Chapter 3 – Perception, Attribution, and Diversity
Perception is the process of interpreting the messages of our senses to provide order and meaning to the
environment. People base their actions on the interpretation of reality that their perceptual system provides,
rather than on reality itself. Perception has three components: A perceiver, A target that is being perceived, and
Some situational context in which the perception is occurring. Each component influences the perceiver’s
impression or interpretation of the target.
The Perceiver uses past experiences to develop expectations that affect current perceptions. Needs
unconsciously influence perceptions by causing us to perceive what we wish to perceive. Perceptual Defence is the
tendency for the perceptual system to defend the perceiver against unpleasant emotions. People often “see what
they want to see” and “hear what they want to hear.”
Ambiguous targets are especially susceptible to interpretation and the addition of meaning. Perceivers
have a need to resolve ambiguities. The perceiver does not or cannot use all the information provided by the target.
A reduction in ambiguity might not be accompanied by greater accuracy.
Perception occurs in some situational context, and this context can affect what is perceived. The most
important effect that the situation can have is to add information about the target. The perception of a target can
change with the situation even when the perceiver and target remain the same.
Social Identity Theory
People form perceptions of themselves based on their characteristics and memberships in social categories. Our
sense of self is composed of a personal identity and a social identity. Personal identity is based on our unique
characteristics (e.g., interests). Social identity is based on our perception that we belong to various social groups
(e.g., gender). We perceive ourselves and others as embodying the most typical attributes of a category. People
tend to perceive members of their own social categories in more positive and favourable ways.
Bruner’s Model of the Perceptual Process
When the perceiver encounters an unfamiliar target, the perceiver is very open to the informational cues in the
target and the situation. The perceiver will actively seek out cues to resolve ambiguity. As the perceiver encounters
some familiar cues, a crude categorization of the target is made. The search for cues then becomes less open and
more selective. The perceiver will search for cues that confirm the categorization of the target. As the
categorization becomes stronger, the perceiver will ignore or even distort cues that violate initial perceptions.
Perceivers do not use all of the available cues, and those they use are given special emphasis. Perceptual Constancy
is the tendency for the target to be perceived in the same way over time and across situations. ex.“Getting off on the
wrong foot.” Perceptual Consistency is the tendency to select, ignore, and distort cues so that they fit together to
form a homogenous picture of the target.
Basic Biases in Person Perception
The impressions we form of others are susceptible to a number of perceptual biases:
Primary and Recency Effects
The reliance on early cues or first impressions is known as the primacy effect, often has a lasting impact. The
tendency for a perceiver to rely on recent cues or last impressions is known as the recency effect.
Reliance on Central Traits
People tend to organize their perceptions around central traits. Central traits are personal characteristics of a
target person that are of particular interest to a perceiver. Central traits often have a very powerful influence on
our perceptions of others. Physical appearance is a common central trait in work settings. Conventionally
attractive people fare better than unattractive people in terms of a variety of job-related outcomes.
Implicit Personality Theories
Personal theories that people have about which personality characteristics go together. Perhaps you expect
hardworking people to also be honest, or people of average intelligence to be most friendly. If such implicit
theories are inaccurate, they provide a basis for misunderstanding.
The tendency for perceivers to attribute their own thoughts and feelings to others. In some cases, projection is an
efficient and sensible perceptual strategy. Projection can lead to perceptual difficulties and can serve as a form of
The tendency to generalize about people in a social category and ignore variations among them. Categories on
which people might base a stereotype include race, age, gender, ethnic background, social class, and occupation.
People can evoke stereotypes with incredibly little information. Stereotypes help us develop impressions of
ambiguous targets. Most stereotypes are inaccurate, especially when we use them to develop perceptions of
Attribution: Perceiving Causes and Motives
Attribution is the process by which we assign causes or motives to explain people’s behaviour. An important goal is
to determine whether some behaviour is caused by dispositional or situational factors. Dispositional attributions
suggest that some personality or intellectual characteristic unique to the person is responsible for the behaviour.
Situational attributions suggest that the external situation or environment in which the target person exists was
responsible for the behaviour. We rely on external cues and make inferences from these cues when making
attributions. Three implicit questions guide our decisions as to whether we should attribute some behaviour to
dispositional or situational causes.
1. Does the person engage in the behaviour regularly and consistently? (Consistency cues).
2. Do most people engage in the behaviour, or is it unique to this person? (Consensus cues).
3. Does the person engage in the behaviour in many situations, or is it distinctive to one situation? (Distinctiveness
Consistency Cues - Attribution cues that reflect how consistently a person engages in a behaviour over time. High
consistency behaviour leads to dispositional attributions. When behaviour occurs inconsistently, we begin to
consider situational attributions.
Consensus Cues - Attribution cues that reflect how a person’s behaviour compares with that of others. Low
consensus behaviour leads to dispositional attributions. The informational effects of low-consensus behaviour are
magnified when the actor is expected to suffer negative consequences because of the deviance.
Distinctiveness Cues - Attribution cues that reflect the extent to which a person engages in some behaviour across a
variety of situations. Low distinctiveness behaviour leads to a dispositional attribution. When a behaviour is highly
distinctive, in that it occurs in only one situation, we are likely to assume that some aspect of the situation caused
Biases in Attribution
Although observers often operate in a rational, logical manner in forming attributions about behaviour, this does
not mean that such attributions are always correct. Three biases in attribution:
Fundamental Attribution Error is The tendency to overemphasize dispositional explanations for behaviour at the
expense of situational explanations. We often discount the strong effects that social cues can have on behaviour.
We fail to realize that observed behaviour is distinctive to a particular situation.
Actor-Observer Effect is the propensity for actors and observers to view the causes of the actor’s behaviour
differently. Actors are prone to attribute much of their own behaviour to situational factors while observers are
more likely to invoke dispositional causes.
Self-Serving Bias is the tendency to take credit for successful outcomes and to deny responsibility for failures.
People will explain the very same behaviour differently on the basis of events that happened afterthe behaviour
occurred. Self-serving bias can reflect intentional self-promotion or excuse making or it might reflect unique
information on the part of the actor.
Person Perception and Workforce Diversity
Workforce diversity refers to differences among recruits and employees in characteristics, such as gender, race, age,
religion, cultural background, physical ability, or sexual orientation. The Canadian population and labour force is
becoming increasingly multicultural and multiethinic. The number of visible minorities in Canada is expected to
double by 2017. In less than a decade, 48 percent of the working-age population will be between the ages of 45 and
64. Many organizations are seeking to recruit more representatively. Many employees are required to interact with
people from substantially different national or corporate cultures.
Some have argued that organizations should value diversity not just tolerate it. Diversity and its proper
management can yield strategic and competitive advantages:
–Improved problem solving and creativity
–Improved recruiting and marketing
–Improved competitiveness in global markets
Organizations are adopting diversity as part of their corporate strategy.
Stereotypes and Workforce Diversity
A major barrier to valuing diversity is the stereotype. Common workplace stereotypes are based on gender, age,
race, and ethnicity. Stereotypes can have negative effects on how individuals are treated in organizations. Members
of a social group feel they might be judged or treated according to a stereotype and that their behaviour or
performance will confirm the stereotype. The activation of a salient negative stereotype threat in a testing situation
has been found to result in lower cognitive ability and math test performance scores of minorities and women.
Racial and ethnic stereotypes are pervasive, persistent, frequently negative, and often contradictory. Whites have
been found to advance further in the hiring process than blacks. Career tracking based on racial or ethnic
stereotyping is common.
One of the most problematic stereotypes for organizations is the gender stereotype. Women are severely
underrepresented in managerial and administrative jobs. Women hold only 14.4 percent of corporate officer
positions. Successful managers are perceived as having traits and attitudes that are generally ascribed to men.
Successful managers are seen as more similar to men in qualities such as leadership ability, competitiveness, self-
confidence, ambitiousness, and objectivity. Stereotypes of successful middle managers do not correspond to
stereotypes of women. Women suffer from a stereotype that is detrimental to their hiring, development, promotion,
and salaries. The detrimental effects of gender stereotypes are reduced or removed when decision makers have
good information about the qualifications and performance of particular women and an accurate picture of the job
that they are applying for or seeking promotion into. Some Canadian organizations have made efforts to ensure
that women are represented in senior positions. Women have made the most significant progress moving into
senior management and executive positions in the financial services industry. Industries that tend to be
stereotypically male have the lowest representation of women in senior positions.
Knowing that a person falls into a certain age range or belongs to a particular age generation, we have a tendency
to make certain assumptions about the person’s physical, psychological, and intellectual capabilities. Older
workers are seen as having less capacity for performance. They are viewed as less productive, creative, logical, and
capable of performing under pressure, and as having less potential for development. They are perceived as more
rigid and dogmatic, and less adaptable to new corporate cultures. They are perceived as more honest, dependable,
and trustworthy. Age seldom limits the capacity for development until post-employment years. Research has found
that age and job performance are unrelated. Older workers are often passed over for merit pay and promotions
and pressured to take early retirement. Some organizations have implemented programs and practices to promote
the hiring of older workers.
Managing Workforce Diversity
Diversity needs to be managed to have a positive impact on work behaviour and an organization.
-Select enough minority members to get them beyond token status.
-Encourage teamwork that brings minority and majority members together.
-Ensure that those making career decisions about employees have accurate information about them.
-Train people to be aware of stereotypes.