Chapter 9: On perceptual Readiness- Chronic Sources of Judgmental Influence
Availability versus Accessibility:
availability of knowledge- means that some piece of knowledge is known by an individual, stored in long
Just because something is available to you does not mean that it is accessible to you.
For knowledge to be accessed, it must be available.
category accessibility- distinguishing a concept’s status as lying dormant in long-term memory from its
status of having a heightened readiness or state of activation.
An activated concept is in a state where it is not dormant, but has the potential to influence thought
o It is more than merely available, but has a heightened state of potential use.
o accessibility- the activation potential of available knowledge.
o potential- capable of being activated (and then use) but exists in a latent rather than in an active
A person who has encountered a stimulus relevant to the accessible concept can access the
category/concept in question with greater speed and ease, making the category more easily retrieved from
The more easily a concept is retrieved from memory, the more likely it is to be used in noticing,
attending to, and interpreting a stimulus PERCEPTUAL READINESS
Higgins, Bargh, and Lombardi use the metaphor of a battery. Memory can be thought of as a chargeable
unit. The appropriate stimulus in the environment can trigger or activate the unit and provide it with a
Concepts that have a fairly constant level of charge are ones that have been frequently and consistently
encountered and used.
These concepts need not await a cue or stimulus from the environment to trigger them; they are in a state of
permanent charge or chronic accessibility, making them more accessible than other concepts, and therefore
more pervasive tools in guiding how a person sees the world.
Kelly (1955) argued that people’s fairly routine and habitual experiences in life make specific sets of social
situations frequent and result in the repetition of specific types of social behavior.
Personal history creates a unique set of constructs that are typically encountered, through habit and
repetition, and become chronically accessible to an individual.
Chronic accessibility creates a permanent screen or filter through which the person’s world is experienced.
o Constructs that are chronically accessible serves as a scanning pattern which a person continually
projects upon his world. As he sweeps back and forth across his perceptual field he picks up blips of
Goals and motives can also attain a chronic state of accessibility.
The concept of chronic accessibility suggests that dormant concepts, which we are not consciously aware
of, have an impact on how we perceive the world.
o This means that we scan the environment through a filter that is outside of conscious control, under
the direction of concepts that have some heightened state of activation.
There are permanent states of activation that, because they are linked with dormant concepts that we do not
consciously reflect on, exert a silent influence on our judgment and behavior.
o Free will is acting at a silent level.
These dormant, charged concepts direct social cognition and perception without our awareness, BUT in
accord with our goals and prior interaction history with stimuli.
1 Chronically accessible concepts run on automatic pilot, freeing us from needing to scan the environment
consciously for things that matter to us.
We have an intuitive sense that it is impossible to react to a stimulus if we have not yet discriminated that
stimulus from the multitude of stimuli that bombard our senses. It seems like a paradox. But this is resolved
by accepting that much of our perceptual experience takes place in the preconscious and prior to our
conscious awareness getting involved.
We have developed the ability to momentarily store large amounts of info, for very brief periods, without
our consciousness necessarily getting involved. Called iconic memory.
Once info enters this storehouse we are able to “decide” what info passes through a metaphorical filter and
enters consciousness, capturing our focus of attention and being represented in short-term memory.
o the “decision” is made without conscious awareness.
When content is deemed relevant, attention shifts and alters what is consciously attended and perceived.
Chronically accessible concepts help the filter operate.
Chronically Accessible Needs, Goals, and Values: the “New Look”
As the “new look” in chapter 1 argued, perception is more than a mere transcription of the environment by
the senses, but instead involves subjective twists of the data bombarding the perceptual system.
The subjective twists arise from the needs and states of perceptual readiness of the person doing the
perceiving; these serve to manipulate what is perceived and attended to.
The heightened state of accessibility in chronically accessible concepts imbues the perceptual process with
the power to detect stimuli relevant to these important needs and values.
The term perceptual readiness refers to this power to facilitate the detection of information relevant to
Seen, but not seen: Chronically accessible goals/needs/values and perception
Experiment by Postman, Bruner, and McGinnies (1948):
o Illustrates impact of chronically accessible concepts on fundamental and basic processes of
o Words were presented to people on a screen.
o Varied the speed at which the words were presented, with presentation speed starting subliminally
and gradually slowing until a word could be consciously identified.
o Participants were instructed to watch the screen and report when they could actually see something.
o Subliminally present words were selected so that they were values that participants could embrace
to varying degrees.
o Experimenters first assessed the extent to which participants valued each of the constructs, and then
observed if there were differences in how quickly participants could consciously perceive these
words as a function of whether the words were of central importance to them or not.
Words describing values of central importance were perceived at a faster rate than less
The finding of lower thresholds of recognition for desired words suggests that participants
were responding favorably to stimuli prior to conscious recognition. Subjectivity was
operating prior to consciousness.
Experiment by Bruner and Goodman (1947):
o proposed that the need associated with a stimulus leads to the perception of the stimulus to be
altered in line with the need state.
o If the object is valued, they will accentuate it in their perception, so that its perceived size grows as
the value of the object grows. The degree of the effect was predicted to increase as the need of an
individual increases. The more the individual wants something, the more the perception should be
o Participants were asked to hold an object in their palm and draw it using a variable circular patch of
light controlled by a knob.
2 o Either a coin or a disc the size of a coin.
Drawings of coins were distorted relative to the drawings of discs the same size, so money
(something valued) was seen as larger than an object of the same size.
Increased as value of coin increased. More distortion the higher the value (even though dime
is smaller than nickel).
Distortions greater for poor participants than for rich participants.
Accessible knowledge structures serve an important processing function that guides attention, encoding,
and retrieval of information.
Bargh proposed that much of human interpersonal behavior is directed by what he called auto-motives.
Defined as chronically accessible goals, motives, and needs that have the power to exert an influence on
attention, judgment, and behavior across a wide array of interpersonal situations. The pursuit of these goals
is automatically initiated.
Chronic goals and intents, and the procedures and plans associated with them, may become directly and
automatically linked in memory with representations of environmental features to which they are frequently
and consistently associated.”
The goals’ chronic state of accessibility allows them to function, once an appropriate context is entered,
Auto-Motives and Perception
When people have chronic goals, these will be triggered by appropriate cues in the environment.
o First, the goals will be made even more accessible and will direct attention to stimuli compatible
with the goals.
o The goals’ activation will disrupt incompatible processing from occurring, what is known as goal
Experiment by Moskowitz (2000):
o People were identified who were “chronic egalitarians,” they habitually pursued goals of fairness
and equality to such a degree that these had attained a state of heightened accessibility.
o Were asked to engage in a perception task where they had to identify words that flashed on a
o Some words were relevant to the goals of egalitarianism. Each word was preceded by a face of
either a black or a white man.
o It was predicted that seeing faces of Black men (a group that has historically been discriminated
against) would trigger egalitarian goals in chronic egalitarians but not in nonchronic participants.
Pictures of white men would not trigger egalitarian goals. The triggering of the goals would be
evidenced in the speed of responding to the words.
Chronic egalitarians were faster to perceive words relevant to the goals of egalitarianism in
their environment, but showed no increased speed to perceiving the words irrelevant to these
goals. Chronic egalitarians showed this effect when words were preceded by Black men but
not white men.
Consistent with the auto-motive model, the chronic goals were triggered by specific contexts
with which they were associated. Once triggered, the goals passively guided what people
were prepared to see.
Auto-Motives and Judging People
Once a goal, need, motive, or value is activated, it arms us with tools for judgment.
The way we interpret the behavior we see, the types of attributions we form for the people performing those
behaviors, and the opinions we are ready to express are all filtered through our perceptual readiness.
Among the chronic forces known to influence how we judge other people are locus of control, attributional
style, need for cognition, control motivation, need to evaluate, motivation to responded without prejudice,
modern racism, and uncertainty orientation.
Rokeach (1973) argued that values are chronic preferences for specific modes of conduct (instrumental
values) and end states (terminal values).
Values are like needs in that they specify movement toward a preferred and important state of being, but are
different from needs in that values are the cognitive representation and transformations of needs, and man is
the only animal capable of such representations and transformations.
It is the enduring nature of values (their chronic quality) that gives them the power to guide action and
judgment across a wide variety of domains.
Values are standards that serve as a frame of reference both for interpreting the social world and in making
Values that are higher in one’s value hierarchy will be more likely to be automatically triggered and guide
Experiment by Rokeach (1973)
o Illustrates how values, as chronic states, guide how people interpret the meaning of events in their
social world. A national survery conducted in 1968 asked Americans to offer their reactions to the
assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
o Asked to choose from following which best characterized their own reaction: sadness, anger, shame,
fear, and “he brought it on himself”.
o People who possessed the terminal value “equality” were least likely to characterized their response
as marked by fear and the feeling that King got what he deserved.
o People who did characterize their reactions this way had the values of obedience, salvation, and
o Another survey about racism showed that people who had a chronic commitment to the value of
equality were among the least racist type of people.
The chronic states of an individual (values) direct how the person interprets the world, sees other people,
and forms impressions of the events that occur in his/her social world. People with different value
hierarchies interpret the events of their day in drastically different ways as filtered through their value
The Authoritarian Personality
The authoritarian personality structure is associated with the chronic motives of power, cruelty, and
Scales to measure the prevalence of this personality type include measures of ethnocentrism (motive of
feeling superior to others, seeing one’s ethnic group as better than others) and intolerance of ambiguity
(extent to which a person needed to have clarity, certainty, and black-and-white solutions to questions).
We should expect prejudiced to be associated with perceptual rigidity, inability to change set, and
tendencies to primitive and rigidity structuring of ambiguous perceptual fields.
Experiment by Uleman, Winborne, Winter and Shechter (1986)
o Predicted that the very meaning assigned to the behaviors people observe should differ between
two people, dependent on their chronic levels of authoritarianism.
o Used cued recall for studying spontaneous trait inferences.
o Participants read sentences pretested to be ambiguous regarding the traits that they implied, and
then had to remember those sentences when prompted with cues (such as traits implied by the
o They found that the inferences spontaneously formed by people high in authoritarianism were
different from those low in authoritarianism.
Need for Structure/Closure
People with an intolerance of ambiguity are more likely to be prejudiced.
o BUT the need for structure and closure may be a useful skill and not linked to
4 Thompson, Naccarato, and Parker proposed separating this element from its like to prejudice- concept of
personal need for structure emerged.
o That is, a person may require structure not to satisfy buried urges, but to satisfy the cognitive
system’s need to categorize and simplify the environment in order for the person to function
effectively in a complex stimulus environment.
o Proposed that imposing meaning on the environment is a pervasive goal for all individuals.
Personal need for structure is determined by chronic tendencies.
o Those with a high chronic need prefer structure and clarity in most situations.
Experiment by Neuberg and Newsom (1993):
o Examined how narrow or comprehensive a person’s thoughts about other people were as a function
of the perceiver’s chronic need for structure.
o Predicted that a high need for structure should be associated with structure and narrow thought, less
ambiguity and cleaner definitions of what it means to be a particular type of person.
o Participants given a set of index cards with info printed on them. Were told that the experiment was
examining organizational style, and that they were to sort the cards into piles or groups, organized
according to whether the information fit together.
o Researchers examined the relationship between the participants’ need for structure and the
complexity of the “sorts” that were created, and found the predicted negative correlation.
People high in need for structure created groupings of traits and images that were less
Experiment #2 by N and N (1993):
o To illustrate how need for structure influences the types of judgments made of other people.
o Participants asked to read a story describing the actions of a person and were told that they would
soon need to answer some questions about this person.
o Person was described as having both difficulties with math and with a romantic relationship.
o Story was ambiguous about the gender of the person.
o Half were led to believe that the person was a women, half to believe it was a man.
o Predicted that people high in need for structure would be more likely to try to use stereotypes when
judging other people because stereotypes are a fast and convenient way to explain another person.
o This was what found correct
When it was a women described in the story, the people high in need for structure rate her as
more emotional and irrational (a stereotypic judgment) than people low in need for structure
When was a man there was no difference in ratings since there was not an opportunity to use
Experiment by Webster and Kruglanski (1994)
o Further illustrated how impression formation is influenced by chronic levels of need for structure.
o Primacy effect = the disproportionate use of info one learns fairly early about a person (relative to
info learned later) in forming an impression.
o Since a primacy effect is essentially a case of quickly structuring another person’s qualities into a
coherent impression, then people high in the need for structure should be particularly likely to
engage in this type of processing.
o Used interview scenario- participant was the person hiring and listened to recoded interview
describing the qualities of a job applicant. Manipulated what was heard first.
Ratings of participants low in need for structure did not differ whether first info was
positive or negative.
BUT those high in need for structure showed a primacy effect: when positive info was heard
first, they liked the applicant, but when negative info was heard first, they disliked the
Social Dominance Orientation
5 Social dominance orientation (SDO) = an implicit value that is relevant to intergroup relations, or a chronic
motive to have the hierarchical placement of groups maintained (the extent to which one desires that one’s
in-group dominate and be superior to out-groups).
SDO manifests itself through “hierarchy-legitimizing myths”
o Cultural beliefs and ideologies present in society that serve to make discrimination legitimate.
SDO influences the social structures that determine the opportunities and penalties facing people from
different social groups and determines the attitudes of individual people toward things such as race relations
and social policy, and determines the types of jobs that individuals feel are appropriate for people from
particular groups to pursue.
Experiment by Pratto (1994):
o Argued that one’s impressions about the types of jobs that are appropriate for one to pursue is
determined by one’s SDO.
those with high SDO would think the best careers for them are those with a hierarchy-
those with low SDO would think the best are those with a hierarchy-attenuating function
(challenge the status quo and seek change to the social order)
o Results supported the predictions- people’s impressions about what careers were best suited for
them were determined by their motivations to see their ingroup as dominant.
o Also found those high is SDO were more likely to express anti-Black and anti-female sentiment.
Such impressions help to rationalize the reasons for the lower-standing of these groups in the
People chronically motivated to see boundaries kept in place have developed hierarchy legitimizing styles
of impression formation, which allow people from stigmatized groups to be held accountable for their
Interpretation versus Comparison Goals
Interpretation and comparison are two of the primary ways in which people produce impressions.
Interpretation occurs when people are attempting to encode behavior and understand/identify the behavior
Comparison occurs when people are forming a judgment and need to make relative assessments of the
degree to which a person exhibits a given trait or behavior relative to a standard comparison.
o Comparison goals are a primary tool of pursuing self-esteem needs.
Because of the fundamental nature of comparison processes for human well-being, these goals are
presumed to be chronic, triggered automatically by situations that present opportunities to engage in social
Interpretation is linked to epistemic needs. These goals are also chronically pursued, and would be triggered
by environments that present opportunities for making valid interpretations.
Experiment by Stapel and Koomen (2001):
o Examined the automaticity of these processes by implicitly triggering either an interpretation goal or
a comparison goal in research participants, and looked to see how social cognition was affected.
o To trigger the goal the participants performed a task that had words associated with the goal
embedded in the materials. Half read words relating to interpretation the other half to comparison.
o Participants then engaged in an impression formation task supposedly unrelated to first task
o The judgments were affected.
Comparison trigger formed impressions by making contrasts
Interpretation triggered perceivers used traits of the “standards” as an interpretive frame
that provided a way to make sense of the target person’s behavior.
Clearly, chronic goals triggered by our environment can play a central role in determining types of
judgments and impressions we form.
Auto-Motives and Behavior in Interpersonal Interaction
6 If goals and cognition help us to prepare and select appropriate behavior, we should naturally expect
behavior to be influenced by implicit cognition and implicit goals.
Fitzsimons and Bargh proposed that most of our important relationships with other people can be
characterized by some set of goals. Because these goals are chronically associated with these specific
relationship partners, the presence of these people triggers these goals and influences our behavior,
regardless of whether we are consciously aware of the goal being triggered.
o We do not even need these relationship partners to be physically present to trigger these goals
automatically and to start us behaving in ways consistent with these goals.
o Thus cues in the context that are associated with any of our significant relationships can trigger
whatever goal is associated with those relationships and lead to behavior aimed at delivering that
Experiment by F and B (2003)
o Relied on the fact that people have chronic helping goals associated with close friendships.
o They had people simply think about their friends and measured if they were subsequently more
likely to help others. This would indicate that thinking about friends triggered the goal to help and
this influenced how the participants chose to act.
o As predicted people who thought about friends were more likely to help a stranger than if they
thought of coworkers.
Experiment #2 by F and B
o Classified participants as having the chronic goal of making their mothers proud or who did not.
o Half had this goal triggered by being asked to describe their mother’s appearance.
o Then had to do a word unscrambling task.
o Those who didn’t have the pleasing mother goal did not perform differently if they had thought
about their mother or not. BUT those who did have this goal outperformed all the other groups if
their making their mom proud goal was triggered.
o An automatically triggered goal influenced a consciously chosen behavior.
The Chameleon Effect
Chartrand and Bargh (1999) proposed that the mere perception of other people’s behavior will increase the
likelihood that the perceiver will begin to enact that behavior.
This mimicry of others is believed to be a passive and nonconscious process.
One typically does not notice that they are mimicking others (by using the idiosyncratic verbal expressions
or speech inflections of a friend, or crossing arms while ta