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vague, so it may not have been intuitively clear to everyone what was being tested.
Also, when you ask people to compare themselves to “average” others, they may
have varying notions of what average is. In any event, we see an example of the false
consensus effect here: Other people must be performing about as well as I am, so the
60% level (a bit better than average; remember Lake Woebegone) is okay. Alternately,
if you go bowling and throw 20 straight gutter balls, the evidence is undeniable that
you are inept.

Cognitive Optimism: An Evolutionary Interpretation
Clearly we humans do not judge the world around us and our own place in that world
with a clear, unbiased eye. We have listed many cognitive biases, and the question arises
as to what purpose these biases serve. Haselton and Nettle (2006) persuasively argue
that these biases serve an evolutionary purpose. For example, males tend to overesti-
mate the degree of sexual interest they arouse in females. Haselton and Nettle (2006)
observe that this is an “adaptive” bias in that overestimation of sexual interest will result
in fewer missed opportunities.
Consider the sinister attribution error that we discussed earlier”this is a kind sinister attribution error
The tendency for certain
of paranoid cognition in which certain individuals develop a rather paranoid percep-
people to overattribute lack
tion style. When someone is new to a group, or is of a different racial or ethnic back-
of trustworthiness to others.
ground than other members of the group, that individual is very attentive to any signs
of discrimination, however subtle or even nonexistent they may be. These “paranoid”
reactions are likely hard-wired in our brain, derived from ancestral environments when
moving into a new group or new village required exquisite attention to the reactions
of other people. One mistake and you might be asked to leave, or worse (Haselton &
Nettle, 2006).
Even the most extreme positive illusions may serve important evolutionary pur-
poses. The adaptive nature of these illusions can be observed when individuals face
diseases that are incurable. The illusion that one may “beat” the disease is adaptive in
the sense that individuals may take active health-promoting steps that at the very least
increase their longevity, even if they cannot beat the disease in the long term (Haselton
& Nettle, 2006).

Bottom Line
Much of what we discussed in this chapter suggests that we, as social perceivers,
make predictable errors. Also, much of what we do is automatic, not under conscious
control. The bottom line is that we are cognitive tacticians who expend energy to be
accurate when it is necessary but otherwise accept a rough approximation. Accuracy
in perception is the highest value, but it is not the only value; ef¬ciency and conser-
vation of cognitive energy also are important. And so, we are willing to make certain
trade-offs when a situation does not demand total accuracy. The more ef¬cient any
system is, the more its activities are carried out automatically. But when we are moti-
vated, when an event or interaction is really important, we tend to switch out of this
automatic, nonconscious mode and try to make accurate judgments. Given the vast
amount of social information we deal with, most of us are pretty good at navigating
our way.
Social Psychology
96


The Vincennes Revisited
The events that resulted in the ¬ring of a missile that destroyed a civilian aircraft by
the U.S.S. Vincennes are clear in hindsight. The crew members of the Vincennes con-
structed their own view of reality, based on their previous experiences, their expecta-
tions of what was likely to occur, and their interpretations of what was happening at the
moment, as well as their fears and anxieties. All of these factors were in turn in¬‚uenced
by the context of current international events, which included a bitter enmity between
the United States and what was perceived by Americans as an extremist Iranian govern-
ment. The crew members of the Vincennes had reason to expect an attack from some
quarter and that is the way they interpreted the ¬‚ight path of the aircraft. This is true
despite that fact that later analysis showed that the aircraft had to be a civilian airliner.
The event clearly shows the crucial in¬‚uence of our expectations and previous experi-
ence on our perception of new events.



Chapter Review
1. What is impression formation?
Impression formation is the process by which we form judgments about others.
Biological and cultural forces prime us to form impressions, which may have
adaptive signi¬cance for humans.
2. What are automatic and controlled processing?
Much of our social perception involves automatic processing, or forming
impressions without much thought or attention. Thinking that is conscious and
requires effort is referred to as controlled processing. If, however, we have
important goals that need to be obtained, then we will switch to more controlled
processing and allocate more energy to understanding social information.
Automatic and controlled processing are not separate categories but rather
form a continuum, ranging from complete automaticity to full allocation of our
psychic energy to understand and control the situation.
3. What is meant by a cognitive miser?
The notion of a cognitive miser suggests that humans process social
information by whatever method leads to the least expenditure of cognitive
energy. Much of our time is spent in the cognitive miser mode. Unless
motivated to do otherwise, we use just enough effort to get the job done.
4. What evidence is there for the importance of nonconscious decision making?
Recent research implies that the best way to deal with complex decisions is to
rely on the unconscious mind. Conscious thought is really precise and allows us
to follow strict patterns and rules, but its capacity to handle lots of information
is limited. So conscious thought is necessary for doing, say, math, a rule-based
exercise, but may not be as good in dealing with complex issues with lots of
alternatives.
Chapter 3 Social Perception: Understanding Other People 97

5. What is the effect of automaticity on behavior and emotions?
Behavior can be affected by cues that are below the level of conscious
awareness. Evidence indicates that priming, “the nonconscious activation
of social knowledge” is a very powerful social concept and affects a wide
variety of behaviors. Recall the research showing that the mere presence of a
backpack in a room led to more cooperative behavior in the group, while the
presence of a briefcase prompted more competitive behaviors.
It has also become clear that often our emotional responses to events are
not under conscious control. Researchers have demonstrated that we are not
very good at predicting how current emotional events will affect us in the
future. For one thing, we tend not to take into account the fact that the more
intense the emotion, the less staying power it has. We tend to underestimate
our tendency to get back to an even keel (homeostasis), to diminish the impact
of even the most negative or for that matter the most positive of emotions.
It appears that extreme emotions are triggered”psychological processes are
stimulated that serve to counteract the intensity of emotions such that one
may expect that intense emotional states will last a shorter time than will
milder ones.
6. Are our impressions of others accurate?
There are signi¬cant differences among social perceivers in their ability to
accurately evaluate other people. Those who are comfortable with their own
emotions are best able to express those emotions and to read other people.
Individuals who are unsure of their own emotions, who try to hide their feelings
from others, are not very good at reading the emotions of other people.
Despite distinct differences in abilities to read others, most of us are
apparently con¬dent in our ability to accurately do so. This is especially true
if we have a fair amount of information about that person. However, research
shows that no matter the information at our disposal, our accuracy levels are
less than we think. In part, this appears to be true because we pay attention
to obvious cues but do not attend to more subtle nonverbal ones. We are
especially incompetent at determining if someone is lying, even someone
very close to us.
7. What is the sample bias?
The sample bias suggests that our initial interaction with individuals is crucial
to whether any further interaction will occur. Imagine you are a member of
a newly formed group, and you begin to interact with others in the group.
You meet Person A, who has low social skills. Your interaction with him is
limited, and your tendency, understandably, is to avoid him in the future. Now
Person B is different. She has excellent social skills, and conversation with her
is easy and ¬‚uid. You will obviously sample more of Person Bʼs behavior than
Person Aʼs. As a result, potentially false negative impressions of Person A never
get changed, while a false positive impression of B could very well be changed
if you “sample” more of her behavior. That is, the initial interaction determines
whether you will sample more of that personʼs behavior or not. This seems
especially true for persons belonging to different racial or ethnic groups.
Social Psychology
98

8. Can we catch liars?
Not very well. A massive review of all the literature on detecting lies shows that
while there are many cues to lying, they are unusual and unexpected cues and
very subtle. When people lie about themselves, the cues may be a bit stronger,
but it is still a guessing game for most of us.
9. What is the attribution process?
The attribution process involves assigning causes for the behavior we observe,
both our own and that of others. Several theories have been devised to
uncover how perceivers decide the causes of other peopleʼs behaviors. The
correspondent inference and the covariation models were the most general
attempts to describe the attribution process.
10. What are internal and external attributions?
When we make an internal attribution about an individual, we assign the cause
for behavior to an internal source. For example, one might attribute failure on
an exam to a personʼs intelligence or level of motivation. External attribution
explains the cause for behavior as an external factor. For example, failure on
an exam may be attributed to the fact that a studentʼs parents were killed in an
automobile accident a few days before the exam.
11. What is the correspondent inference theory, and what factors enter into forming
a correspondent inference?
Correspondent inference theory helps explain the attribution process when
perceivers are faced with unclear information. We make a correspondent
inference if we determine that an individual entered into a behavior freely
(versus being coerced) and conclude that the person intended the behavior. In
this case, we make an internal attribution. Research shows that the perceiver
acting as a cognitive miser has a strong tendency to make a correspondent
inference”to assign the cause of behavior to the actor and downplay the
situation”when the evidence suggests otherwise.
12. What are covariation theory and the covariation principle?
The covariation principle states that people decide that the most likely cause
for any behavior is the factor that covaries, or occurs at the same time, most
often with the appearance of that behavior. Covariation theory suggests that
people rely on consensus (What is everyone else doing?), consistency (Does
this person behave this way all the time?), and distinctiveness (Does this person
display the behavior in all situations or just one?) information.
13. How do consensus, consistency, and distinctiveness information lead to an
internal or external attribution?
When consensus (Everyone acts this way), consistency (The target person
always acts this way), and distinctiveness (The target person only acts this
way in a particular situation) are high, we make an external attribution.
However, if consensus is low (Nobody else behaves this way), consistency is
high (The target person almost always behaves this way), and distinctiveness
is low (The target person behaves this way in many situations), we make an
internal attribution.
Chapter 3 Social Perception: Understanding Other People 99

14. What is the dual-process model of attribution, and what does it tell us about the
attribution process?
Tropeʼs two-stage model recognized that the initial stage of assigning causality
is an automatic categorization of behavior; a second stage may lead to a
readjustment of that initial categorization, especially when the behavior or the
situation is ambiguous. Tropeʼs model led theorists to think about how and
when people readjust their initial inferences.
15. What is meant by attribution biases?
Both the correspondent inference and covariation models emphasize that people
often depart from the (causal) analysis of the attribution models they present
and make some predictable errors in their causal analyses.
16. What is the fundamental attribution error?
The fundamental attribution error highlights the fact that people prefer
internal to external attributions of behavior. The fundamental attribution error
may be part of a general tendency to con¬rm what we believe is true and
to avoid information that discon¬rms our hypotheses. This is known as the
con¬rmation bias.
17. What is the actor-observer bias?
The actor-observer bias occurs when observers emphasize internal attributions,
whereas actors favor external attributions. That is, when we observe someone
else, we make the familiar internal attribution, but when we ourselves act,
we most often believe that our behavior was caused by the situation in which
we acted. This seems to occur because of a perspective difference. When we
observe other people, what is most obvious is what they do. But when we try
to decide why we did something, what is most obvious are extrinsic factors,
the situation.
18. What is the false consensus bias?
The false consensus bias occurs when people tend to believe that others think
and feel the same way they do.
19. What is the importance of ¬rst impressions?
First impressions can be powerful in¬‚uences on our perceptions of others.
Researchers have consistently demonstrated a primacy effect in the
impression-formation process, which is the tendency of early information to
play a powerful role in our eventual impression of an individual. Furthermore,
¬rst impressions, in turn, can bias the interpretation of later information.
20. What are schemas, and what role do they play in social cognition?
The aim of social perception is to gain enough information to make relatively
accurate judgments about people and social situations. One major way
we organize this information is by developing schemas, sets of organized
cognitions about individuals or events. One type of schema important for
social perception is implicit personality theories, schemas about what kinds
of personality traits go together. Intellectual characteristics, for example, are
often linked to coldness, and strong and adventurous traits are often thought
to go together.
Social Psychology
100

21. What is the self-ful¬lling prophecy, and how does it relate to behavior?
Schemas also in¬‚uence behavior, as is illustrated by the notion of self-
ful¬lling prophecies. This suggests that we often create our own realities
through our expectations. If we are interacting with members of a group we
believe to be hostile and dangerous, for example, our actions may provoke
the very behavior we are trying to avoid, which is the process of behavioral
con¬rmation. This occurs when perceivers behave as if their expectations are
correct and the targets of those perceptions respond in ways that con¬rm the
perceiversʼ beliefs.
When we make attributions about the causes of events, we routinely
overestimate the strength of our hypothesis concerning why events happened
the way they did. This bias in favor of our interpretations of the causes
of behavior occurs because we tend to engage in a search strategy that
con¬rms our hypothesis rather than discon¬rms it. This is known as the
con¬rmation bias.
22. What are the various types of heuristics that often guide social cognition?
A heuristic is a shortcut, or a rule of thumb, that we use when constructing
social reality. The availability heuristic is de¬ned as a shortcut used to estimate
the likelihood or frequency of an event based on how quickly examples of it
come to mind. The representativeness heuristic involves making judgments
about the probability of an event or of a personʼs falling into a category based
on how representative it or the person is of the category. The simulation
heuristic is a tendency to play out alternative scenarios in our heads.
Counterfactual thinking involves taking a negative event or outcome and
running scenarios in our head to create positive alternatives to what actually
happened.
23. What is meant by metacognition?
Metacognition is the way we think about thinking, which can be primarily
optimistic or pessimistic.
24. How do optimism and pessimism relate to social cognition and behavior?
We tend to maintain an optimistic and con¬dent view of our abilities to
navigate our social world, even though we seem to make a lot of errors. Many
individuals react to threatening events by developing positive illusions, beliefs

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