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Perception and Judgment
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Personality theory believes that we all hold a set of rules about which characteristics “fit” together to make a personality. As a culture, we create these “sets” and then attribute characteristics to people based on which set of information the person best fits.
Some rules are cultural. Americans have an “Artistic” type: creative, eccentric, young, and independent. Chinese have shi gu: worldly, socially skilled, devoted to the family, and quiet (Aronson, 1994).
Individual experiences also help you develop your sets. If you liked your first two or three English teachers, you might have developed a set that includescompassionate, caring, and intelligent. Bad experiences might have led to you creating a set called “English teacher” and labeling it cruel, cold, and trying to get you.
? Have you even known a student who could get away with anything?It’s called the Halo Effect. If a student has certain positive traitspolite,attentive, bright the teacher assumes they have other positive qualities and anything negative is seen as less significant. Have you ever assumed a person was nice based on very little evidence ?
You totally believe something about another person or yourself. You act as if your belief was reality. Because of the way you act, the thing comes true. Congratulations, you have just discovered the selffulfilling prophesy (Merton, 1957; Insel & Jacobson, 1975). Think about it. . . .
- You know that Jack and his idiot friends hate you when, in fact, they have never thought twice about you one way or the other.
- You are cold and mean to his friends because you know they don’t like you and they are just waiting for the chance to be mean to you.
- Because you are so cold and mean, Jack and his friends now do hate you because you acted so rude.
- So, by believing something (Jack and his friends hate you) and acting like that belief is true, you have just made the belief come true (now they really do hate you!)
Self-fulfilling prophesies also occur when someone changes your behavior by treating you a certain way. Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) describe and experiment where teachers were told that 20% of the children in a school showed “unusual potential for intellectual growth” even thought the children’s names had been pulled at random, and there was nothing special about those children. At the end of the year, these children had greater IQ gains than any other students at the school, even though they had been perfectly average before being treated “special” by teachers. The teacher’s prophesy that these students would do well had led the teachers to give the students more feedback, more challenges, and more attention.
Adler (1989) even describes a situation where self-fulfilling prophesy affected employee’s work habits more that 100 years ago. In 1890, the U. S. Census Bureau in D.C. bought a punchcard machine. The inventor told the employees that they should be able to punch about 550 cards every day, but he didn’t think they would be able to do more because the machine was so complicated. Within two weeks, employees could do 550 cards a day, but any more and they reported stress and illness. When new employees were hired (and not told about the 550 cards a day expectation), they were punching 2,000 cards a day within the week.
About this Document
This handout covers the psychological processes involved in how we perceive and judge others.