Explaining Behavior Attribution

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Explaining Behavior Attribution
Social Perception
THE CLASSROOM If teachers inadver-
tently spend less time helping children
who at first seem “dull,” those children
may not learn as much, thus fulfilling the
teachers’ expectations. If the girl in the
back row has not impressed this teacher
as being bright, how likely do you think
it is that she will be called on?
appears to be part of this effort. If your friend recently violated your expectations by
being impatient, your view of her probably did not change much, if at all. In fact, you
may have acted to preserve your impression of her by thinking something like, “She is
not herself today.” In other words, impressions change slowly because the meaning we
give to new information about people is shaped by what we already know or believe
about them (Kenrick et al., 2005).
Self-Fulfilling Prophecies Another reason first impressions tend to be stable is that
we often do things that cause others to confirm our impressions (Franzoi, 2003). If teachers expect particular students to do poorly in mathematics, those students may sense this
expectation, exert less effort, and perform below their ability level. And if mothers expect
their young children to eventually abuse alcohol, they are more likely to do so than the
children of mothers who didn’t convey that expectation (Madon et al., 2003; Madon et al.,
2004). When, without our awareness, schemas cause us to subtly lead people to behave
in line with our expectations, a self-fulfilling prophecy is at work.
Self-fulfilling prophecies also help maintain judgments about groups. If you assume
that members of a certain ethnic group are a threat, you might be defensive or even
hostile when you meet a member of that group. That person might react to your behavior with hostility and anger. These reactions fulfill your prophecy and strengthen the
impressions that created it (Kenrick et al., 2005).
Explaining Behavior: Attribution
self-fulfilling prophecy A process in
which an initial impression causes us to
bring out behavior in another that confirms the impression.
attribution The process of explaining
the causes of people’s behavior, including our own.
So far, we have examined how people form impressions about other people’s characteristics. But our perceptions of others also include our explanations of their behavior.
People tend to form ideas about why people (including themselves) behave as they do
and about what behavior to expect in the future (Brehm et al., 2005). Psychologists use
the term attribution to describe the process we go through to explain the causes of
behavior (including our own).
Suppose a classmate borrows your notes but fails to return them. You could attribute this behavior to many causes, from an emergency situation to selfishness. Which of
these explanations you choose is important, because it will help you understand your
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