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In psychology and cognitive sciences, social perception is the process of acquiring, interpreting, selecting and organizing sensory information in interpersonal and social environments. The word perception comes from the latin capere, meaning “to take”, the prefix per- meaning “completely”. So it is that part of perception that allows people to understand the individuals and groups of their social world, and thus an element of social cognition.[1]

It allows people to determine how others affect their personal lives. While social perceptions can be flawed, they help people to form impressions of others by making the necessary information available to assess what people are like. Missing information is filled in by using an implicit personality theory: if a person is observed to have one particular trait, observers tend to assume that he or she has other traits related to this observed one. These assumptions help to "categorize" people and then infer additional facts and predict behavior.[2]

Social perceptions are also interlinked with self-perceptions. Both are influenced by self-motives. It is human nature to want to create a good impression on others, almost as if self-perceptions are others' social perceptions.[3]

Social perception refers to the beginning, or initial, stages in which people process information that lends itself to the accurate analysis of another individual's disposition and intentions.[4] It is combined with the cognitive ability to attend to, and interpret a range of different social factors that may include: verbal messages, tone, non-verbal behavior, knowledge of social relationships and an understanding of social goals.[5] Social perception is a key component of social skills and social interaction. The process of inferring what others are thinking and feeling is an important piece of social interaction.[6] It helps one understand another’s perspective and respond accordingly. This set of skills is also referred to as Theory of Mind (ToM)

Theory of Mind

Theory of Mind refers to an understanding of mental states (beliefs, desires, and knowledge) that enable us to understand and predict others’ behavior[7] It is a reflection of both knowledge and skill that develop over time, starting from one’s foundational skills at a young age and growing into a more complex understanding of how mentality and behavior interact. (p. 143) Theory of Mind plays an important role in social interaction and one’s perception of the social interaction. It is the ability to take another’s perspective.[8]

Theory of Mind, as a key component of social skills, may be impaired. Cognitive inability in Theory of Mind has been linked to poor social skills. There are reported deficits in social perception that have been reported in many clinical conditions including schizophrenia, learning disabilities, autism, Asperger's Syndrome, traumatic brain injury, and various forms of dementia including fronto-temporal dementia and Alzheimer's disease.[5] Social perception is an area that has been identified for rehabilitation for disorders that represent a major stumbling block for successful integration back into society following brain impairment or the onset of other clinical conditions. (p. 1530) Testing is now being used to help with successful re-integration following brain impairment or help determine the onset of other clinical conditions.


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.[5] The results of this testing assess the level of social perception of an individual.

Self concept

An aspect of social perception, one must consider the self, or self-perception. Self-perception is also called Self-concept. John Hattie from the University of Western Australia (1992) theorizes, “Self-concept involves more than the knower and the known, it also relates to the processes of knowing. Not the processes on knowing everything about the self, but knowledge appraisals about aspects of self-considered salient by the knower. This reflexivity varies among individuals, as does the integration of different dimensions of appraisal” (pg33).[9] There are many facets and individual degrees in which people perceive themselves. Carl Rogers argued that three major components existed in Self-Concept were 1.Self-image, 2.Self-esteem or self-worth and 3.The Ideal Self.

Self- Image does not always reflect reality for some perception is reality. In regards to physical perception, disorders such as anorexia a body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) in which an obsession distresses the thoughts and awareness of perceived flaws. Detailed physical attributes such as height, weight, and eye color also are in this category. Social roles such as father, brother, husband are instruments considered when deciphering a conducive self- image. Personal traits or Self-Describers also are central in perceiving self-image. An example of describing ones self is lazy or constructive.

Self -Esteem can be measured as high and or low esteem, some self- esteem is long term and or situational or temporary. Morse and Gergen (1970)[10] conducted a Social Comparison Theory called “Mr. Clean/ Mr. Dirty Study”. In the study job applicants were placed aside a clean-cut businessman labeled Mr. Clean, rapidly the applicants self-esteem decrease. Mr. Dirty was placed with other applicants and self-esteem increased.

Ideal-Self is who you would like to be ideally; it’s a direct representation of how much you value yourself. The Q-Sort Method was a method used to study the ideal-self, a method to organismic valuing. When an individuals identity is created solely to please other people the organismic self is abandoned, making it incongruent. When there is a balance of ideal-self and self-image the person can identify and be themselves, the person is then congruent.

The Development of Self-Concept starts in early childhood. Anderson (1952)[11] argued that after a year of life, every year after that, the development of self-concept would decrease “until the image is essentially completed before adolescence”. In contradiction to Anderson, Erik Erikson contended that the development was continuous throughout the lifespan. Erikson created the Eight Developmental Stages:

Stage Basic Conflict Important Events Outcome Infancy (birth to 18 months) 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. Early Childhood (2 to 3 years) 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. Preschool (3 to 5 years) 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. School Age (6 to 11 years) 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 (12 to 18 years) 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 (19 to 40 years) 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 (40 to 65 years) 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. Maturity(65 to death) 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.

In development many processes and aspects are present according to Lewis & Brooks-Gunn (1979),[12] such as Development of Intentional Behavior and Personal Causation, Distinguishing Between Self and Other, Distinguishing Between Self and Environment and the Development of Cognition. The Development of Intentional Behavior and Personal Causation happens in the first couple of months, the infant develops action plans and executes. Children at this point have interest in objects and make distinctions and responses to events, “The first epistemological distinction between self and other revolves around this identity and simultaneity. Self is defined from action and reflects the identity of action and outcome in a specific locus in space”(p. 224).[9]

Distinguishing Between Self and other brings along positive feelings. “These Feelings of Mastery lead to positive feelings about the self” Hattie (p. 122).[9] Furthermore, the distinguishment of the self and other, give the child a feeling of being an object, awareness of existence. Recognition could not happen without the knowledge of self, self-awareness being the first step and secondly would be recognizing something other than itself. Same concept applies to Distinguishing Between Self and Environment it starts later in infancy, 5–10 months, it is then that the child develops permanence of objects. The first object that has permanence is the mother.

Jean Piaget’s theory on cognition development has three categories.[13] 1. Schemas 2. Transition enablers, equilibrium, assimilation and accommodation Equilibrium- Mental Balance Assimilation- Dealing with Objects, Environment or Situation Accommodation- Existing knowledge does not suffice, adjustment is made 3. Stages of development Cognitive Stage of Development Key Feature Research Study Sensorimotor 0 - 2 yrs. Object Permanence Blanket & Ball Study Preoperational 2 - 7 yrs. Egocentrism Three Mountains Concrete Operational 7 – 11 yrs. Conservation Conservation of Number Formal Operational 11yrs + Manipulate ideas in head, e.g. Abstract Reasoning Pendulum Task

[5] Mcleaod, S. A (2008). The Self Concept in Psychology. Retrieved from


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.
  • Over confidence 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
  • Stereo Typing – 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

A current study of medical students and the unconscious race social bias has shown that there is still currently a bias in the health care system.[vague]

But it also has shown a change from past generation and their views of race and the biases attributed to those views (JAMA).

Associated concepts and mechanisms

Range of judgements made

See also


  1. E. R. Smith, D. M. Mackie (2000). Social Psychology. Psychology Press, 2nd ed., p. 20
  2. Delamate, John D, H. Andrew Michener and Daniel J. Myers. "Social Psychology." 5th ed. Wadsworth Publishing. 2003. Print
  3. Dunning, David. "What Is the Word on Self-Motives and Social Perception: Introduction to the Special Issue." Motivation and Emotion 25.1 (March 2001): 1-6. Print.
  4. Truett, Puce, & McCarthy, 2000
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 McDonald, Bornhofen, Shum, Long, Saunders, & Neulinger, 2006
  6. Calarge, Andreasen, & O'Leary, 2003
  7. Miller, 2006
  8. Lerner, Hutchins, & Prelock, 2011
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 John, Hattie Self-Concept ISBN 0898596297 (1992)
  10. Morse, S.J & Gergen, K.J (1970). Social Comparison, Self Consistency and the Presentation of Self. Journal of Persnality and Social Psychology, 16, 148-159
  11. Anderson C.M. (1952). The Self-Image: A theory of dynamics of behavior. Mental Hygiene, 36, 227-244
  12. Lewis, M., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (1979) Social Cognition and the acquisition of self. New York Plenum
  13. McLeod, S. A. (2009). Jean Piaget | Cognitive Stages of Development. Retrieved from

Further reading

“Social Bias.” 2012. (7/22/2012). Hawes, Daniel. "When Ignorance Begets Confidence: The Classic Dunning-Kruger Effect." Quilted Science. (2010): n. page. Web. 22 Jul. 2012. <>. Forer, B. R. (1949). The fallacy of personal validation: A classroom demonstration of gullibility. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 44, 118-123 Duing, Matt. "A Summary of Social Biases." Cognitive Kaleidoscope. N.p., 12 05 2007. Web. Web. 22 Jul. 2012. <>. JAMA and Archives Journals (2011, September 6). Unconscious race and social bias among medical students: Study examines prevalence


  • Calarge, C., Andreasen, N. C., & O'Leary, D. S. (2003). Visualizing How One Brain Understands Another: A PET Study of Theory of Mind. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 1954.
  • Lerner, M. D., Hutchins, T. L., & Prelock, P. A. (2011). Brief Report: Preliminary Evaluation of the Theory of Mind Inventory and it's Relationship to Measures of Social Skills. Journal of Autism and Developmental Discorders, 512.
  • McDonald, S., Bornhofen, C., Shum, D., Long, E., Saunders, E., & Neulinger, K. (2006). As seen in: Reliability and Validity of The Awareness of Social Inference Test (TASIT);A clinical test of social perception. Disability and Rehabilitation, 1529-1530.
  • Miller, C. A. (2006). Developmental Relationships Between Language and Theory of Mind. American Journal of Speech - Language Pathology, 142.
  • Truett, A., Puce, A., & McCarthy, G. (2000). Social perception from visual cues; role of the STS region. Trends in Cognitive Science, 267.
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