Chapter 5. Perceiving Others
5.5 Thinking Like a Social Psychologist about Person Perception
Understanding other people is one of the most important tasks facing us in our everyday lives. Now that you are familiar with the processes we use during person perception, perhaps you will use this information to be more aware of—and perhaps even improve—your own person perception skills. Are you now more aware of how quickly you are forming impressions of other people and of how quickly they are forming impressions of you? Does this knowledge make you think differently about those snap judgments you make about others? Might it make you more careful about how you behave in front of others?
You may find that you are now better able to use your person perception powers to accurately determine how others are responding to you. Do you find yourself more attuned to the nonverbal information that you are sending to others and that they are sending to you? Are you more aware of the role that traits (and particularly central traits) are playing in your everyday interactions? And are you now more (or perhaps less) sure about your skills at detecting deception in others?
Your broader understanding about the processes of causal attribution—and the potential errors that may accompany it—may also help you improve your relationships with others. Do you sometimes blame other people for their misfortunes that they could not really have caused themselves? If so, and you stop to think about it, you know that you may well be falling into the traps of the fundamental attribution error, of the just world hypothesis and defensive attribution. Do you sometimes take more credit for your contribution to a group project than you should? This would, of course, be expected if you, like most people, tend to make self-serving attributions. But because you are thinking like a social psychologist, you will more likely be aware of their potential pitfalls and try to prevent or correct for them.
With your new knowledge of person perception in hand, you may also think about your own style of person perception. Do you now do this more thoughtfully or more spontaneously? Could you be more accurate if you took more time to evaluate the actions of others? And how do you think that the culture that you live in influences your person perception? Do you think that cultures are too focused on individuals rather than on situational factors in explaining important social issues, like homelessness, addiction, and crime?
Finally, consider again the many ways that the processes of causal attribution guide your perceptions of yourself and influence your own behaviors and even your mental and physical health. Now that you can see how important your own thinking styles are, you might want to try to further improve them.