about the negative
consequences of having failed at a task. The person receiving failure feedback can recruit thoughts about the
positive social benefits of having tried a new activity and of having shown openness to new experiences.
• Second, one can change one’s attitude so that the 2 cognitions are no longer seen as discrepant. One may fail at a
task, but one can change one’s attitude about how one should have performed on the task.
• Third, one may shift focus away from a dissonant act and bolster self-esteem through drawing from a vast
resource of positive information about the self, affirming one’s sense of self as positive through thoughts in some
other, unrelated domain (distracting attention away from the dissonance and toward one’s positive qualities.)
• Finally, one can engage in trivialization, in which dissonant behavior is seen as insignificant and meaningless.
Thus one may get negative feedback, but can decide either that the feedback is wrong and stupid, or that the task
itself is unimportant and not really relevant to the self.
All these styles of rationalizing negative outcomes can bolster and protect self-esteem.
• Festinger and Carlsmith (1959) asked participants to engage in a mind –numbingly boring task for a long period
of time, and paid some of them $20 to do so and some of them $1.
• They then asked these participants to tell a group of their peers that the experiment was fun and enjoyable.
• One might think that the people paid $20 might enjoyed the task more, since they received greater reinforcement
for having performed the task.
• People who had been asked to perform an extremely boring task later provided impressions of the task that
indicated it was not boring, but only if they had been paid poorly to do the task!
• Having created a discrepancy between their initial attitude and a behavior that could not be rescinded, people
changed their attitudes.
• But they did so only if they freely chose to perform the act and had no other rationale for having elected to as
• Given justification (such as having been handsomely rewarded) for having acted in a discrepant way, they
eliminated the dissonance by convincing themselves they liked the boring task.
• Steele (1988) proposed that when cognitive dissonance occurs people are not merely experiencing a specific type
of discrepancy between 2 cognitions in a given domain, but a threat to the integrity of their entire belief system
about the self.
• Steele asserted that the integrity of the self-system could be restored by a change in attitudes.
• But that it can also be restored by calling upon other positive aspects of the self-concept when a person is feeling
self-threat or experiencing dissonance-engaging in a process of self-affirmation.
For example, Steele and Lui (1983) had participants act in a way that violated their attitudes. They found that
these people, as dissonance theory would predict, changed their attitudes so that their attitudes became more
consistent with the behavior that was performed.
• However, other participants were allowed to affirm an important component of their self-system before having
They reasoned that this process of self-affirmation would restore the threat to the self-system.
• If such people then had their attitudes toward the dissonance-arousing behavior measured, they should no longer
feel compelled to change these attitudes.
• Because these participants had handled the threat to the self-concept through self-affirmation, the negative
behavior that had been engaged in was now virtually powerless.
Another method for dealing with negative feedback and maintaining a positive self-view that has been mentioned
above is the process of trivialization.
5 • The purpose of trivialization is to reduce the importance of the dissonant elements, thereby reducing the
motivation to engage in dissonance reduction.
• Simon, Greenberg, and Brehm (1995) reasoned that changing an attitude as a means of dealing with dissonance is
going to be hard to do if people are reminded of how important that attitude is to them, or if that attitude is made
salient to them.
• A better strategy for dealing with the threat to a positive self-view is to change people’s impression of the
feedback-to trivialize the importance of the domain in which they have received negative feedback, or to
denigrate the particular person providing the feedback.
• Some students were reminded of their attitudes against a policy proposing that there should be a University-wide
comprehensive exam as a requirement for graduation.
• Other students were not reminded of their attributes toward this proposed policy.
• Students were asked to write essays that favored implementing the very comprehensive exams that the
experiments knew these students opposed.
• Participants who were not reminded of their attitudes on this issue resolved the discrepancy by altering their
attitudes, suddenly indicating that they were actually more in favor of such exams than they had indicated weeks
in advance, when their attitudes were previously measured.
• However, people who had been reminded of their attitudes from weeks before did not currently alter those
• Instead, they chose a trivialization strategy for handling this threat to a positive sense of self. They were more
likely to rate the issue of comprehensive exams as less important.
• Rather than changing their attitude toward the issue, they trivialized the issue; they trivialized the issue and said
that it was not so important to them.
Defensive Pessimism and Self-Handicapping
• Another global strategy for defending self-esteem is to develop a chronic tendency to prepare for and expect the
• Two such strategies that have been explored by social psychologists are reviewed next. The first is called
• Have you ever met a person (maybe you are such a person) who worries after every test that he/she failed? What
usually frustrates others about such people is that they are not doomed.
• In fact, more often than not, they do better than most people. Their fears were unwarranted.
• Many life tasks (goals pursued over a long period of time that are central to a person’s motivational system), such
as doing well academically, are often confronted with difficulties, frustrations, anxieties, and self-doubts, and the
individual’s style of appraising these hindrances leads to a typical pattern of goals aimed at overcoming these
• Rather than trying to maintain a positive sense of self and ward off the negativity of possible failure by seeking
reassurance from others, these students prepare for the possibility of failure by obsessing about them to over
prepare and, in so doing, to avoid failure.
• These people try to meet their challenges by mentally enacting worst-case scenarios.
• Norem and Cantor (1986) called this strategy defensive pessimism; being pessimistic about the future keeps
negative outcomes at bay and actually serves to defend the self against failure.
• Indeed, some people turn defensive pessimism into a style of life, imagining the worst-case scenario to every
situation so as to protect the self from doom.
• Sometimes people actually put themselves in bad situations to defend the sense of self. That is, we have already
seen that external attributions for negative outcomes are able to promote positive illusions.
• Thus, to the extent that it is easy to form an external attribution for a negative outcome, the easier it will be not to
have self-esteem placed at risk.
6 • People may do things that increase their chance of failure just so they can have a good excuse to account for their
• Self-handicapping is said to occur when people actively try to “arrange the circumstances of their behavior so as
to protect their conceptions of themselves as competent, intelligent persons.”
• Jones and Berglas (1978) claim that this is one reason people turn to alcohol: They use it to create an impediment
that held personally responsible for that failure if it were to come.
These people have created external causes for failure, thus protecting themselves from being held personally
responsible for that failure if it were to come.
• This is less extreme than performing a behavior that will potentially cause failure, but effective just the same.
• Research participants were asked to provide answers for extremely difficult questions that they probably had to
However, they then got false feedback that must have seemed miraculous to them; participants were asked again
to answer similar types of questions.
• Having created a context where the individuals must be contemplating failure, the experimenters then introduced
a manipulation to detect what types of strategies people would adopt to deal with their fears.
• Participants were next informed that the researchers were concerned with studying the impact of drugs on
• Participants were then offered a choice between 2 perfectly harmless drugs-one of which would supposedly
facilitate intellectual performance, while the other would interfere with it.
• The results revealed that participants chose the self-handicapping strategy; they preferred to take a drug that
would clearly diminish the possibility for success, thus providing an escape route for self-esteem in the event that
failure should strike.
Unrealistic Optimism about the Future
• People never like to think that negative events will happen to them. It would hardly be a bias if people skewed
thoughts about their future away from such negative events.
But just because people choose to accentuate the positive, this does not mean they can accurately forecast the
extent to which their future actually will be positive.
• There is a difference between being optimistic and being unrealistically positive in predicting future holds in
• People see their future as full of positive events; they report 4 times as many positive things as negative things
awaiting them around the corner.
• People estimate their opportunities for positive things as greater than those for their peers.
• Meanwhile, the reverse pattern is observed for negative events: People estimate the chances of negative events as
greater for their peers.
• This unrealistic optimism is said to spring forth from a process labels motivated inference, whereby people (1)
generate biased theories about the causes for positive and negative events, and (2) differentially evaluate
information that has positive versus negative implications for the self.
• Let us focus first on motivated inference in the form of biased theory generation-a process whereby people
embrace positive causal explanations for their behavior by developing theories in which their personal attributes
are seen as responsible for positive outcomes, it allows them to expect that their future is likely to be filled with
Biased Theories about Attributes and Outcomes
• If people have theories that their attributes are responsible for positive outcomes, these allow for a feeling that
control over future events lies within these personal attributes.
7 • And if people control the occurrence of future, positive outcomes, then it stands to reason that they should be
optimistic about the future.
• First, people are quite gifted at generating just about any theory of self to justify just about any outcome they
would like. So the illusion is easy to maintain.
• Second, this process allows people not merely to be optimistic about the future, but to feel the much-desired
sense of control over their destiny.
And with this illusion of control over positive future events comes unrealistic optimism for the future.
• Kunda (1987): Had a research participants assess their own attributes, rate how these attributes relate to a future
event (marriage), and make predictions about their own success at such an event.
• Kunda first had participants read about a person who was either divorced or happily married, and who possessed
one of two opposing sets of personality characteristics
His findings revealed that when participants shared an attribute with the person they had read about, then that
attribute was seen as one that promoted a good marriage.
• In addition, information about the outcome of the person’s marriage had an impact on the ratings.
• An attribute was more likely to be rated as good for a marriage if the person was said to have a good marriage
people seemed to the developing a theory about the cause of a good marriage-namely, that it is caused by people
who have certain traits.
• But, furthermore, people then used these theories to promote an optimistic view of their own future.
• If people knew that they had certain traits, they were most likely to conclude that those traits promote good
• Finally, even though participants were told that the divorce rate at the time was 50%, their estimated likelihood
for their own marriages ending in divorce was 20%.
Warding Off Links between Negative Outcomes and Attributes
• According to Kuanda’s (1987) notion of motivated inference, there are 2 processes by which people establish
unrealistically optimistic expectations for the future.
• Differential evaluation of information- a process whereby people are more critical of information that has
negative implications for themselves and more accepting of information that favors them.
• People ward off negative explanations for their behavior and keep at bay information threatening to their self-
• Kunda argues that people see positive events as being caused by their own positive attributes.
• Furthermore, they must be able to believe that their attributes are not the cause of negative events.
• This creates a problem we might also call cognitive dissonance: If people see their positives attributes as the
cause for positive events, what do they do when evidence to the contrary erupts in front of them? This should be
• Kunda (1987) asked research participants to read a supposed article in The New York Times about the negative
effects of caffeine consumption and its (fictitious) link to a disease called fibrocystic disease.
• Men did not see the disease as threatening, regardless of the amount of caffeine they consumed-because the
disease was said to affect women only.
• As predicted, because they lacked a motive to be biased, the reasoning strategies used and the overall evaluation
of the article did not differ for men who had high versus low amounts of caffeine consumption.
• But for women who consumed a lot of caffeine (relative to women who did not drink beverages high caffeine
content), this article was highly threatening
• Such women saw the article as providing unconvincing evidence in support of a connections between caffeine
and fibrocystic and between caffeine and camp.
• Although they may be quite useful at preserving mental health by warding off negative thought disease, death,
and pain, these very acts of protecting the self from negative thought may lead data are ignored and dismissed as
irrelevant or inconclusive.
8 Predictions of a Bright Future and Affective Forecasting
• Yet lottery winners do not report greater happiest, and people with number one song often find themselves later
becoming stars of behind the music, with tale of, depressions, and substance abuse.
• As Wortman and Silver (1989) reported typical event do not have a lasting impact on well-being and effect on
well-being than people expect.
• When predicting their futures or at least engaging in affective forecasting, forecasting or predicting future
affective emotional states people seem to be inaccurate at judging the impact of both positive and negative events
• In regard to positive events there is a tendency for people to believe that such events occurring in their futures
will provide them with far greater more lasting joy than they actually do.
• That is people show a durability bias in preceding the power of positive events durability in this con text refers to
the fact that the positive consequence of such events for emanational well-being are thought to be far more
powerful and long-lasting than reality reveals them to be.
• Gilbert and colleagues 1998 discuss a variety of reason for this overly positive view of the impact of positive
• First people misconstrue what a positive event will entail
A second reason for the bias is called the forcing illusions whereby people making estimates about their future
happiness after an event overly focus on the event in question and disregard a myriad of other future events that
will also occur.
• Forecasts of future affect will be skewed by a focus on positive and a neglect of negative events.
• Not all forecasts of the future are excessively positive. If people are told some negative event will happen, and
are asked to forecast how lasting the damage will be, they display a tendency to exaggerate the impact of the
• One further cause of durability bias is forecasting negative (not positive) events is positive illusions.
• Gilbert and colleagues (1998) suggest that this happens because although people use positive illusions to ward
off negative feelings, they don’t realize they do so.
Immune system wards off disease=mental immune system warding off negative self-views
• For the mental immune system to work, Gilbert and colleagues argue that it must work silently and somewhat
outside of awareness.
• Gilbert and colleagues refer to this as immune neglect and say that it’s a powerful cause of durability bias when
the impact of negative events is being forecast.
Asked assistant professors how they would feel if denied tenure and than compared the results to professors who
had either been granted or denied tenure.
• Forecasters said they would be happier in 5-year-period following getting tenure than in the same 5-year-period
following being denied tenure than people who had been denied tenure.
• Another experiment highlighted the role of immune neglect in producing this bias. In addition, the experiment
manipulated how easy or hard it was for positive illusions to be used to rationalize the event.
• People who forecast their affective reactions believed they would feel equally bad regardless of whether a
rejection was caused by an individual or a skilled team, and that this negative affect would persist.
• Yet people who actually experienced rejection felt better as time progressed, especially when an individual
provided the negative feedback, because the person used positive illusions to unknowingly ward off the
negativity by attributing it to the bias of the individual.
• People cheer for the train they took even though they don’t really care which train wins. The train they chose is a
small reflection on who they are and the decision they made.
9 • From this example we can see that positive regard fort he self can extend itself even to things that are loosely
relevant to the self.
• Research reveals that you would think better of someone if they have the same birthday as yours.
• Research participants rated Rasputin more favorably when they were falsely told that Rasputin shared their
• Millers, Downs and Prentice (1998) found that people were more cooperative with an opponent in a Prisoner's
Dilemma game if the opponent shared their birthday.
• Greenwald and Banaji(1995) propose that self-esteem has implicit (automatic) influences on how people think.
• Hetts and Pelham(2001) distinguish between 2 types of implicit effects of self-esteem.
(1) In the first type, self-esteem itself is explicit, but the impact it has is outside conscious awareness.
(2) In the second type, self-esteem is implicit. People develop automatic, positive evaluative reactions to
the self-positive attitudes to the self that unknowingly get triggered any time they come into contact
with any feature remotely reminiscent of the self. This implicit positive self-regard then influences how
they evaluate others who possess these features.
• In addition to the implicit influence of explicit self-esteem, there are implicit influences of implicit self-esteem,
such as when people unknowingly favor someone because he/she shares their birthday.
If implicit self-esteem represents the automatic activation of positive and negative self-relevant affect, it stands to
reason that people have had fewer positive experiences over their lives would have a lowered sense of implicit
• Hetts and Pelham(2001) found in one study that people whose birthday fell within 1 week of Christmas had
lower implicit self-esteem than people in general.
However this lowered implicit self-esteem was not found for people whose families did not celebrate Christmas.
• People evaluate things associated with the self more positively than things not linked to the self, even if the
association to the self is extremely subtle.
• It was found that people show a preference for the letters of the alphabet that represent their initials aka the
‘name letter effect’
People also prefer the numbers in their birthdays compared to other numbers
• Implicit self-esteem even has an impact on important life decision. People are more likely to marry others with
whom they share initials.
• It was also found that people are more likely to settle in places that have a resemblance to their names (Pauls in
St.Paul). And this isn’t because people from those places names their children after the places.
Pelham and colleagues also found a statistically significant relationship between occupations and names
(Lawrences becoming lawyers, Dennis being dentists)
THE NEED FOR CONTROL
Control and Overattribution
• Heider(1944) asserted that traits, as enduring characteristics, provide a complete and stable way of characterizing
others—one that affords control and predictability.
• The need for control and predictability led him to believe that there’s an unusual contribution from traits in
people’s impressions of others.
• People particularly concerned with control should be even more prone to using traits as a way of characterizing
people than usual
• Miller, Norman, and Wright (1978): Research participants were led to expect to interact with a person about
whom they were forming attributions. As hypothesized, when an interaction was anticipated, there was a
heightened need to predict what the other person was like, and this promoted the use of traits and attitudes when
participants were evaluating the person who would soon become an interaction partner.
10 • The extent to which people formed spontaneous trait inferences was determined by their chronic needs for
prediction, control, and structure.
Exaggerated Perceptions of Personal Control
• The feeling that our destiny is ours to make is promoted by attributions allowing us to feel that what what
happens to us is a product of what we would like to happen to us.
• However, when it’s regarding other people, we feel like they are responsible for the negative and positive that
happens to them.
• The control need as applied to the self would suggest that since we only want good things to happen to us,
anything good that happens must be caused by us.
• Since negative events aren’t desired, then accepting responsibility for causing them would reflect that we’re not
effective at bringing about the consequences we desire; a control need would dictate that negative consequences
would be ascribed to powerful external forces that are beyond our control.
• This illusion produces the same pattern as the self-serving bias, but isn’t necessarily caused by self-esteem
• An illustration of the control need would be provided by an exaggerated sense of responsibility and internal
attribution for events with positive consequences.
• Langer(1975) labeled this exaggerated perception of personal control the illusion of control
• Wortman(1975) found that people tended to see themselves as controlling outcomes they had no effect on
• For example, participants were told if they picked a marble from a can where there were 2 marbles, they would
win a prize. Despite the fact that there was no control at all in any of these scenarios, participants who were told
in advance which marble resulted in a prize and those who were blindl