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saw the test-taker do very well at the start and then get worse as the test continued.
Other observers saw the test-taker do poorly at the beginning and then improve.
Although both test-takers wound up with the same score, the test-taker who did well
in the beginning was rated as more intelligent than the test-taker who did well at the
end. In other words, the initial impression persisted even when later information
began to contradict it.
belief perseverence The
This belief perseverance, the tendency for initial impressions to persist despite
tendency for initial
later con¬‚icting information, accounts for much of the power of ¬rst impressions. A
impressions to persist despite
second reason that initial impressions wear well and long is that people often rein-
later con¬‚icting information,
terpret incoming information in light of the initial impression. We try to organize
accounting for much of the
information about other people into a coherent picture, and later information that is power of ¬rst impressions.
inconsistent with the ¬rst impression is often reinterpreted to ¬t the initial belief about
that person. If your ¬rst impression of a person is that he is friendly, you may dismiss
a later encounter in which he is curt and abrupt as an aberration”“Heʼs just having a
bad day.” We can see that our person schemas are in¬‚uenced by the primacy effect of
the social information together.

Schemas
The aim of social perception is to gain enough information to make relatively accurate
judgments about people and social situations. Next, we need ways of organizing the
information we do have. Perceivers have strategies that help them know what to expect
from others and how to respond. For example, when a father hears his infant daughter
crying, he does not have to make elaborate inferences about what is wrong. He has in
place an organized set of cognitions”related bits of information”about why babies cry
schema A set of organized
and what to do about it. Psychologists call these sets of organized cognitions schemas.
cognitions that help us
A schema concerning crying babies might include cognitions about dirty diapers, empty
interpret, evaluate, and
stomachs, pain, or anger.
remember a wide range
of social stimuli, including
Origins of Schemas events, persons, and
ourselves.
Where do schemas come from? They develop from information about or experience with
some social category or event. You can gain knowledge about sororities, for example,
by hearing other people talk about them or by joining one. The more experience you
have with sororities, the richer and more involved your schema will be. When we are
initially organizing a schema, we place the most obvious features of an event or a cat-
egory in memory ¬rst. If it is a schema about a person or a group of people, we begin implicit personality
theory A common person-
with physical characteristics that we can see: gender, age, physical attractiveness, race
schema belief that certain
or ethnicity, and so on.
personality traits are linked
We have different types of schemas for various social situations (Gilovich, 1991).
together and may help us
We have self-schemas, which help us organize our knowledge about our own traits and
make a quick impression
personal qualities. Person schemas help us organize peopleʼs characteristics and store of someone, but there is
them in our memory. People often have a theory”known as an implicit personality no guarantee that initial
impression will be correct.
theory”about what kinds of personality traits go together. Intellectual characteristics,
Social Psychology
86

for example, are often linked to coldness, and strong and adventurous traits are often
thought to go together (Higgins & Stangor, 1988). An implicit personality theory may
help us make a quick impression of someone, but, of course, there is no guarantee that
our initial impression will be correct.

The Relationship between Schemas and Behavior
Schemas sometimes lead us to act in ways that serve to con¬rm them. In one study, for
example, researchers convinced subjects that they were going to interact with someone
who was hostile (Snyder & Swann, 1978). When the subjects did interact with that
“hostile” person (who really had no hostile intentions), they behaved so aggressively
that the other person was provoked to respond in a hostile way. Thus, the expectations
self-ful¬lling prophecy of the subjects were con¬rmed, an outcome referred to as a self-ful¬lling prophecy
A tendency to expect (Jussim, 1986; Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968). The notion of self-ful¬lling prophecies
ourselves to behave in ways suggests that we often create our own realities through our expectations. If we are inter-
that lead to con¬rmation of
acting with members of a group we believe to be hostile and dangerous, for example,
our original expectation.
our actions may provoke the very behavior we are trying to avoid.
This does not mean that we inhabit a make-believe world in which there is no reality
to what we think and believe. It does mean, however, that our expectations can alter
the nature of social reality. Consider the effect of a teacherʼs expectations on students.
How important are these expectations in affecting how students perform? In one study,
involving nearly 100 sixth-grade math teachers and 1,800 students, researchers found
that about 20% of the results on the math tests were due to the teachersʼ expectations
(Jussim & Eccles, 1992). Twenty percent is not inconsiderable: It can certainly make
the difference between an A and a B or a passing and a failing grade. The research-
ers also found that teachers showed de¬nite gender biases. They rated boys as having
better math skills and girls as trying harder. Neither of these ¬ndings appeared to have
been correct in this study, but it showed why girls got better grades in math. The teach-
ers incorrectly thought that girls tried harder, and therefore rewarded them with higher
grades because of the girlsʼ presumed greater effort.
behavioral con¬rmation The other side of the self-ful¬lling prophecy is behavioral con¬rmation (Snyder,
A tendency for perceivers 1992). This phenomenon occurs when perceivers behave as if their expectations are
to behave as if their correct, and the targets then respond in ways that con¬rm the perceiversʼ beliefs.
expectations are correct and
Although behavioral con¬rmation is similar to the self-ful¬lling prophecy, there is a
the targets then respond
subtle distinction. When we talk about a self-ful¬lling prophecy, we are focusing on
in ways that con¬rm the
the behavior of the perceiver in eliciting expected behavior from the target. When we
perceivers™ beliefs.
talk about behavioral con¬rmation, we are looking at the role of the targetʼs behavior in
con¬rming the perceiverʼs beliefs. In behavioral con¬rmation, the social perceiver uses
the targetʼs behavior (which is partly shaped by the perceiverʼs expectations) as evidence
that the expectations are correct. The notion of behavioral con¬rmation emphasizes that
both perceivers and targets have goals in social interactions. Whether a target con¬rms
a perceiverʼs expectations depends on what they both want from the interaction.
As an example, imagine that you start talking to a stranger at a party. Unbeknownst
to you, she has already sized you up and decided you are likely to be uninteresting. She
keeps looking around the room as she talks to you, asks you few questions about your-
self, and doesnʼt seem to hear some of the things you say. Soon you start to withdraw
from the interaction, growing more and more aloof. As the conversation dies, she slips
away, thinking, “What a bore!”
You turn and ¬nd another stranger smiling at you. She has decided you look very
interesting. You strike up a conversation and ¬nd you have a lot in common. She is inter-
Chapter 3 Social Perception: Understanding Other People 87

ested in what you say, looks at you when youʼre speaking, and laughs at your humor-
ous comments. Soon you are talking in a relaxed, poised way, feeling and acting both
con¬dent and interesting. In each case, your behavior tends to con¬rm the perceiverʼs
expectancies. Because someone shows interest in you, you become interesting. When
someone thinks you are unattractive or uninteresting, you respond in kind, con¬rming
the perceiverʼs expectations (Snyder, Tanke, & Berscheid, 1977).
As can be seen, whether the perceiver gets to con¬rm her preconceptions depends
on what the target makes of the situation. To predict the likelihood of behavioral con-
¬rmation, we have to look at social interaction from the targetʼs point of view. If the
goal of the interaction from the targetʼs viewpoint is simply to socialize with the other
person, behavioral con¬rmation is likely. If the goal is more important, then behavioral
discon¬rmation is likely (Snyder, 1993). Note that the decision to con¬rm or discon¬rm
someoneʼs expectations is by no means always a conscious one.

Assimilating New Information into a Schema
Schemas have some disadvantages, because people tend to accept information that
¬ts their schemas and reject information that doesnʼt ¬t. This reduces uncertainty and
ambiguity, but it also increases errors. Early in the formation of a schema of persons,
groups, or events, we are more likely to pay attention to information that is inconsis-
tent with our initial conceptions because we do not have much information (Bargh
& Thein, 1985). Anything that doesnʼt ¬t the schema surprises us and makes us take
notice. However, once the schema is well formed, we tend to remember informa-
tion that is consistent with that schema. Remembering schema-consistent evidence
is another example of the cognitive miser at work. Humans prefer the least effortful
method of processing and assimilating information; it helps make a complex world
simpler (Fiske, 1993).
If new information continually and strongly suggests that a schema is wrong,
the perceiver will change it. Much of the time we are uncomfortable with schema-
inconsistent information. Often we reinterpret the information to ¬t with our schema,
but sometimes we change the schema because we see that it is wrong.

The Con¬rmation Bias
When we try to determine the cause or causes of an event, we usually have some hypoth-
esis in mind. Say your college football team has not lived up to expectations, or you
are asked to explain why American students lag behind others in standardized tests.
When faced with these problems, we may begin by putting forth a tentative explana-
tion. We may hypothesize that our football team has done poorly because the coach is
incompetent. Or we may hypothesize that the cause of American studentsʼ poor perfor-
mance is that they watch too much TV. How do we go about testing these hypotheses
in everyday life?
When we make attributions about the causes of events, we routinely overestimate
the strength of our hypothesis (Sanbonmatsu, Akimoto, & Biggs, 1993). We do this
by the way we search for information concerning our hypothesis, typically tending to
engage in a search strategy that con¬rms rather than discon¬rms our hypothesis. This
con¬rmation bias
is known as the con¬rmation bias. A tendency to engage in a
One researcher asked subjects to try to discover the rule used to present a series of search strategy that con¬rms
three numbers, such as 2, 4, 6. The question was, What rule is the experimenter using? rather than discon¬rms our
hypothesis.
What is your hypothesis? Letʼs say the hypothesis is consecutive even numbers. Subjects
Social Psychology
88

could test their hypothesis about the rule by presenting a set of three numbers to see if
it ¬t the rule. The experimenter would tell them if their set ¬t the rule, and then they
would tell the experimenter what they hypothesized the rule was.
How would you test your hypothesis? Most individuals would present a set such
as 8, 10, 12. Notice the set is aimed at con¬rming the hypothesis, not discon¬rming it.
The experimenter would say, Yes, 8, 10, 12 ¬ts the rule. What is the rule? You would
say, Any three ascending even numbers. The experimenter would say, That is not the
rule. What happened? You were certain you were right.
The rule could have been any three ascending numbers. If you had tried to discon-
¬rm your hypothesis, you would have gained much more diagnostic information than
simply trying to con¬rm it. If you had said 1, 3, 4 and were told it ¬t the rule, you could
throw out your hypothesis about even numbers. We tend to generate narrow hypotheses
that do not take into account a variety of alternative explanations.
In everyday life we tend to make attributions for causes that have importance
to us. If you hate the football coach, you are more likely to ¬nd evidence for his
incompetence than to note that injuries to various players affected the teamʼs per-
formance. Similarly, we may attribute the cause of American studentsʼ poor perfor-
mance to be their TV-watching habits, rather than search for evidence that parents
do not motivate their children or that academic performance is not valued among
studentsʼ peers. Of course, we should note that there may be times that con¬rma-
tion of your hypothesis is the perfectly rational thing to do. But, to do nothing but
test con¬rmatory hypotheses leaves out evidence that you might very well need to
determine the correct answer.

Shortcuts to Reality: Heuristics
As cognitive misers, we have a grab bag of tools that help us organize our percep-
tions effortlessly. These shortcuts”handy rules of thumb that are part of our cognitive
heuristics Handy rules of arsenal”are called heuristics. Like illusions, heuristics help us make sense of the social
thumb that serve as shortcuts world, but also like illusions, they can lead us astray.
to organizing and perceiving
social reality.
The Availability Heuristic
If you are asked how many of your friends know people who are serving in the armed
availability heuristic forces in Iraq, you quickly will think of those who do. The availability heuristic is
A shortcut used to estimate de¬ned as a shortcut used to estimate the frequency or likelihood of an event based on
the frequency or likelihood how quickly examples of it come to mind (Tversky & Kahneman, 1973). If service in
of an event based on how
Iraq is uncommon in your community, you will underestimate the overall number of
quickly examples of it come
soldiers; if you live in a community with many such individuals, you will overestimate
to mind.
the incidence of military service.
The availability heuristic tends to bias our interpretations, because the ease with
which we can imagine an event affects our estimate of how frequently that event occurs.
Television and newspapers, for example, tend to cover only the most visible, violent
events. People therefore tend to overestimate incidents of violence and crime as well
as the number of deaths from accidents and murder, because these events are most
memorable (Kahneman, Slovic, & Tversky, 1982). As with all cognitive shortcuts, a
biased judgment occurs, because the sample of people and events that we remember
is unlikely to be fair and full. The crew and captain of the Vincennes undoubtedly had
the recent example of the Stark in mind when they had to make a quick decision about
the Iranian airbus.
Chapter 3 Social Perception: Understanding Other People 89


The Representativeness Heuristic
Sometimes we make judgments about the probability of an event or a person falling into
a category based on how representative it or the person is of the category (Kahneman &
representativeness
Tversky, 1982). When we make such judgments, we are using the representativeness
heuristic A rule used to
heuristic. This heuristic gives us something very much like a prototype (an image of
judge the probability of an
the most typical member of a category).
event or a person falling
To understand how this heuristic works, consider Steve, a person described to you into a category based on
as ambitious, argumentative, and very smart. Now, if you are told that Steve is either how representative it or the
a lawyer or a dairy farmer, what would you guess his occupation to be? Chances are, person is of the category.
you would guess that he is a lawyer. Steve seems more representative of the lawyer
category than of the dairy farmer category. Are there no ambitious and argumen-
tative dairy farmers? Indeed there are, but a heuristic is a shortcut to a decision”
a best guess.
Letʼs look at Steve again. Imagine now that Steve, still ambitious and argumen-
tative, is 1 of 100 men; 70 of these men are dairy farmers, and 30 are lawyers. What
would you guess his occupation to be under these conditions? The study that set up these
problems and posed these questions found that most people still guess that Steve is a
lawyer (Kahneman & Tversky, 1982). Despite the odds, they are misled by the power-
ful representativeness heuristic.
The subjects who made this mistake failed to use base-rate data, information about
the population as opposed to information about just the individual. They knew that 70
of the 100 men in the group were farmers; therefore, there was a 7 out of 10 chance
that Steve was a farmer, no matter what his personal characteristics. This tendency to
underuse base-rate data and to rely on the special characteristics of the person or situ-
ation is known as the base-rate fallacy.

Counterfactual Thinking
The tendency to run scenarios in our head”to create positive alternatives to what actu-
ally happened”is most likely to occur when we easily can imagine a different and more
positive outcome. For example, letʼs say you leave your house a bit later than you had
planned on your way to the airport and miss your plane. Does it make a difference whether
you miss it by 5 minutes or by 30 minutes? Yes, the 5-minute miss causes you more
distress, because you can easily imagine how you could have made up those 5 minutes
and could now be on your way to Acapulco. Any event that has a negative outcome
but allows for a different and easily imagined outcome is vulnerable to counterfactual counterfactual thinking
The tendency to create
thinking, an imagined scenario that runs opposite to what really happened.
positive alternatives to
As another example, imagine that you took a new route home from school one day
a negative outcome that

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