Psychology Stereotyping Essay Research Paper INTERPERSONAL PERCEPTION

Psychology -Stereotyping Essay, Research Paper


Describe and evaluate the psychological explanations and research evidence concerning social perception.

Interpersonal perception fits under the umbrella of social perception and is basically our general perception of others. It can be defined as the study of how the layperson [or amateur psychologist!], uses theory and data in understanding people , (Judy Gahagan, 1984).

Interpersonal perception is concerned with how we attempt to explain and predict the behaviour of other people, and goes further to deal with how we form impressions of, and make inferences about these people.

Such impressions can be formed through stereotyping for example, and are easier explained through the appliance of theory.

Stereotyping is taken to mean the fixed, narrow, pictures in our head generally resistant to change. They are simplistic generalisations about particular groups or classes of people, and are often negative and unflattering, (sometimes underlying prejudice and discrimination).

However, stereotypes are not necessarily false assumptions, and often contain a grain of truth . A stereotype must be a widely shared set of beliefs, and so further reinforces the fact that some degree of truth or accuracy is evident.

The IMPLICIT PERSONALITY THEORY is reflected in stereotyping, as this theory is concerned with the assumptions that people make about which personality traits are associated with which others, (eg. ambitious people are also hard working).

Deborah Holder (The Guardian), agrees with this as she write in her article A rose by any other name ; In implicit personality theory, a single item of information about a person will generate inferences about other aspects of that person s character.

The theory describes how people can then relate such theories to entire social groups. These, are referred to as implicit assumptions ( theories ), because generally there is no evidence that such inferences have any substance, and indeed people seem to hold no conscious awareness that they even exist!

According to the implicit personality theory, stereotyping can also be linked to people s names and physical appearances as we also infer what people are like from these.

Various studies done of teachers marking pupils essays for example, (eg. Harari and McDavid, 1973), support this suggestion, as it was found that pupils with more favourable names could be given up to a grade higher than those with less common or more undesirable names.

Studies such as these though, can be looked upon as quite appalling and shocking, as teachers (especially when marking), are meant to be completely unbiased individuals. Therefore questions can be raised about who the teachers were, their training and experience levels, and how many of them were used for the purpose of the studies!

However, with this sort of stereotyping being constantly played on and increasingly exaggerated by the media and television, perhaps it is possible that none of us (including teachers!) are able to escape the impossible stereotyping of names that subconsciously reflects anything and everything from a person s personality to their social class/standing.

Although stereotypes are generally based on our assumptions about characteristics, most of our impressions of others are based on what they actually do; their behaviour, -which is not dealt with in the implicit personality theory.

What we judge to be the cause(s) of a person s behaviour has a major influence on the impression we form of them. This process is called the ATTRIBUTION PROCESS.

In a rather interesting study, F. Heider and S. Simmel, (1944), attempted to prove just how strong the human tendancy to explain what people are like in terms of their behaviour was.

They did this by using cartoons of three shapes, (one big triangle, one small triangle, and a circle), moving around, in and out of a square. It was found that in general, the participants would describe the two triangles as two men (the larger one being more aggressive, and the smaller as more defiant and even heroic!). The participants then described the men to be rivaling each other in trying to win a girl (the circle!), who was described as being very timid.

Such a study can be looked on as rather amusing and it can be wondered that perhaps the participants were involved in some kind of discussion or influenced in some way to lead them to believe that such behaviour could be seen in the shapes.

However, it should also be stated that the study is very important in showing that people are always trying to interpret behaviour, -even when the object(s) are inanimate!!

It was in fact F. Heider who was also the first to note that when we engage in social attribution, we determine the extent to which a person s behaviour (whether our own or someone else s), is primarily caused by the person (dispositional), or by their circumstances (situational).

The attribution theory deals with the rules that most people use when they attempt to infer the causes of the behaviour they observe. These being either the person s motives, intentions, or personality; or the situation the person is/was in, who else was involved, and any physical features of the environment.

An example of this inference of causes could be taken from the April 1992 rioting in Los Angeles. Here, the citizens, politicians, and commentators were very quick to place the blame on either the rioters or their circumstances. Those who believed the rioters were motivated by internal causes such as a personal inclination to violence made dispositional attributions. In contrast, those who believed the rioters were responding to external forces/issues such as racism and poverty made situational attributions.

These theories of attribution are therefore often called inference theories , as they explain the process of making inferences.

As seen in the example, attribution is not always an accurate and objective process though, as being somewhat irrational and subjective, there are a number of attributional biases which can influence the way in which we judge the behaviour of ourselves and others.

In general, people tend to attribute their own behaviour to the circumstances in which they find themselves, while they attribute other people s behaviour to personality, beliefs, and more internal factors. These causal explanations in which we tend to emphasise one factor more than the other are known as the FUNDAMENTAL ATTRIBUTION ERROR, as generally such attributions are groundless, or errors.

It can be seen that both the IMPLICIT PERSONALITY THEORY and the FUNDAMENTAL ATTRIBUTION ERROR (ATTRIBUTION PROCESS), are very useful in explaining our interpersonal perception and of how and why we form such biases and stereotypes of people, and even entire groups in society.

Whether we are making implicit assumptions about their personality traits, or using situational and dispositional inferences about the causes of their behaviour; our assumptions and inferences of other people are generally formed relatively quickly, and once a stereotype has been formed, people can be extremely reluctant to abandon them!


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