Social perception refers to the study of forming impressions, opinions, or inferences about other individuals or groups. The concept of social perception can be better understood with the help of some examples.
Implicit Personality Theory
It recognizes the biases we have, despite having limited information about unknown people.
How powerful are our eyes in generating opinions in our minds about other people, say, our new neighbors? You might wonder what the eyes have to do with the opinion about a new neighbor! You are not wrong, but neither correct. Our opinion, or alternatively our behavior with our neighbors, like in this example, is a point of study.
Kindly ignore the good or bad (moral) aspect of our thought process, but try and think of how we come to conclusions like – ‘this family seems a little quirky’, or ‘their kids appear to be over pampered’, or ‘only the father seems polite, the rest are all rude’… and so on. And we proudly boast of determining these as their ‘family traits’, without actually knowing anything about them.
So, let’s try to understand what this concept of social perception is all about.
Definition of Social Perception
It is the ability of people to create an impression about others or form a judgment about other individuals or groups. Drawing conclusions about a person from certain observations can also come under social perception.
Making sense of our environment is a major task for the mind, which we learn and improve upon as we grow. We interpret the world around us by forming categories and using cause-effect linkages. This process may not always be rational or logical, as reading the available information is a subjective task.
We process new information (in any form) we receive based on the information already present in our environment. Our previous beliefs, our attitudes towards a particular event or group, and our current mood, all come together to shape our perception of our surroundings. Certain preconceived notions exist as part of our personality, our social life, our upbringing, and any other source of social identity.
The idea of social perception rests primarily on the quality of attribution. It helps us in understanding how and why people behave the way they do. Reasoning is the simplest form of attribution. The theory relates to how people use information to explain the events caused.
It is interesting to go back to any instance or imagine one where we come across an individual or a group of people whom we do not know. It could be of any gender, any color, any financial background, any nationality, or any age. What do we observe before, while, and after we talk to them. Here is a list of certain details that either hit our eye (or ear), or are purposefully watched and noticed by us. Of course, this list could be endless, considering the umpteen directions our mind can take us to.
Physical Appearance: Clothing style, or certain crude observations like whether the person looks beautiful or not, etc.
Verbal Communication: Voice, tone, words used, dialect, and grammar.
Nonverbal Communication: Body language, facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, body posture, way of walking, etc.
It is either all or some of these particulars that help us judge a person or group in front of us. Although the concept of social perception applies more to the initial impressions made about people, it does culminate into firm opinions formed gradually too. People can easily take a guess at the attitude, feelings, or beliefs of others.
Defining or understanding the concept of social perception becomes easier if we compare adults with children. The way children would reason a particular event or a person’s behavior is totally different from how grownups would look at it. As adults, there are certain predefined notions in an individual’s mind, which naturally make him or her think and perceive someone or something in a particular manner. Kids are not influenced by any such notions, and they attribute others’ behavior or any given event as situational.
Examples of Social Perception
– A gender stereotype that has been observed across cultures is that of women being more patient, sensitive, caring, emotional, or helpful.
– Association of a particular race with certain behavioral traits. Or categorizing people based on their nationalities: Americans as intelligent, Italians as creative, Germans as punctual, or Japanese as polite, and so on.
– Religious diversity in the world also is a strong base for developing firm social perceptions. Not necessarily a prejudice, but even the concept of in-groups, or preferential treatment to people of certain religious backgrounds, is another apt example.
– Anxious or shy people often think that others are talking about them, or criticizing them, when actually that may not be the truth.
– It is a common belief of many that beautiful people are good (or kind and friendly). This is known as the Halo Effect.
– We also have many personal memories that can fit well as examples of social perception. We might have misjudged our favorite school teacher initially to be a ‘bad person’, just because she insisted on discipline.
A smile serves as an important factor in determining social perception, many times. In any social meet, people often tend to approach individuals who are smiling. These smiling faces probably seem more open to a newcomer trying to get introduced to the group.
Our attitudes, judgments, and opinions connect cognition, emotion, and action. So, as we experience every day, our attitude translates into our actions and behavior. Having said that, it ‘seems’ that the admirers of optimism and positive thinking, or the followers of the ‘law of attraction’, should definitely be masters in defying the rules of social perception. Hopefully, this impression does not count as an example of social perception!