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Person Perception

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Person Perception

"Never judge a book by its cover."

It is a common phrase, but most of us have a hard time living it! We often assume things about other people, even if we have only just met them or haven't even talked to them. In social psychology, these immediate and initial perceptions of other people are referred to as person perception.

  • What is person perception?
  • What are experiments studying person perception?
  • What are types of person perception?

Person Perception in Social Psychology

Person perception theory in social psychology is the study of how we cognitively categorize people and their behaviors. Person perception can be difficult to explain; it is complicated and incredibly subjective. Your impressions of other people can be influenced by your context or surroundings, the characteristics of the other person, and your own attributes and experiences.

Perceptions of people are often based on social norms or standards. They may also be based on stereotypes or generalizations. Even with all these factors in play, it only takes a moment for your mind to form a perception or interpretation of another person! Why do our minds automatically do this? Why do we mentally categorize other people that we meet based on social norms or our past experiences?

Person Perception, an elderly man sitting in front of a computer with caution tape wrapped around it, StudySmarterStereotypes and assumptions, pexels.com

Not using your cell phone in a movie theater is a social norm. When someone breaks this social rule, you may form an impression of that person, even though you have never met them. Take another example, the stereotype that teenagers are rebellious, obnoxious, and irresponsible. Not all teenagers are like that! We tend to think about teenagers this way, though, and we may even assume that teenagers we meet fit this stereotype before getting to know them.

Person Perception Theory

Perceptions are what shape how we interact with the world and our society. Why are these initial, automatic observations and assumptions important? Person perception theory explains why we try to understand the world around us by automatically sorting information into mental categories. We can categorize perceptions of people to figure out who is there to help, and what roles other people are filling.

You are new to a school and are looking for a teacher to help you find a classroom. What attributes do you look for, based on your perceptions of what a teacher should look like? Are they male or female? Are they young or old? How do they dress? Who would you automatically assume is NOT a teacher?

Some perceptions help keep us safe. Maybe you are walking through a new neighborhood, and you find yourself in what seems like a bad part of town. Why do you come to that conclusion? What is it about that area that tells you that part of town is less safe than others? What decisions do you make based on your initial perception?

There are a few factors or principles that we use to form our initial perceptions of other people. Social categorization, implicit personality theory, and physical attractiveness are a few of those principles.

Social Categorization

Social categorization is the natural process of mentally categorizing people into social groups. We tend to group people by their gender or age. Unfortunately, social categorization can have negative impacts like stereotypes of people based on race, ethnicity, and culture.

But what are some positives aspects of social categorization? If you are in a city foreign to you and need help, you can pick out someone who looks like a police officer based on what they are wearing. Your mental category of "police officers" becomes very helpful to you!

Implicit Personality Theory

We also mentally rely on what we assume are typical behaviors and characteristics of people. This is called implicit personality theory. These are assumptions of others based on their behaviors and personalities. Behaviors such as being loud and energetic are often implicitly assumed to be connected to "unintelligence".

What if you meet someone who is extremely small, thin, and quiet? What would you assume about that person?

Physical Attractiveness

A person's physical appearance and perceived physical attractiveness also play a role in how we perceive that person. Why does appearance matter? In society, those who are considered more attractive are often treated in a different matter than those who look poor and run-down. In one study, researchers found that we tend to identify those with a disease, genetic abnormality, or other deficiency based on qualities of appearance, particularly facial characteristics. We tend to overgeneralize these facial attributes and make assumptions about individuals. If you meet someone who has a very large nose, what do you assume about that person?

Some people rate themselves and others on a scale of 1-10 based on physical attractiveness. "She's an 8, but he's a 7," you may have heard. People often decide who to date based on physical appearance, before they start getting to know the other person!

Person Perception Experiment

There is so much research that helps us better understand how person perception works, and how it affects certain situations and events in our lives. One experiment looks into how race influences our perceptions of people. It involved asking a group of Caucasian women to describe their ideal romantic partner. After this, these women were shown a video of two separate basketball teams who were passing the basketball back and forth. The researchers asked the women to count the number of passes made by one team. Halfway through the video, a man walks through the court. The man was either African American or Caucasian.

The researchers also selected participants for a control group who were not asked about their ideal romantic partner and were just shown the video. In the control group, the women were more likely to notice the African American player than the other group of women. The researchers attributed this to the stereotype that African American men are scary or aggressive.

Some of the women in the other group did not even notice the African American player! Their mind was still processing their ideal romantic partner, so they were more likely to notice the Caucasian man who walked through the court. Researchers attributed these responses to the social person perception of African Americans by Caucasian people in real-world contexts.

Different Types of Person Perception

Observations and first impressions are like the raw data we use to form perceptions of other people. Noticing a person's appearance is part of the observation stage of perception. What clothes a person is wearing, the color of their hair and skin, and even how they express emotion can impact our initial perceptions.

Using all of this information, we integrate that data with our preconceived notions of favorable and unfavorable attributes. These are highly influenced by cultural and subjective factors. We may think that attributes like being intelligent, loud, or popular are positive, and being short, big, or weird are negative. It's as if we make a mental pro-con list of the person's attributes (as we perceive them, not necessarily as they actually are!) to see which side outweighs the other.

Often, if we can spend more time with this individual or gain more knowledge about them, we can then confirm or change our preexisting notions of them. There is an issue with confirming our preconceived notions about a person, though; it is called the primary effect in social psychology. It means that our initial assumptions tend to stick with us, even as we learn more about the person. It can be very hard to challenge and change preconceived notions of people, especially if we have held them for a very long time!

Neuroscientists wanted to know why this happens on a biological level. Through research, they learned that we detect certain aspects of a person (like facial features and body shape) using specific areas of the brain. These areas were restricted to the fusiform gyri and occipitotemporal cortices. These brain areas specifically focus on processing physical attributes.

What about personal attributes like personality traits? When we perceive a person's character or personality, different areas of the brain process this information. These areas are the medial prefrontal cortex, precuneus, temporal poles, and the temporoparietal junction.

Person Perception, a girl holding a book and a guy sitting in a chair behind her forming an initial impression of each other, StudySmarterInitial impressions, pexels.com

Examples of Person Perception in Psychology

Our many personal attributes make us as unique as snowflakes. We call the unique combination of our attributes our identity as a person.

The beliefs that you or someone else hold are examples of deeply confirmed or ingrained personal perceptions. These beliefs may be religious in nature, but they don't have to be; they can also be moral and ethical beliefs not explicitly tied to a religion.

Personality traits are a big part of our personal attributes and identity. Are you a shy person? Is that friend at school very loud? Does your brother like to read or play video games? What about appearances? Would you befriend someone who loves to color their hair blue? What would you think of someone with many tattoos? The way we perceive others and express ourselves has much to do with our personality traits!

What makes us unique and interesting can also make us seem strange and unapproachable to others. Our own perceptions of other people can also shape the way we see ourselves and how we then behave in society. This is how the concept of person perception in social psychology impacts how we treat ourselves and others!

Person Perception - Key takeaways

  • In social psychology, immediate and initial perceptions of other people are referred to as person perception.
    • Person perception theory explains why we try to understand the world around us by automatically sorting information into mental categories.
  • Social categorization is the natural process of mentally categorizing people into social groups.
  • Implicit Personality Theory describes our assumptions of others based on their behaviors and personalities.
  • Observations and first impressions are like the raw data we use to perceive other people.
  • We integrate that data with our preconceived notions of favorable and unfavorable attributes. We can then confirm or change our preexisting notions of other people.
  • The primary effect means that our initial assumptions about other people tend to stick with us, even as we learn more about the person.

Frequently Asked Questions about Person Perception

Person perception is the study of understanding how we cognitively categorize people and their behaviors.

Person perception is important because it is how we try to understand the world around us. 

Social categorization, implicit personality theory, and physical attractiveness are a few principles of person perception.

Observations, integration, and confirmation are the main components of person perception.

Beliefs and personality traits are two examples of personal perceptions and expressions.

Final Person Perception Quiz

Question

In social psychology, the immediate and initial perception of someone is referred to as _____.

Show answer

Answer

person perception

Show question

Question

_____ is the study of understanding how we cognitively categorize people and their behaviors.

Show answer

Answer

Person perception

Show question

Question

Factors or principles that we use to conclude others are ______, ________, ________.

Show answer

Answer

social categorizations, implicit personality theory, and physical attractiveness.

Show question

Question

______ is the natural process by which we categorize people into social groups.

Show answer

Answer

Social categorization

Show question

Question

We also rely on behaviors and characteristics of people that with think tend to happen. This is called ___ ____ theory.

Show answer

Answer

 implicit personality

Show question

Question

______ and first impressions are like the raw data of information we use in

perceiving people.

Show answer

Answer

Observations

Show question

Question

When using all of this gathered data, we then ____ that data with our preconceived notions of what are favorable and unfavorable attributes.

Show answer

Answer

integrate

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Question

True of False: 

Often, if we can spend more time with this individual or gain more knowledge of them, we can NOT confirm or change our preexisting notions of them.

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Answer

False

Show question

Question

In social psychology, ____ is how we try to understand the world around us. It is how we can categorize perceptions of people who may be there to help us.

Show answer

Answer

person perception

Show question

Question

What are some examples of a person's expression of individual qualities?


Show answer

Answer

Moral beliefs, personality traits, and appearance.

Show question

Question

Gathered data is the ___ of information we perceive in people. 

A. raw data

B. confirmation

C. integration 

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Answer

A. raw data


Show question

Question

True or False: 

In society, those who are considered more attractive are often treated in a different matter in that they are treated or regarded as a "good person".

Show answer

Answer

True. This is due to physical attractiveness in person perception.

Show question

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