-some say that some of the biases seen in social perception were adaptive in humans’ ancestral
-person perception is swayed by attractiveness b/c it’s associated w/ health
-also, humans are programmed by evolution to immediately classify people as members of an ingroup or
I. First Impressions
Various factors affect the first impressions we make.
For example, we tend to think physically attractive people are better people; we attribute
positive qualities to them (halo effect). It’s not necessarily true that pretty people are better
people, but this assumption starts early: Even babies prefer faces that adults have rated as
attractive. Why might this be the case? Possibly the availability heuristic is an explanation: we
see pretty people in the media all the time. One of the consequences of this first impression of
pretty people is the self-fulfilling prophecy: attractive people get treated better (because of the
halo effect) which gives them the idea that they deserve positive attention. Consequently,
research shows that pretty people get better jobs and more money!
Stereotypes also affect how we see others the first time we meet them. Here too the self-
fulfilling prophecy applies. For example, let’s say we hold a stereotype that accountants are
boring. When we meet someone at a party and they tell us they’re an accountant we treat them
like they’re boring (we dismiss him/her quickly, we disengage from the conversation, looking for
someone more interesting in the room etc). If we treat someone like they’re boring, they
become more quiet, shy, realizing that they’re not impressing you so they back away. As such,
they confirm your belief that they’re boring; hence a self-fulfilling prophecy. We expected them
to be boring, and they were.
Interestingly, there are differing views on why we use stereotypes. The evolutionary perspective
suggests that we developed these stereotypes as short-cuts for processing information; we
waste less time at the party if we use our stereotype of the accountant to guide us to a more
interesting prospect. However, there is little information for this cognitive/evolutionary reason
we use stereotypes. In contrast, there is a motivational perspective that argues we use
stereotypes because we are motivated to keep ourselves in our powerful positions. Evidence
shows that those in more powerful positions stereotype and discriminate more so than those in
low-power positions: in a study by Goodwin & Fiske (1995), half the participants were given the
power to make hiring decisions while the other half were not. They then read applications from
ethnic minority applicants. Those given power attended to and used stereotypes, while those
who had no power used individuating information. Thus, the use of stereotypes may be
motivated, rather than a cognitive norm.
First impressions however, are not accurate. There are several biases that we use when
processing information that affect the accuracy of our impressions. For example, illusory
correlations lead people to overestimate the times things go together. For example, a baseball
player wins a game wearing a pair of shorts and now calls them his/her ‘lucky shorts’; there is an
overestimation of how much luck is associated with shorts.
Consider the following questions:
1. Assuming you did well on the test, what is the most likely reason?
a. I’m good at studying
b. The test was unusually easy
c. I got a really good night’s sleep
d. I’m pretty smart
2. What if you did poorly on the test — what is the most likely reason?