543 Social Perception Social Perception 䉴 Do we perceive people and objects in similar ways? There is a story about a company president who was having lunch with a man being considered for an executive position. When the man salted his food without ﬁrst tasting it, the president decided not to hire him. The reason, she explained, was that the company had no room for a person who acted before collecting all relevant information. The candidate lost his chance because of the president’s social perception, the processes through which people interpret information about others, form impressions of them, and draw conclusions about the reasons for their behavior. In this section we examine how and why social perception inﬂuences our thoughts, feelings, and actions. The Role of Schemas FIGURE 14.1 A Schema-Plus-Correction People who see an object like this tend to use a preexisting mental representation (their schema of a square) and then correct or modify it in some way (here, with a notch). LINKAGES Do we sometimes perceive people the same way we perceive objects? (a link to Sensation and Perception) The perception of people follows many of the same laws that govern the perception of objects, including the Gestalt principles discussed in the chapter on sensation and perception (Cloutier, Mason, & Macrae, 2005). Consider Figure 14.1. Consistent with Gestalt principles, most people would describe it as “a square with a notch in one side,” not as eight straight lines (Woodworth & Schlosberg, 1954). The reason is that they interpret new information using the mental representations, or schemas, that they already have about squares. In other words, they interpret this diagram as a square with a slight modiﬁcation. Schemas about people, too, can affect our perception of them. For one thing, schemas inﬂuence what we pay attention to and what we ignore. We tend to process information about the other person more quickly if it conﬁrms our beliefs about that person’s gender or ethnic group, for example, than if it violates those beliefs. Second, schemas inﬂuence what we remember about others. In one study, if people thought a woman they saw in a videotape was a waitress, they recalled that she had a beer with dinner and owned a TV set. Those who thought she was a librarian remembered that she was wearing glasses and liked classical music (Cohen, 1981). Finally, schemas affect our judgment about the behavior of others (Moskowitz, 2005). Thomas Hill and his colleagues (1989) found that participants’ ratings of male and female friends’ sadness were inﬂuenced not only by the friends’ actual behavior but also by the participants’ general schemas about how much sadness men versus women experience. In other words, through top-down processing (discussed in the sensation and perception chapter), our schemas about people inﬂuence our perceptions of them. And just as schemas help us read sentences whose words have missing letters, they also allow us to efﬁciently “ﬁll in the blanks” about people. Our schemas tell us, for example, that someone wearing a store uniform or name tag is likely to know where merchandise is located, so we usually approach that person for help. Accurate schemas help us to categorize people quickly and respond appropriately in social situations, but if schemas are incorrect they can create false expectations and errors in judgment about people that can lead to narrow-mindedness and even prejudice. First Impressions social perception The processes through which people interpret information about others, draw inferences about them, and develop mental representations of them. schemas Mental representations about people and social situations. Our schemas about people act as lenses that alter our ﬁrst impressions of them. Those impressions, in turn, affects both our later perceptions of their behavior and our reactions to it. First impressions are formed quickly, sometimes in less than one second (Willis & Todorov, 2006), usually change slowly, and typically have a long-lasting inﬂuence. No wonder they are so important in the development of social relations (Brehm et al., 2005). How do people form impressions of other people? And why are these impressions so resistant to change? doing 2 learn by Think about your ﬁrst impression of a close friend. It was probably formed quickly, because existing schemas create a Forming Impressions 544 Chapter 14 Social Psychology MAY I HELP YOU? Schemas help us to quickly categorize people and respond appropriately to them, but schemas can also create narrow-mindedness and, as we shall see later, prejudice. If this woman does not fulﬁll your schema— your mental representation—of how carpenters are supposed to look, you might be less likely to ask her advice on your home improvement project. One expert carpenter who manages the hardware department of a large home improvement store told us that most customers walk right past her in order to ask the advice of one of her less experienced male clerks. tendency to automatically assume a great deal about a person on the basis of limited information (Smith & Quellar, 2001). An ethnic name, for example, might have caused you to draw inferences about your friend’s religion, food preferences, or temperament. Clothing or hairstyle might have led you to make assumptions about political views or taste in music. These inferences and assumptions may or may not be accurate. How many turned out to be true in your friend’s case? One schema has a particularly strong inﬂuence on ﬁrst impressions: We tend to assume that the people we meet have attitudes and values similar to our own (Hoyle, 1993). So, all else being equal, we are inclined to like other people. However, even a small amount of negative information can change our minds. Why? The main reason is that most of us don’t expect other people to act negatively toward us. When unexpectedly negative behaviors do occur, they capture our attention and lead us to believe that these behaviors reﬂect something negative about the other person (Taylor, Peplau, & Sears, 2003). The result is that negative information attracts more attention and carries more weight than positive information in shaping ﬁrst impressions (Smith & Mackie, 2000). Does your friend seem the same today as when you ﬁrst met? First impressions can change, but the process is usually slow. One reason is that negative ﬁrst impressions may cause us to avoid certain people, thus reducing our exposure to new information that might change our view of them (Denrell, 2005). Further, most people want to keep their social environment simple and easy to understand (Kenrick, Neuberg, & Cialdini, 2005). We cling to our beliefs about the world, often using our schemas to preserve a reality that ﬁts our expectations. Holding on to existing impressions Lasting Impressions Noticeable features or actions help shape our impressions of others. Those impressions may or may not be correct. © Scott Adams/Dist. By United Feature Syndicate, Inc.