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Social Psychology
Social perception and cognition are mental processes that help us to collect and remember information
about others, and to make inferences and judgments based on that information

Social perception is defined as the study of how we form impressions of and make inferences about
other people. In order to know about other people, we depend on information gained from their
physical appearance, and verbal and nonverbal communication. Missing information is filled in by
using an implicit personality theory: If a person is observed to have one particular trait, we assume
that he or she has other traits related to this observed one. These assumptions help us to categorize
people and then infer additional facts and predict behavior.

An implicit personality theory is a type of schema people use to group various kinds of personality
traits together. Social perceptions are also interlinked with self-perceptions. Both are influenced by
self-motives. Society has the desire to achieve beneficial outcomes for the self and to maintain a
positive self-image. Just as you prejudge the people you come across in society, you are being judged
by them. As it is natural for humans to want to make a good impression on people, your perceptions
almost mirror other's social perceptions. According to David Krech and Richard S. Crutchfield there
are two major determinants of perception, structural factors and functional factors.

By structural factors we mean those factors driving solely from the nature of the physical stimuli and
the natural effects they evoke in the nervous system of the individual.
Sensory factors are independent of the perceiving individual’s needs and personality.

The functional factors of perceptual organization are those, which derive primarily from the needs,
moods, past experience and memory of the individual. All functional factors in perception are social
in the usual sense of the term.

Nonverbal Behavior
Nonverbal communication is one of the many interesting topics studied by social psychology. Social
psychologists view it as an essential element of social perception. Although there are many other
forms of nonverbal communication, the term usually means conveying thoughts and/or feelings
without words using body language or sounds as the medium. Nonverbal communication can be
defined as the way in which people communicate, intentionally or unintentionally, without
words. The main channels of nonverbal communication are facial expressions, eye contact, body
movements, posture and touching.
It is seen that nonverbal behavior is used to express emotion, convey attitudes, communicate
personality traits, and facilitate or modify verbal communication.
Nonverbal communication takes place in every social setting, though often it is not recognized for
what it is or for what it means. It makes up a substantial portion of our communicative experience.
Much research has been undertaken in recent years to analyze different kinds of nonverbal
communication, and much of this research has addressed issues of interpersonal and inter-gender
communication, addressing questions of interpersonal attraction, flirting, interactions in business
situations, comparisons of male versus female interpretations of nonverbal behavior, and so on.
Many of us associate facial expression and gestures with nonverbal communication, but these are not
the only two types involved. There are, in fact, eight different types of nonverbal communication

1) Facial Expression: This makes up the largest proportion of nonverbal communication. Large
amounts of information can be conveyed through a smile or frown. The facial expressions for
happiness, sadness, anger, and fear are similar across cultures throughout the world.

2) Gestures: Common gestures include pointing, waving, and using fingers, etc. You can tell a
person's attitude by the way they walk or by the way they stand. Same goes for gestures.

3) Para-linguistics: This includes factors such as tone of voice, loudness, inflection, and pitch. Tone
of voice can be powerful. The same sentence said in different tones can convey different messages. A

Social Psychology
strong tone of voice may indicate approval or enthusiasm, whereas the same sentence said with a
hesitant tone of voice may convey disapproval or lack of interest. Vocal Behaviors such as pitch,
inflection, volume, rate, filler words, pronunciation, articulation, accent, and silence, often reveal
considerable information about others.

4) Body Language and Posture: A person’s posture and movement can also convey a great deal of
information. Arm crossing or leg-crossing conveys different meanings depending on the context and
the person interpreting them. Body language is very subtle, and may not be very definitive.

5) Proxemics: This refers to personal space. The amount of space a person requires depends on each
individual’s preference, but also depends on the situation and other people involved in the situation. -
The Use of Space- The only time you really notice this one is when we particularly need the space.
For instance, being in a crowded elevator or being in an overly crowded house party. A lot of times
when a person is upset they just need their space to calm down.

6) Eye Gaze Looking, staring, and blinking are all considered types of eye gaze. Looking at another
person can indicate a range of emotions including hostility, interest, or attraction. – Eye behaviors
play a role in several important types of relational interaction.

7) Haptics: This refers to communicating through touch. Haptics is especially important in infancy
and early childhood. -Touch is one of our five senses, but, every touch has a different kind of meaning
to it and when nonverbally communicating – it’s something you need to know. Five major areas of
touching are: affectionate touch, care-giving touch, power and control touch, aggressive touch,
ritualistic touch.

8) Appearance: Our choice of color, clothing, hairstyles, and other factors affecting our appearance
are considered a means of nonverbal communication.
Even Chronemics which implies the way we use time or the way we give time to others makes for a
nonverbal behavior. It is indicative of two important relational messages, one concerning value and
the other concerning power.

Culture and the Channels of Nonverbal Communication

Paul Ekman and his colleagues have studied the influence of culture on the facial display of emotions.
They have concluded that display rules are particular to each culture and dictate what kinds of
emotional expressions people are supposed to show. Eye contact and gaze are also powerful
nonverbal cues. The use of personal space is a nonverbal behavior with wide cultural variations.
Emblems are nonverbal gestures of the hands and arms that have well-understood definitions within a
given culture.

Gender and Nonverbal Communication:

Women are better than men at both decoding and encoding nonverbal behavior, with respect to
whether people are telling the truth. Men, however, are better at detecting lies. This finding can be
explained by social-role theory, which claims that sex differences in social behavior are due to
society’s division of labor between the sexes. Supportive evidence for this interpretation is provided
by Hall (1979), who found that woman’s “nonverbal politeness” or attending to nonverbal cues that
convey what people want others to see and ignoring nonverbal cues that leak people’s true feelings.


How do we convey our emotions to others? One obvious way we have of doing this is by making
specific facial expressions. We smile when we are happy, we frown when angry, and we may appear
tearful when sad. It is remarkable that relatively small movements of the facial musculature can alter
dramatically the emotion which we display to others. Our ability to both make and recognize different
facial expressions is an indication of an extremely vital social skill. Investigators from a number of
fields of psychology have been interested in facial expressions of emotion.

Social Psychology
Charles Darwin was the first to suggest that the main facial expressions are universal. In “The
Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” (1872), he examined the facial behaviour of
nonhuman primates in order to find out about the origins of expressions in man. He chose this
comparison with primates for they were the closest relatives to the ancestors of man and had to be
therefore similar to them. According to his belief in the principles of evolution, they could therefore
give a clue about the origins and development of facial movements. His findings were based on his
own observations as well as on the observations of zookeepers. The result was that some facial
expressions of nonhuman primates are similar to those of man including the expressions of anger,
happiness and sadness. Although they share these expressions, they do not always have the same
function in primate and man. For example, is the expression of happiness in man a development of the
grimace that monkeys have used to signalize fear.

Attribution refers to the process of understanding and thinking about people within social situations,
as one tends to try and explain the behaviour of others. When making attributions, decisions about the
causes of behaviour may depend on a number of different factors including personal characteristics
and the social situation.

Theories of Attribution
1. Rotter theory of internal and external attribution:
Rotter believed attributions could be either internal, where one feels they have control of behaviour
and is personal, or external, where things occur due to chance and are largely the result of the

2. Jones & Davis’s correspondent inference theory:

This theory says that people try to explain behaviour by finding a match between the behaviour they
can see and the stable qualities/personality traits of the person displaying it.

3. Kelley’s co variation model:

Illustrates that our knowledge of behaviour is used to make attributions based on the consensus,
consistency and distinctiveness of the available information. It looks at how such information co-
varies with each other so, is there consensus (do other people behave in the same way as the
individual?), consistency (has the individual behaved in the same way in the past, or on each
occasion?) or, is there distinctiveness (where different behaviour is shown in similar, but different,
According to this model an internal (person) attribution will be made when there is low consensus and
distinctiveness but high consistency, otherwise an external (situational) attribution is made. If
consistency is low, causes are discounted and alternatives sought.

Attribution Bias
Research has shown that a number of errors/biases occur when making decisions about one’s own or
others’ behaviour.
Fundamental attribution error: People tend to blame behaviour on the individual and their
characteristics, and see the individual as responsible for their own actions. Thus internal, dispositional
attributions are made. This occurs because one likes to feel that the world is controllable and therefore
placing blame on stable personal characteristics is easier than considering changeable ones; attention
also tends to focus on the immediate individual rather than other factors involved in the situation.
Focus of emotion, theories of forgetting, cultural, developmental and linguistic factors could all
account for this error.

Actor-observer effect
This can lead to error, as attributions about our own behaviour tend to be external and unstable, but
for others it tends to be internal and stable. This may be because we do actually have different
perspectives on behaviour and so perceive others’ behaviour as more important and noticeable than
our own.

Social Psychology

False consensus effect

Since consensus was an important factor in Kelly’s (1950) model, its role has been closely examined
and it has been discovered that errors occur because we tend to assume that our behaviour is typical,
even when this may not be the case, and therefore assume that everyone else would make the same
assumptions. This is most likely to occur when we have strong beliefs about something.

Self-serving bias
Errors are made to ensure that our self-esteem is protected and therefore in order to ‘serve ourselves’ a
bias operates whereby we take credit for our successes (so view them internally), but not for failure
(so see failure as due to external factors). In part this maintains a sense of control and also a belief in a
just world.

Attribution bias occurs as a normal social process and helps us adapt to the world in which we live.

It is a goal directed conscious or unconscious attempt to influence the perceptions of other people
about a person, object or event by regulating and controlling information in social interaction.

First impression
Within three seconds of seeing a person for the first time we decide their
 Social status
 Politics
 Religion
 Education
 Sexuality
 Friendliness/approachability

Doing a good job accounts for 10% of the impression you give
90% of the impression you give of being capable is based on perception
Presentation of work
Presentation of self
Being seen to be ‘doing a good job’

Social Psychology
IMPACT (helps to form an impression)

Two types of impression Management

Constructive: it helps in the formation of self identity
Strategic: it helps in the attainment of some interpersonal goal

Five things you need to face the world

 Confidence
 A personal brand (what do you want the world to think of you)
 An elevator pitch
Do: speak, make small talk, and ask open questions
Don’t: ignore him/her, talk about the weather, get too personal, and complain
 A winning image
 Transferable skills/experience

Impression formation in social psychology refers to the process by which individual pieces of
information about another person are integrated to form a global impression of the individual (i.e. how
one person perceives another person). Underlying this entire process is the notion that an individual
expects unity and coherence in the personalities of others. Two major theories have been proposed to
explain how this process of integration takes place.

The Gestalt approach views the formation of a general impression as the sum of several interrelated
impressions. Central to this theory is the idea that as an individual seeks to form a coherent and
meaningful impression of another person, previous impressions significantly influence or color his or
her interpretation of subsequent information.

In contrast to the Gestalt approach, the cognitive algebra approach of information integration theory
asserts that individual experiences are evaluated independently, and combined with previous
evaluations to form a constantly changing impression of a person. An important and related area to
impression formation is the study of person perception, which refers to the process of observing
behavior, making dispositional attributions, and then adjusting those inferences based on the
information available. Solomon Asch (1946) is credited with conducting the seminal research on
impression formation.

Free Response
Free response is an experimental method frequently used in impression formation research. The
participant (or perceiver) is presented with a stimulus (usually a short vignette or a list of personality
descriptors such as assured, talkative, cold, etc) and then instructed to briefly sketch his or her
impressions of the type of person described. This is a useful technique for gathering detailed and
concrete evidence on the nature of the impression formed. However, the difficulty of accurately
coding responses often necessitates the use of additional quantitative measures.

Free Association:
Free Association is another commonly used experimental method in which the perceiver creates a list
of personality adjectives that immediately come to mind when asked to think about the type of person
described by a particular set of descriptor adjectives.

Social Psychology

Primacy-Recency Effect
Asch stressed the important influence of an individual's initial impressions of a person's personality
traits on the interpretation of all subsequent impressions. Asch argued that these early impressions
often shaped or colored an individual's perception of other trait-related details. A considerable body of
research exists supporting this hypothesis. For example, when individuals were asked to rate their
impression of another person after being presented a list of words progressing from either low
favorability to high favorability (L - H) or from high favorability to low favorability (H - L), strong
primacy effects were found. In other words, impressions formed from initial descriptor adjectives
persisted over time and influenced global impressions. In general, primacy can have three main
effects: initial trait-information can be integrated into an individual's global impression of a person in
a process of assimilation effects, it can lead to a durable impression against which other information is
compared in a process of anchoring, and it can cause people to actively change their perception of
others in a process of correction.

Enhancing Impression
Conformity: Agreeing with someone else’s opinion in order to gain his or her approval.
Example: A manager tells his boss, ‘You are absolutely right on your reorganizations plan for the
western regional office. I couldn’t agree with you more’.
Excuses: Explanations of a predicament creating event aimed at minimizing the apparent severity to
the predicament.
Examples: Sales manager to boss. ‘We failed to get the ad in the paper on time, but no one responds
to those ads anyway’.
Apologies: Admitting responsibility for an undesirable event and simultaneously seeking to get a
pardon for the section
Example: Employee to boss, ‘I’m sorry I made a mistake on the report Please forgive me’.
Self-Promotion: Highlighting one’s best qualities downplaying one’s deficits and calling attention to
one’s achievements.
Example: A salesperson tells his boss: ‘Matt worked unsuccessfully for three years to try to get that
account I sewed it up in six weeks. I’m the best closer this company has’.
Flattery: Complementing others about their virtues in an effort to make one self appear perceptive
and likeable.
Example: New sales trainee to peer. ‘You handled that client’s complaint so tactfully! I could never
have handled that as well as you did’.
Favors: Doing nice for someone to gain that person’s approval.
Example: Sales person to prospective client, ‘I’ve got two tickets to the theater tonight that I can’t use.
Take them. Consider it a thank you for taking the time to talk with me’.
Association: Enhancing or protecting one’s image by managing information about people and things
with which one is associated.
Example: A job applicant says to an interviewer, “What a coincidence. Your boss and I were
roommates in college”.