Social Thinking and Social Influence
Everyone asks and answers “why” questions about the people around then.
Forming Impressions of Others
As people interact with others, they constantly engage in person perception, the process of
forming impressions of others.
Key Sources of Information:
Because you can’t read other people’s minds, you are dependent on observations of others to
determine what they are like. In forming impressions on others, people rely on 5 key sources:
1. Appearance. Physical features such as height, weight, skin color, race, and hair color
are some of the cues used to “read” other people.
- Where memory is concerneed, multiracial individuals are remembered less well than
those whose race is the same as (ingroup) or distinctively different from (outgroup)
that of perceivers.
2. Verbal behaviour. People form impressions based on what and how much others self-
disclose, how often they give advice and ask questions, and how judgemental they are.
3. Actions. Because people don’t always tell the truth, you have to rely on their behaviour
to provide insights about them. Actions speak louder than words.
4. Nonverbal messages. These nonverbal cues provide information about people’s
emotional states and dispositions.
5. Situations. The setting in which behaviour occurs provides crucial information about
how to interpret a person’s behaviour.
One bad piece of information can outweigh or undo a collection of positive characteristics. The
presence of a trait perceived to be negative can have more influence on forming impressions
than several positive qualities.
Snap Judgement Versus Systemic Judgement:
In their interactions with others, people are bombarded with more information than they can
possibly handle. Snap judgement about others are those made quickly and based on only a
few bits of information and preconceived notions. Therefore may not be accurate.
*Interactions with others are so fleeting or inconsequential that it makes little difference that
such judgements are imprecise.
*When it comes to selecting a friend, a mate, or an employee, it’s essential that impressions be
as accurate as possible. Here people make systemic judgements – they take the time to
observe the person in a variety of situations and to compare that person’s behaviour with that of
others in similar situations.
*To determine the cause of others’ behaviour, people engage in the process of casual
Attributions are interferences that people draw about the causes of their own behaviour, others’
behaviour, and events.
When people ascribe the causes of someone’s behaviour to personal dispositions, traits,
abilities, or feelings, they are making internal attributions. When they impute the causes of
their behaviour to situational demands and environmental constraints, they are making external
1 People don’t make attributions about every person they meet. People are more likely to make
attributions (1) when others behave in unexpected or negative ways, (2) when events are
personally relevant, and (3) when they are suspicious about another person’s motives.
Perceiver expectations can influence the perception of others. Two types of principles:
Shortly after you begin interacting with someone, you start forming hypotheses about what the
person is like. These hypotheses can influence your behaviour toward that person. Ex) If a
person has a camera around their neck, you would assume they have an interest in
photography. By you may also neglect to ask them more wide-range questions that would give
you a more accurate picture of him/her.
Conformation bias is the tendency to seek information that supports one’s beliefs while not
pursuing disconfirming information.
When it comes to forming first impressions of others, the principle is not so much that “seeing is
believing” but rather that “believing is seeing”. Some people may be more susceptible to
displaying conformation bias. This also occurs because people selectively recall facts to fit their
views of others
- Ex) videotape of woman engaging in beer drinking, listening to classical music, and
watching tv – she was either a waitress or librarian. (pg 212)
Confirmation bias can be used to characterize perceptions of group behaviour and individual
- Boys will be boys and they can get away with promiscuity, but women cannot without
sullying their reputations.
A self-fulfilling prophecy occurs when expectations about a person cause him or her to
behave in ways that confirm the expectations. Three steps to the self-fulfilling prophecy:
1. The perceiver has an initial impression of someone
2. Then the perceiver behaves toward the target person in line with his or her expectations.
3. Third step occurs when the target person in line with his or her expectations, which
confirms the perceivers hypothesis about the target person.
Note: both participants don’t know that his process is happening. During this process,
perceivers mistakenly attribute the target person’s behaviour to an internal cause, rather than an
Another source of error in person perception comes from distortions in the minds of perceiver.
These errors in judgement are most likely to occur when a perceiver is in a hurry, is distracted,
or is not motivated to pay careful attention to another person.
One of the ways people efficiently process information is to classify objects and people
according to their distinctive features. Thus, people quite often categorize others on the basis of
nationality, race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, and so forth.
People categorize those who are similar to them as members of their ingroup (”us”) and those
who are dissimilar to them as in the outgroup (“then”). Such categorizing has three important
1. People usually have less favourable attitudes toward outgroup members than ingroup
members – where reactions to those perceived in their ingroup are often exaggerated.
2. Individuals usually see outgroup members as being much more alike than they really
are, whereas they see members of their ingroup as unique individuals. Outgroup
2 3. Categorizing heightens the visibility of outgroup members when there are only a few of
them within a larger group. When people are perceived as unique or distinctive, they are
also seen as having more influence in a group, and their good and bad qualities are
given extra weights.
4. Finally, based on their proclivity to categorize, people are even likely to see outgroup
members as looking more like each other than they actually do. Eyewitnesses are netter
at identifying people of their own race than recognizing people who belong to different
racial group – except when outgroup members are angry; they are much easier to
identify – since they pose a threat.
Stereotypes are widely held beliefs that people have certain characteristics because of their
membership in a particular group. However, if you take the time to think about it, there is
enormous diversity in behaviour within any group.
When we meet someone who is an exception to our stereotype, instead of just adjusting or
broadening our stereotype, we are likely to categorize such an exception as a misfit or a
subtype. Subtypes are categories people rely on for understanding people who do not fit their
The most prevalent stereotypes in America are those based on gender, age, and ethnicity.
Stereotypes may also be based on physical appearance (“what is beautiful is good” stereotype).
Beautiful people are perceived as happier, more socially competent, more assertive, better
adjusted, and more intellectually competent then those who are less attractive. Attractive people
do have an advantage in the social arena. However, they are not any different from others in
intelligence, happiness, mental health, or self-esteem.
Attractiveness stereotype affects most of us because highly attractive people end up with one
another. Most of us pair up with people who match our own level of attractiveness.
Racially based stereotypes can cause regrettable – and potentially dangerous – split0second
decisions in which people see a weapon that isn’t actually there.
Why do stereotypes persist? First, because people are deluged with much more information
than they can process, the tendency is to reduce complexity to simplicity. Second, they endure
because of conformation bias. When individuals encounter members of groups that they view
with prejudice, they are likely to see what they expect to see. The self-fulfilling prophecy is a
third reason – beliefs about another person may actually elicit the anticipated behaviour and this
confirms biased expectations.
The Fundamental Attribution Error
The fundamental attribution error refers to the tendency to explain other people’s behaviour
as the result of personal, rather than situational, factors. This tendency is different than
stereotypes in that inferences are based on actual behaviour. However, the inferences may still
It seems that making attributions is a two-step process.
1. Occurs automatically, observers make an internal attribution because they are focusing
on the person rather than the situation.
2. Observers weight the impact of the situation on the target person’s behaviour and adjust
their inferences. This step requires cognitive effort. Therefore it is easy to stop after step
one, especially if you are in a hurry.
Failure to take the effortful second step can result in the fundamental attribution error.
Cultural values seem to promote different attributional errors. In individualistic cultures,
where independence is valued, it is assumed that individuals are responsible for their actions. In
collectivist societies, conformity and obedience to group norms are valued, so it is assumed that
an individual’s behaviour reflects adherence to group expectations.
3 Researchers suggest that the Western mentality is analytical (attention is focused on an
object, and causality is ascribed to it), whereas the East Asian mentality is holistic (attention is
focused on the field surrounding an object, and causality is understood to reside in the
relationship between the object and its field).
Observers are especially likely to make internal attributions in trying to explain the calamities
and tragedies that befall other people. Ex) when a woman is abused, people blame the victim
for how stupid she is to stay with the man. Similarly, rape victims are often judged to have
“asked for it”.
Defensive attribution is a tendency to blame victims for their misfortune, so that one feels less
likely to be victimized in a similar way.
- Allow people to think they live in a “just world” and “people get what they deserve and
deserve what they get”.
- Admitting to an unjust world created the frightening possibility that anything can happen to
Key Themes in Person Perception:
In forming impressions of others, people prefer to exert no more cognitive effort or time than is
necessary. Thus, much social information is processed automatically and effortlessly. Efficiency
has two important advantages: people can make judgments quickly, and it keeps things simple.
The big disadvantage is they snap judgements are error prone.
“People see what they expect to see”.
A primacy effect occurs when initial information carries more weight than subsequent
information. Initial negative impressions may be espceically hard to change. Primacy effects are
so potent becyuase people find comfort in cognitive consistency; cognitions that contradict each
other tend to create tension and discomfort.
The Problem of Prejudice
Prejudice is a negative attitude toward members of a group; discrimination involves behaving
differently, usually unfairly, toward the members of a group. Prejudice and discrimination tend to
- Ex of prejudice without discrimination is when a restaurant is prejudice against
Chicanos but still treat them because he needed their business.
- Ex of discrimination with prejudice is when an executive who has favourable attitudes
towards blacks may not hire them because he thinks his boss would be upset.
“Old-Fashioned” Versus Modern Discrimination:
Over the past 40 years, prejudice and discrimination against minority groups have diminished in
the US. Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, and religion is less common than it was
in the 1950s. Even though discrimination has decline, a more subtle form of prejudice and
discrimination has emerged. This new phenomenon has been termed modern discrimination.
While modern racists do not which to return to the days of segregation, they also feel that
minority groups should not push too fast for advancement or receive special treatment by the
4 Well intentioned whites can engage in aversive racism, an indirect, subtle, ambiguous
form of racism that occurs when their conscious endorsement of egalitarian ideals is in conflict
with unconscious, negative reaction to minority group members. An aversive racist might act in
a racist manner when a nonracist excuse is available.
Causes of Prejudice:
Authoritarian personality, a personality type characterized by prejudice toward any group
perceived to be different from oneself.
Over the past 50 years, both the definition and measurement of authoritarianism have evolved.
The construct is now termed right-wing authoritarianism, and it is characterized by
authoritarian submission (exaggerated deference to those in power), authoritarian aggression
(hostility toward targets sanctioned by authorities), and conventionalism (strong adherence to
values endorsed by authorities).
Authoritarian behaviour has been linked with other types of personality – social dominance
orientation. People high in SDO prefer inequality among social groups, believing in a hierarchy
where some are destined to dominate others.
Cognitive Distortions and Expectations
Much of prejudice is rooted in automatic cognitive processes that operate without conscious
intent. Social categorizing predisposes people to divide the social work into ingroups and
outgroups. This distinction can trigger negativity toward outgroup members.
Perhaps no factor plays a larger role in prejudice than stereotyping – racial profiling in law
People are more likely to make the fundamental attribution error when evaluating targets of
prejudice. Perceiving negative characteristics as being dispositional and due to group
membership is the ultimate attribution error.
- Ethnic neighborhoods dominated by crime and poverty – they blame these problems
on the residents and downplay or ignore situationally based explanations.
Defensive attributions, in which people unfairly blame victims of adversity to reassure
themselves that the same thing won’t happen to them, cal also contribute to prejudice.
Competition between Groups
Boys 3 week summer camp; secretly an experiment. Almost immediately after competitive
games we introduced, hostile feelings erupted between the two groups and quickly escalated to
highly aggressive behaviour. This research suggest that groups often respond more negatively
to competition than individuals do.
Competition does not always breed prejudice. In fact, the perception of threats to one