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Social perception is that part of perception that allows people to understand the other people in their social world. This sort of perception is defined as a social cognition which is the ability of the brain to store and process information.[1] People instantly form impressions from facial appearance,[2] and these impressions affect important decisions.[3] Social perception is defined as the study of how we form impressions of and make inferences about other people. To learn about other people, we rely on information from their physical appearance, and verbal and nonverbal communication. They can be ways in which people communicate, intentionally or unintentionally, without words—including through facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, body position and movement, touch, and gaze.

Charles Darwin believed that human emotional expressions are universal—that all humans encode (express or emit nonverbal behavior) and decode (interpret the meaning of the nonverbal behavior of others) expressions in the same way. Modern research suggests that Darwin was right, for the six major emotional expressions: anger, happiness, surprise, fear, disgust, and sadness. Current research examines whether other emotions have distinct and universal facial expressions associated with them. This research indicates that contempt may also be recognized cross-culturally. [4] Attributions also affect social perception. They are the explanations we infer while observing others, that help us to define the assessments we make about why others behave the way they do and make predictions as to how they will behave in the future [5]

Theories Studied[edit]

Implicit personality theory

Social perception gives individuals the tools to recognize how others affect their personal lives. They help individuals to form impressions of others by providing the necessary information about how people usually behave across situations. One proposal to explain how social perceptions provide information needed for impression formation is by approaching the behavior with an implicit personality theory outlook. Implicit personality theories state that if an individual observes certain traits in another person, s/he tends to assume that his or her other personality traits are concurrent with the initial trait. These assumptions help us to make quick judgments about the character of an individual. It also helps us to "categorize" people so that we can infer additional information about them and predict their behavior.[1] Social perception refers to the initial stages in which people process information in order to determine another individual's mind-set and intentions.[2] It is combined with the cognitive ability to pay attention to and interpret a range of different social factors that may include: verbal messages, tone, non-verbal behavior, and knowledge of social relationships and an understanding of social goals.[3] Social perception is a key component of social interaction and social skills. A key aspect of social interaction is the process of figuring out what others are thinking and feeling which is also referred to as Theory of Mind (ToM).[4]

Attribution theory

How do we attach meaning to other's behavior, or our own? This is called attribution theory. “Attribution theory deals with how the social perceiver uses information to arrive at causal explanations for events. It examines what information is gathered and how it is combined to form a causal judgment” (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). Attribution theory is concerned with how and why ordinary people explain events as they do. Heider (1958) believed that people are naive psychologists trying to make sense of the social world and people tend to see cause and effect relationships even where there is none! (

Within this broad field, those investigators interested in cognitive processes have focused primarily on the antecedents-attributions link and those interested in the dynamics of behavior, on the attributions-consequences link. Thus, it is possible to draw a rough distinction between what might be called "attribution" and "attributional" research. The first involves systematic assessment or manipulation of antecedents. There is no interest in consequences beyond the attributions themselves, and they are generally measured directly by verbal report. "Attributional" research concerns the consequences of attributions. It entails assessment or manipulation of perceived causes and measurement of their effects on behavior, feelings, and expectancies. There are attributional theories of such diverse things as achievement motivation, romantic love, and aggression. What these two types of research have in common is an interest in the causal explanations given for events by ordinary people. In both cases, causal attributions are assumed to play a central role in human behavior. They constitute the person's understanding of the causal structure of the world and, therefore, are important determinants of his interaction with that world (


TASIT (The Awareness of Social Inference Test) is an audiovisual test that was created for the clinical assessment of social perception. The test is based upon several critical components of social perception that are critical to social competence using complex, dynamic, visual, and auditory cues to assess these critical components. The test assesses the ability to identify emotions, a skill that is impaired in many clinical conditions. It also assesses the ability to judge what a speaker maybe thinking or what their intentions are for the other person in the conversation, also referred to as Theory of Mind. Lastly, the test was developed to assess the ability to differentiate between literal and non-literal conversational remarks. The test is divided into three parts to measure; emotion, social inference – minimal, and social inference enriched. The test is composed of scenes, or vignettes, and those being assessed are asked to identify the emotions, a, feelings, beliefs, intentions, and meanings of the interactions. They are also assessed on more complex interactions to assess ability to interpret sarcasm.[6] The results of this testing assess the level of social perception of an individual.

TASIT has adequate psychometric properties as a clinical test of social perception. It is not overly prone to practice effects and is reliable for repeat administrations. Performance on TASIT is affected by information processing speed, working memory, new learning and executive functioning, but the uniquely social material that comprises the stimuli for TASIT will provide useful insights into the particular difficulties people with clinical conditions experience when interpreting complex social phenomena.[6]

Self concept[edit]

According to Carl Rogers (1959), the self-concept is, "the organized, consistent set of perceptions and beliefs about oneself.” Each person has their own self-concept that reflects all of their personal attributes, beliefs and attitudes. In summary, a self-concept is the evaluation of one's self and the things that make up the self. The Development of the self-concept starts in early childhood. although how it develops and the distinct stages are still debated, Rogers(1959). Some of the most influential theories of the development of the self-concept come from M. Lewis, C. Rogers, E. Erikson, J. Brooks-Gunn and Jean Piaget. Furthermore, one's self perception can also be influenced by the clothes that one wears. For instance, Hajo Adam found that when participants wore what they thought was a doctor's lab coat, they gained better attention skills. [7]

Theories of the development of the self concept[edit]

M. Lewis's Existential and Categorical selves[edit]

Lewis (1990) believed that there were two key aspects of the self-concept; the existential self and the categorical self.

Lewis argued that the existential self is the most fundamental aspect of the self-concept. The existential self is the awareness of being your own unit separate from everything else. When children develop their existential selves they become aware of themselves as individuals, separate from all other things they can see around them. Children who have developed their existential selves can grasp the concept that they are continuous beings who will continue to exist despite changes across situations and environments. The existential self appears between two and three months of age. Lewis (1990) believes that the existential self may present so early because of the connection the child has to the world. For example, babies might notice that the TV screens change consistently yet the rooms the televisions are in, as well as they themselves, do not change.

Lewis described the categorical self as developing post-existential self once children gather an understanding of themselves as a separate entities in the world. The development of the categorical self allows children to identify themselves as having observable qualities and assets. A child will learn to identify her- or himself as a boy or a girl, or 2 years old versus three years old, qualities that can be experienced and that have specific aspects. At first, children only link basic and tangible qualities like age and gender. But as children grow older their categorical selves begin to include evaluations from others, comparisons and internal, psychological attributes. Lewis (1990).[8]

Carl Roger's Components of the Self-Concept[edit]

Rogers (1959) took a humanistic approach to the self-concept. He argued that the self-concept is constructed from three different components that he called self-esteem (or self-worth), self-image and the ideal self. These three components of the self-concept are always unique and specific to each person. Rogers believed that we will evaluate our self-worth higher if our self-image and ideal-self are harmonious. When an individual acts in a way that is not fitting with the self-image, Roger's believes them to be in a ‘state of incongruence'.


Self-image is a compilation of the things seen in oneself whether they be internal, external or social attributes. In simple terms, self-image is what an individual sees in his- or herself. Self-image is not based on reality but rather on the individual's perception. This is why many anorexic women believe themselves to be overweight when they are, in reality, grossly underweight. Self-image is influenced by many aspects of an individual's personal and social life including, parents, friends, anxiety, stress etc. Rogers (1959).

A study done in China attempted to see the relationship between body image depression and self regard. The results showed that self regard is negatively impacted by an overall body image depression. Girls scored lowered than boys and students who lived in the city scored lowered compared to the ones who lived in the country side. [9]

Ideal Self[edit]

The ideal self is the evaluation of what an individual would like to be. In simpler terms, it is the mental model of your “perfect” self. (Rogers, 1959). Often, the ideal self is not aligned with the individuals' capabilities in their current situations. This creates incongruity between the ideal self and the self-image. It is unusual to achieve complete congruence. (Rogers, 1959).

Self-Esteem and Self-Worth[edit]

Self-esteem is the assessment of one's own self-worth. In other words, it's the importance or value one attributes to oneself. When assessing one's own self-esteem, the evaluation can be positive, which indicates higher self-esteem, or negative, indicating low self-esteem. (Rogers, 1959)

High self-esteem has been associated with optimism, confidence and self-acceptance, whereas low-self esteem has been linked to pessimism, consistent worrying and a deficiency in confidence. (Rogers, 1959).[10]

Erik Erikson's Eight Developmental stages[edit]

Erik Erikson (1966)contended that the development was continuous throughout the lifespan. Erikson created the Eight Developmental Stages:

  1. Trust vs. Mistrust: Feeding Children develop a sense of trust when caregivers provide reliability, care, and affection. A lack of this will lead to mistrust. (birth-2 yrs)
  2. Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt: Toilet Training Children need to develop a sense of personal control over physical skills and a sense of independence. Success leads to feelings of autonomy, failure results in feelings of shame and doubt. (2 yrs-4 yrs)
  3. Initiative vs. Guilt Exploration: Children need to begin asserting control and power over the environment. Success in this stage leads to a sense of purpose. Children who try to exert too much power experience disapproval, resulting in a sense of guilt. (4 yrs- 5 yrs)
  4. Industry vs. Inferiority School: Children need to cope with new social and academic demands. Success leads to a sense of competence, while failure results in feelings of inferiority. Adolescence (5 yrs - 12 yrs)
  5. Identity vs. Role Confusion Social Relationships: Teens need to develop a sense of self and personal identity. Success leads to an ability to stay true to yourself, while failure leads to role confusion and a weak sense of self. Young Adulthood (13 yrs- 19 yrs
  6. Intimacy vs. Isolation Relationships: Young adults need to form intimate, loving relationships with other people. Success leads to strong relationships, while failure results in loneliness and isolation. Middle Adulthood (20 yrs- 40 yrs
  7. Generativity vs. Stagnation Work and Parenthood: Adults need to create or nurture things that will outlast them, often by having children or creating a positive change that benefits other people. Success leads to feelings of usefulness and accomplishment, while failure results in shallow involvement in the world. (40 yrs - 64 yrs)
  8. Ego Integrity vs. Despair Reflection on Life: Older adults need to look back on life and feel a sense of fulfillment. Success at this stage leads to feelings of wisdom, while failure results in regret, bitterness, and despair. (60 yrs — death).[11]


Social bias is defined as "prejudicial attitudes towards particular groups, races, sexes, or religions, including the conscious or unconscious expression of these attitudes in writing, speaking, etc (social)." There are many different causes and many theories behind any one of the many effects of Social Bias. Some of the major effects are

  • Dunning-Kruger Effect – Describes an effect by which people may perform badly at a task, but lack the mental capability to evaluate and recognize that they have done poorly (Hawes).
  • Egocentric Bias – The tendency to give more credit to ourselves from positive outcomes than an observer.
  • Overconfidence Bias – Overestimating one's own confidence (part of the Dunning-Kruger Effect).
  • Forer Effect (Barnum Effect) – Placing high belief in a general description thinking it was meant specifically for an individual, aka horoscopes
  • Status Quo Bias – Tendency to favor certain circumstances because they are familiar.
  • Ingroup Bias – Behaving a certain way to become more favorable in a group
  • Stereotyping – Attributing traits to people based on certain traits of the group.
  • Halo Effect – Tendency to believe in the nature of a person (good/bad) based on general traits of people
  • False Consensus – Assuming others agree with what we do (even though they may not).
  • Projection Bias – Assuming others share the same beliefs as us.
  • Actor-observed Bias – Tendency to blame our actions on the situation and blame the action of others based on their personalities

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smith, E. R., & Mackie, D. M. (2000).
  2. ^ Bar, Neta, & Linz, 2006; Rule, Ambady, & Adams, 2009; Todorov, Pakrashi, & Oosterhof, 2009; Willis & Todorov, 2006
  3. ^ Olivola & Todorov, 2010a, 2010b
  4. ^ Pearson. (1995-2010). Social perception: How we come to understand other people.
  5. ^ Baron et al, 2006)
  6. ^ a b McDonald, Bornhofen, Shum, Long, Saunders, & Neulinger, 2006
  7. ^ Blakeslee, Sandra. "Mind Games: Sometimes a White Coat Isn't Just a White Coat". The New York Times. Retrieved 9/19/13.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  8. ^ Lewis, M. (1990). Self-knowledge and social development in early life, Handbook of personality, 277-300.
  9. ^ Yabing, Gao (26 Feb 2007). "A Study on the Relationship between Body Image Depression and Self-regard of High School and College Students". Psychological Science (China). 29 (4): 973–975. Retrieved 3 April 2013.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help); Check date values in: |year= / |date= mismatch (help)
  10. ^ Rogers, Carl. (1959). A Theory of Therapy, Personality and Interpersonal Relationships as Developed in the Client-centered Framework. Psychology: A Study of a Science; Formulations of the Person and the Social Context, 3, 235-246.
  11. ^ Erikson, E. (1966). Eight ages of men. International journal of psychiatry, 2, 281-300.


• ^ E. R. Smith, D. M. Mackie (2000). Social Psychology. Psychology Press,2, 20. • ^ Delamate, John D, H. Andrew Michener and Daniel J. Myers (2003). Social Psychology; The handbook of social psychology, 5. • ^ Dunning, David (2001).What Is the Word on Self-Motives and Social Perception: Introduction to the Special Issue. Motivation and Emotion, 25. • ^ Truett, Puce, & McCarthy, 2000 • ^ a b c McDonald, Bornhofen, Shum, Long, Saunders, & Neulinger, 2006 • ^ Calarge, Andreasen, & O'Leary, 2003 • ^ Miller, 2006 • ^ Lerner, Hutchins, & Prelock, 2011 • ^ a b c John, Hattie Self-Concept ISBN 0898596297 (1992) • ^ Morse, S.J & Gergen, K.J (1970). Social Comparison, Self Consistency and the Presentation of Self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 16, 148-159. • ^ Anderson C.M. (1952). The Self-Image: A theory of dynamics of behavior. Mental Hygiene, 36, 227-244. • ^ Lewis, M., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (1979) Social Cognition and the acquisition of self. New York Plenum

  • Behne, T., Carpenter, M., Call, J., & Tomasello, M. (2005). Unwilling versus unable: infants' understanding of intentional action. Developmental psychology, 41, 328-337. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.41.2.328
  • Bodenhausen, G. V., & Hugenberg, K. (2009). Attention, perception, and social cognition. 1-22.
  • Erikson, E. (1966). Eight ages of men. International journal of psychiatry, 2, 281-300.
  • Happe´, F.G.E. (1994). An advanced test of theory of mind. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 129–154.
  • Lewis, M. (1990). Self-knowledge and social development in early life, Handbook of personality, 277-300.
  • Malle, B. F. (2001). Folk explanations of intentional action. Intentions and intentionality: Foundations of social cognition, 265-286.
  • McDonald, S., Bornhofen, C., Shum, D., Long, E., Saunders, C., & Neulinger, K. (2006) Reliability and validity of the awareness of social inference test (TASIT): A clinical test of social perception. Disability and Rehabilitation, 28(24), 1529-1542.
  • Morse, S. J. & Gergen, K. J. (1970). Social comparison, self-consistency and the concept of self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 16, 148-156.
  • O’Brien, K., Slaughter, V., & Peterson, C. C. (2011). Sibling influences on theory of mind development for children with ASD. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 52(6), 713-719.
  • Premack, D., & Woodruff, G. (1978). Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind?. Behavioral and brain sciences, 1(04), 515-526.
  • Rogers, Carl. (1959). A Theory of Therapy, Personality and Interpersonal Relationships as Developed in the Client-centered Framework. Psychology: A Study of a Science; Formulations of the Person and the Social Context, 3, 235-246.
  • Pearson. (1995-2010). Social perception: How we come to understand other people. Retrieved from

Category:Perception Category:Social psychology Category:Mental processes