Social Perception

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What is Social Perception?

Social perception is the process of forming impressions of individuals. The resulting impressions that we form are based off of information available in the environment, our previous attitudes about relevant stimuli, and our current mood. Humans tend to operate under certain biases when forming impression of other individuals. For example, we are more like to perceive a beautiful person as being good (i.e. possessing desirable personality traits such as kindness, sociability, intelligence) than less attractive people. This particular bias is often called the halo effect.

What are some common social perception biases?

Another perception bias we tend to make is called in-group bias or in-group favoritism. In other words, we tend to favor members of our in-group over those we perceive as out-group members (e.g. (Allen & Wilder, 1975); (Billig & Tajfel, 1973); (Brewer, 1979); (Tajfel, 1970); (Wilder, 1981)). For example, when we are judging a particular Democratic candidate against a Republican politician, all other things being equal, we tend to view the Democrat politician more positively and treat that person more favorably than a similar Republican politician if we are Democrats ourselves. Under certain circumstances, however, we are likely to show bias against in-group members. That is when the in-group member behaves negatively; in particular, if he/she transgresses against a group norm. Theorists believe this is linked to our sense of social identity. When someone in my group does something good, then I feel good about myself as well. However, when someone in my group does something bad, I may feel bad (possibly because I know that other people are likely to judge me based on the behavior of my group members). So, under certain circumstances, I may treat or evaluate an offending in-group member more negatively than a similarly negative out-group member. This phenomenon is commonly known in psychology as the black sheep effect (e.g. (Marques, Yzerbyt, & Leyens, 1988); (Marques, Abrams, & Serodio, 2001); (Marques, Robalo, & Rocha, 1992); (Marques & Yzerbyt, 1988); (Matthews & Dietz-Uhler, 1998); (Coull et al, 2001)).

Useful References

Allen, V. L., & Wilder, D. (1975). Categorization, belief similarity, and intergroup discrimination. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 971-977.

Billig, M., & Tajfel, H. (1973). Social categorization and similarity in intergroup behavior. European Journal of Social Psychology, 3, 27-52.

Brewer, M. B. (1979). In-group bias in the minimal intergroup situation: A cognitive-motivational analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 86, 307-324.

Marques, J. M., Yzerbyt, V. Y., & Leyens, J-P. (1988). The “black sheep” effect: Extremity of judgments towards in-group members as a function of group identification. European Journal of Social Psychology, 18, 1-16.

Marques, J. M., Abrams, D., & Serodio, R. G. (2001). Being better by being right: Subjective Group Dynamics and derogations of in-group deviants when generic norms are undermined. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 436-447.

Marques, J. M., Robalo, E. M., & Rocha, S. A. (1992). In-group bias and the “black sheep” effect: Assessing the impact of social identification and perceived variability on group judgments. European Journal of Social Psychology, 22, 331-352.

Marques, J. M., Yzerbyt, V. Y. (1988). The black sheep effect: Judgmental extremity in inter- and intra-group situations. European Journal of Social Psychology, 18, 287-292.

Matthews, D., & Dietz-Uhler, B. (1998). The black sheep effect: How positive and negative advertisements affect voters’ perceptions of the sponsor of the advertisement. Journal of Applied Psychology, 29, 1903-1915.

Tajfel, H. (1970). Experiments in intergroup discrimination. Scientific American, 223, 96-102.

Wilder, D. A. (1981). Perceiving persons as a group: Categorization and intergroup relations. In D.L. Hamilton (Ed.), Cognitive Processes in Stereotyping and Intergroup Behavior (pp. 213-258). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawren



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