How do we perceive our social worlds?
Preconceptions guide how we perceive and interpret information.
Priming – Activating particular associations in memory… E: Tell people to complete sentences
containing words such as “old”, “wise” and “retired”. These same people would walk more
slowly to the elevator than those not primed with aging-related words. Also, participants
interviewed in front of a fast food restaurant more preferred a smaller amount of cash now then
waiting for a larger one.
Our thinking and acting are primed by events of which we are unaware (if they’re presented
subliminally). E: Those exposed to the scent of a cleaner were quicker to identify cleaning-
related words and describe their day by stating more cleaning-related activities.
Also can work for bad things in life: Watching a scary movie you immediately think small noises
are intruders, depressed moods prime negative associations, med school syndrome.
Embodied cognition – The mutual influence of bodily sensations on cognitive preferences and
social judgements (ex. people will rate a person as more warm and generous after holding a
Perceiving and Interpreting Events
Preconceptions matter when a subject is open to multiple interpretations (ex. “Stephen Harper is
a great prime minister” will sound very different to pro-Harper and anti-Harper people)
E: You support a certain sports team. You will most likely perceive referees as biased against the
other side. Same with news: If you support one country (Israel) you will perceive the media bias
against Israelis (and vice versa for Arabs)
Our assumptions about the world can even make contradictory evidence seem supportive. E:
Half the students supported capital punishment (death penalty), other half support it. Show both
groups of people different studies which either supported or went against it. By showing people
both sides of the argument, it didn’t make them switch sides but it made them disagree even
more with the other side and support theirs more (they criticised opponent studies and supported
That’s why when political debates (or any issue for that matter) has no clear-cut winner, the
debates themselves mostly reinforce pre-debate opinions (Hillary supporters will support her
even more after and same with Trump supporters)
E: Show people the face of a guy. Tell one group he is a cruel Nazi soldier and the other group
he is the leader of an Anti-Nazi movement. Those told he was cruel described his facial
expression as cruel and those told he was anti-nazi described his expression as warm and kind.
Spontaneous trait transference – Talk about other people possessing a certain trait (ex. he’s a
jerk) and people will start to associate you yourself as that trait (you’re a jerk) Belief Perseverance
Belief perseverance – Persistence of your initial conceptions even after the basis of your belief
E: Make one group believe that risk takers make good firefighters and non-risky people make
bad firefighters and the other group believe the opposite. After they wrote down their reasons,
they were discredited but still held their original belief.
This shows that the more we examine our theories and explain why they might be true, the more
closed we become to information that challenges our belief.
How to solve belief perseverance: Instead of just presenting the subject with opposing
information ask them to come up with explanations for the opposite side. They did this for the
firefighter experiment and found it reduces belief perseverance.
Constructing Memories of Ourselves and Our World
Memories are not just things that are stored in our mind where we can withdraw it later if
needed. Research has shown that we actually construct memories at the time of withdrawal by
using our current feelings and expectations to combine fragments of information. Thus, our
memories can easily be revised.
E: Make up a random situation and ask people to recall an event like that that happened to them.
Most people will actually think something like that happened (they constructed a falsehood).
Misinformation effect – Incorporating misinformation into one’s memory of the event after
witnessing an event and then receiving misleading information about it (people will recall a yield
sign as a stop sign)
E: Have participants talk to someone for 15 mins. Then tell one group that the other person liked
them and the other group that the person disliked him. The liked group recalled the person’s
behaviour as comfortable and happy and the disliked group recalled the person as uncomfortable
and not happy.
Reconstructing Past Attitudes
People whose attitudes have changed insist that they have always felt much as they now feel. E:
Give a survey to students and buried within is a question concerning student control over
university curriculum. A week later they were asked to write an essay opposing student control.
They were then asked to recall how they answered the original survey question about the
curriculum. The students “remembered” holding the opinion they now had and denied that the
experiment affected them.
People recall positive events more positive than they actually were (by removing the negative
aspects). The worse your current view of your partner is, the worse your memories are which
only further confirms your negative attitudes. Reconstructing past behaviour
Similar for past attitudes, telling someone good things about a behaviour makes people recall
that they a certain behaviour more often than they actually had (ex. experiments done with
benefits of tooth brushing and experiments done with self-improvement programs)
How do we judge our social worlds?
The powers of intuition
Our thinking is partly controlled processing – Explicit thinking that is deliberate, reflective, and
conscious as well as partly automatic processing – Implicit thinking that is effortless, habitual,
and without awareness (intuition).
Examples of automatic processing: Schemas (mental templates that intuitively guide our
perceptions and interpretations of experience), emotional reactions, expertise (which allows
knowing how to answer problems pretty quickly), snap judgments (in absence of expertise – to
make the most satisfactory decision possible)
Subliminal Stimuli Experiment: Catholic students primed with a subliminal picture of the Pope
frowning rated themselves lower of a number of