Social Cognition and Perception
The two persons I selected for discussion are a delivery driver and a friend. My first impression of a person will delve into someone I do not know and will most likely never see again: a delivery driver. One summer a few years back, my family bought a few things from a town a few states away and chose to have them delivered by delivery services. On the day of the delivery, I happened to be home alone and had to receive the items myself. When the truck arrived, I went outside to meet the delivery people, and I put on a smile because I was going to spend the next hour or so with these people, and I wanted to be friendly. However, when I saw the driver, he was a big, muscular man and barely smiled, so I toned down my friendliness. After saying hey, he firmly shook my hand, introduced himself, and did the same for all his colleagues, and they all immediately started unloading the items from the truck. He left no room for small talk, making me conclude that I had to show them where to put the items. I initially wanted to offer some lemonade, but I hesitated because I knew they would reject it. However, after the work was over, I offered it because it was already prepared, and they accepted it. My first impression was that they were very stern and a little hyper-masculine, and I concluded they must have been veterans.
My second first impression of a person focuses on someone who is now my friend. Accordingly, I remember our first meeting because it was quite hilarious. I was at the mall with some friends who had just bought slushies and decided to watch a movie. On the way to the movie theater, we were goofing around, and my friend pushed, causing me to accidentally bump into someone ahead of me. My slushy spilled all over his hoodie and shoes, which I noticed were both high-end fashion brands, and I panicked because I had ruined them. I didn’t know what to do and just froze in place, trying to figure out what to do. Surprisingly, the person started chuckling while looking at me; I guess my shocked face was that comical. “Hey, it’s okay. It was an accident,” he said calmly. I tried to help him fix it, but he declined, saying he had a spare hoodie in his car. I really didn’t expect him to react like after I spilled cheap drinks all over his luxurious clothes. However, he did assure me it was okay and then left. Later on, when we got to the movie theater, he joined us because it was where he was headed when I spilled my drink on him. Since he was alone and I was still feeling guilty, I invited him to join my friends and me so that we could watch it together, and that’s how we started becoming friends. My first impression was that he had a laid-back personality because he was friendly, relaxed, cheerful, and calm.
Attributions for Each Person’s Behavior in the Two Cases Identified Above
In the first case with the delivery people, I made external attribution of their behavior to some form of military service. The delivery driver’s behavior reminded me of how military men conduct themselves, even in movies; they always have an aura of calmness and seriousness, are very attentive, and are somehow distant. Having read “Make Your Bed: Little Things that Can Change Your Life… and Maybe the World” by distinguished military veteran McRaven (McRaven, 2017), I attributed the delivery driver’s behavior to being in military service. In the second case, I made internal attributions for my friend’s behavior by basing his attitude on his personality.
The Thinking I Engaged in When Forming the First Impression of Each Person in the Identified Cases
I engaged in automatic thinking to form a first impression, but only in the first case with the delivery man. I used availability heuristics (Aronson, Wilson & Sommers, 2021) because as soon as I saw the man alight from the car and approach me, I thought of Dwayne Johnson, the famous actor. Due to this availability heuristic, I passed judgment on the man as someone with a military background. In addition, I started relating everything he did based on my automatic thinking, trying to prove my theory right.
Culture and How It Influences My Impressions of Others
I am a black person in America and identify with both the American culture and the culture of African Americans. American culture is heavily influenced or shaped by movies and media. Therefore, whatever portrayal of certain characters is emphasized in movies shapes the culture, affecting most Americans’ impressions of such characters in real life. Watching Dwayne Johnson play multiple characters in military positions, I have come to associate such an image with real-life military people. Suppose this was not the case, I probably would have thought the delivery man was a part-time gym trainer or something else that involves strenuous physical exercises.
My second impression of a person was also influenced by my culture. As a black person and from research (Suoth, 2022), I know we like high-end fashion brands, and in most cases, getting an expensive outfit ruined by some guy will most likely lead to a confrontation. One is bound to get angry, and this is what I expected after my slushy mishap. However, since this did not happen, I concluded that his personality was pretty laid-back and calm.
Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., & Sommers, S. R. (2021). Social psychology (10e druk). Harlow, UK: Pearson.
McRaven, A. W. H. (2017). Make your bed: Little things that can change your life… and maybe the world. Hachette UK.
Suoth, D. B. (2022). The Liberatory Potential of Fashion.
We’ll write everything from scratch
Social cognition is the study of the ways people think about themselves and the social world, including how they select, interpret, remember, and use social information. Two types of social cognition are controlled thinking and automatic thinking. Controlled thinking is thinking that is conscious, intentional, voluntary, and effortful, such as when you are weighing the pros and cons of an issue to make an important decision or are learning a skill for the first time. Automatic thinking is just as it sounds—thinking that happens without conscious thought—and it is this type of thinking that you will concentrate on this week.
Schemas, one example of automatic thinking, are mental structures that organize our knowledge about the social world and influence what we notice, think about, and remember. Schemas are important for making sense of the world. They help us to create continuity to relate new experiences to old ones and are especially helpful when information is ambiguous. We also engage in a second type of automatic thinking when we use mental strategies and shortcuts, or heuristics, that make judgments and decisions easier, allowing us to proceed with our lives and not turn every decision into a major hurdle. Examples of heuristics include availability, representativeness, and counterfactual thinking. Schemas and heuristics significantly influence our impressions of a social situation and facilitate our social cognition processes. Schemas are highly determined by the cultures in which we grow up, and they strongly influence what we notice and remember about the world.
Think back to this week’s Introduction. When you meet someone new, you no doubt use many different kinds of information available to you and process that information in a way that allows you to make sense of their behavior. You may see if a person fits into some group with which you are familiar and then try to make sense of the person’s behavior in light of others in that group. In addition, you probably have your own goals for relating to the person, which also influences your impression. If your goal is to form a long-term relationship with the person, you will process the information differently than you would the information from a store clerk with whom you don’t plan to have any kind of relationship.
The information you focus on, the strategies you use in processing the information, and the resulting impressions and preconceived ideas you form about a person make up what is called person perception. Since social psychology is all about relating to others, be it an individual or a group of people, person perception is an important topic.
In addition to understanding how people form impressions of others, it is helpful to dig deeper into why people might behave as they do. In doing so, you can more easily predict how people will behave and then control the environment accordingly. By having a better understanding of why people behave as they do, you also can understand your own emotions and feelings toward the situation, which impact your own future behavior. The simple question of “What causes what?” is essential in understanding those around you and your social environment. And, since it would be cumbersome to constantly ask the question “What causes what?”—people tend to ask and answer it automatically. The social psychology term for this concept is causal attribution. There are many related social psychological theories that you can use to understand why people behave as they do. This understanding, in turn, helps you to better understand how people relate to one another and to the environment, predict behavior, and partly control social situations—all major goals of social psychology.
Review Chapters 3 and 4 of the course text, Social Psychology.
Review the article “Person Perception” found in this week’s Learning Resources.
Watch the video on selective attention.
The Assignment (2–4 pages):
Select one person in each category below:
A person you do not know and who you probably will not see again (clerk at the grocery store, etc.)
A person you have known for some time and for whom you can remember your first impressions (acquaintance, friend, spouse, etc.)
Briefly describe each person, including his or her specific behavior at your first meeting, the context of your interaction with each person, and your first impression of each person.
Explain whether you made external (situational) and/or internal (dispositional) attributions for each person’s behavior during that first meeting.
Did you engage in automatic thinking or controlled thinking in forming your first impression of each person? Explain. What, if any, schemas or heuristics did you use?
With which culture(s) do you identify? According to the information in this week’s readings, how does your culture influence your impressions of others? For example, (a) how does your culture influence the content of a particular schema (Aronson, Wilson, & Sommers, 2019, p. 70), (b) which culturally-specific display rules influence your impressions (Aronson, Wilson, & Sommers, 2019, pp. 889-90), or (c) when have you engaged in holistic or analytic thinking as your culture would predict (Aronson, Wilson, & Sommers, 2019, p. 110)?
Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., & Sommers, S. R. (2019). Social psychology (10th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.
Chapter 3, “Social Cognition: How We Think About the Social World”
Chapter 4, “Social Perception: How We Come to Understand Other People”
“Social Psychology in Action 3: Psychology and the Law” (pp. 4831-493 on Eyewitness Testimony)
Boeree, C. G. (1999). Person perception. In Social psychology basics, there are links to an external site.
Click on the Person Perception link above to access a PDF copy of the article.
Credit: Boeree, C. G. (1999).Available from http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/socpsy.html
Simons, D. (2010, March 10). Selective attention test Links to an external site. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo
This video shows selective attention tasks to demonstrate social perception and misperception. [1:21 minutes]