| PSY 101
Social Behavior I: Person Perception
& Attribution Processes
Social Psychology: How an individual's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by others.
Perception: Forming Impressions of Others
What factors go into the way we perceive or judge people?
A. Effects of Physical Appearance
- Thought to possess desirable personality characteristics, e.g., warm, friendly, well-adjusted, socially competent
- Competence & intelligence
- More physically attractive people tend to be thought more competent and intelligent than less attractive people
- In actuality, this is not true, but because of the influence of the media, physically attractive people receive a lot of positive attention.
- More physically attractive people tend to secure better jobs and earn more money (e.g., lawyers showed 10-20% increase in earnings due to looks).
- Facial appearance is particularly influential in judgments
- Inferences about individuals are drawn in about 1/10 of a second
= widely-held beliefs (within a specific culture) that people of a certain group have certain characteristics
- Gender, race, ethnicity, occupations, physical appearance
- Stereotyping is a common cognitive process which is automatic and tends to conserve time/effort in dealing with others.
- Open to significant errors of judgment in terms of individual assessment
C. Subjectivity in Person Perception
- Interpreting persons by means of stereotypes and other biases
- Confirmation bias: people tend to see what they want to see & filter out what they don't want to see
- Can have direct effect on memory, e.g., shown a video of a woman engaged in many activities (listening to classical music, watching TV, drinking beer, etc.), experimental subjects tended to remember facts associated with what they were told the woman did for a living (librarian vs. waitress; Cohen, 1981).
- Illusory Correlations: People (erroneously) estimate that they have had more confirmatory experience or examples of a belief than they actually have.
- For example, someone might make a prejudiced comment about a specific ethnic group. When asked, they would claim the comment arose from many different encounters with members of that group. However, if they had to actually describe some of these encounters, they might only be able to give one or, maybe, two examples.
D. Evolutionary Perspective
- These forms of person perceptions may relate to identification of "In Group" versus "Out Group" members. We tend not to expend empathy or emotional investment in "Out Group" members. Indeed, we may be actively hostile to individuals who belong to an "out group"
- "In-Group" members tend to be thought of much more favorably than "Out-group" members.
- Evolutionary social psychologists would point to some rhetoric across the West in recent years against refugees and other immigrants as examples of In Group vs. Out Group sentiment.
Attribution: Explaining Behavior (to ourselves)
= Inferences (conclusions or beliefs) people draw about the cause of events and their own and others' behaviors
- First described in 1958 by psychologist Fritz Heider (University of Kansas) in The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations.
A. Internal vs. External Attributions
- Internal attributions: the causes of behavior come from personal traits, abilities, dispositions, etc.
- External attributions: the causes of behavior arise from situational demands and environmental constraints
Stable vs. Unstable Causes
Dimension 2 (Stability) Unstable
(Self or Not)
Internal Mood, Feeling
"I've been worried about some stuff at home and it interfered with my last job rating."
"They realized that I don't have the skills necessary for the job"
External Luck, Chance
"The company had to lay off employees because the economy is in a dip these days"
Changes in the World
"The jobs have moved overseas and the company can't afford American workers any more."
The table above shows how each of the four types of attributes might be used by four different people in answer to the question "Why did you lose your job"?
C. Biases in Attributions
1. Actor-Observer Bias
Fundamental Attribution Error: Explain others' behavior as result of their personal qualities and own behavior as the result of situational factors.
- for example: "s/he failed the test because s/he is stupid or lazy while I failed the test because I had to cope with an emergency in my family."
- Why? It takes more cognitive effort to weigh situational factors than using automatic processes to point to dispositions and traits (i.e., personal qualities)
In general, actors favor external attributions while observers favor internal attributions
This may be the most important theory in social psychology!
2. Self-Serving Bias = Attribute success to one's personal qualities and failures to situational factors
- for example: "I was smart enough to recognize that housing would be the next big investment opportunity and made my company a lot of money in the last five years. However, the company has begun to lose money recently because of the stock and credit market collapse that no one really could have predicted."
D. Culture & Attributions
Grey = Not Surveyed
Cultures defined by Harry Triandis (above, left) as
- Put personal goals ahead of group goals
- Find identity in personal achievement and not group membership
- The self-serving bias appears to be very widespread in individual cultures
- versus Japan's "self-effacing" bias (attribute success to the help of others & downplay one's own abilities)
Geert Hofstede (1983) on "Individualism vs. Collectivism"
- Put group goals ahead of personal goals
- Find identity in group membership
- Less likely to make the fundamental attribution error (vs. those in individualist countries)
"The first dimension is labeled "Individualism versus Collectivism." The fundamental issue involved is the relation between an individual and his or her fellow individuals. At one end of the scale we find societies in which the ties between individuals are very loose. Everybody is supposed to look after his or her own self-interest and maybe the interest of his or her immediate family. This is made possible by a large amount of freedom that such a society leaves individuals. At the other end of the scale we find societies in which the ties between individuals are very tight. People are born into collectivities or in-groups which may be their extended family (including grandparents, uncles, aunts, and so on), their tribe, or their village. Everybody is supposed to look after the interest of his or her in-group and to have no other opinions and beliefs than the opinions and beliefs in their in-group. In exchange, the in-group will protect them when they are in trouble." (p. 79)
Hofstede, G. (1983). The cultural relativity of organizational practices and theories. Journal of International Business Studies, 14(2), 75-89.
This page was originally posted on 11/05/03 and last updated on November 5, 2016