Describe the three processes that influence our inference making: impression information, attribution, and stereotyping

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Cardwell (1996) defined stereotyping as a

fixed, over-generalized belief about a particular group or class of people.

This basically shows how stereotyping has a very little variance from attribution and impression information. All three processes are based on an assumption. The assumption, in turn, is based out of the complex process behind perception. 

Perception is the concrete-operational tendency to correlate actions to people based on 

  • our upbringing
  • need for closure
  • attributive theory
  • self-verification
  • self-fulfilling prophecy
  • implicit personality theory

The latter, implicit personality theory, is perhaps the umbrella under which all other processes occur. 

IPT is mainly a cognitive process that is borne out of our natural need for closure. If you think about it, it is the need for closure that leads us to make choices, even when we do not consciously want to make them. The cognitive need for closure leads us to the A+ B equals C paradigm: if one thing happens because of another, then it will always be so. This is the back-door process behind stereotyping; it is a formula that we, as imperfect and overall mentally unequipped humans create to make sense out of people when we cannot understand them.

This is similar to impression information. Social scientists and psychologists everywhere aim to gather impressions of things and trends via focus groups. They interview them, expose them to specific scenarios, and get their feedback. The idea is to obtain as much empirical data from participants as possible in order to determine what kinds of products are on demand. However, when it comes to interpersonal communication, impression is so key that even a popular deodorant brand used the slogan: "there is no second chance to make a first impression". Hence, impression, as the word implies, is the imprint that is formed in our memory. The first step to memory is encoding. If the impression is influential, it moves on to our short term and then into our long term memory. 

Attribution is, again, the creation of a correlation from A to B. The encoding that occurs prior to short and long term memory storage is essential to make a connection. Hence, when you attribute traits to something or someone based on superficial assumptions you are basically applying the data that you absorbed during encoding. If the data was strong and believable enough for you, you will establish an assumption and a correlation that one behavior either leads or causes another.