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The 'Neither Hate Nor Love' Self-perception Theory With Examples

Understanding Self-perception Theory With Examples
The definition of self-perception asserts that attitude development takes place with self-behavioral observations. This PsycholoGenie write-up will help you understand the self-perception theory with examples.
Buzzle Staff
Last Updated: Mar 2, 2018
Keeping Up With Research
In the year 2010, Clayton Critcher and Thomas Gilovich undertook research to check the connection between mindwandering and self-perception. They inferred that people do believe their wandering thoughts to be a cue to their attitudes, until they realize that the reason for their mindwandering was something else.

The self-perception theory in social psychology is a rather interesting phenomenon that exhibits the development of attitudes in people. Assume that a person has no particular attitude in himself, due to various possible reasons―lack of experience, sheltered upbringing, etc. Apparently, this theory states that people depend on their behavior to develop their attitudes; that is to say, they observe their own behavior, draw conclusions from the same, and assert that they have a particular attitude or affinity towards something/someone.
The theory also states that people who develop such attitudes do not assess their feelings or moods or internal perceptions. They merely depend on their own behavior to do so. The self-perception theory can be better understood with the help of real-life instances; a couple of them are enlisted in the article below.
The Original Experimental Evidence

  • The self-perception theory (SPT) was developed by American social psychologist Daryl Bem in 1972.
  • For this experiment, he used interpersonal simulations, i.e., he asked participants to listen to an audio recording of a man describing a task.
  • The participants were divided into two groups. Group 1 was told that the man was paid USD 20 for a testimonial, while group 2 was told that the man was paid USD 1 for the same.
  • Group 2 inferred that the man must've enjoyed the task more, because USD 1 will not really justify the act, while group 1 inferred that the man possibly did not enjoy the task at all, and was doing it for the money.
  • None of the participants actually knew who the man was, what he felt at the time, or what his mood was. All they heard was his voice and enthusiastic explanation and the initial conditions, and they concluded what the man's attitude must've been.
  • The results obtained from this experiment were similar to those obtained from the Fesringer-Carlsmith experiment. Daryl Bem stated, "The attitude statements, which comprise the major dependent variables in dissonance experiments may be regarded as interpersonal judgments in which the observer and the observed happen to be the same individual.".
  • Further research included experiments like the facial feedback and the false confession.
  • The facial feedback test stated that a person's facial expression may influence his attitude.
  • Eventually, Bem concluded that a person's attitude is, to a great extent, developed and influenced by his behavior.

The Theory

  • As stated above, the self-perception theory asserts on the influence of behavioral observations to develop and change a person's attitudes. To put it very simply, you infer from your own behavior.
  • Many experts state that this theory is particularly true when one has a weak internal thought process; rather, it does not allow self-assessment or internal feelings to contribute to the attitude development process.
  • Those in favor of the theory argue that it is better for a person to analyze himself from the perspective of an outsider, depending on his outward behavior, instead of introspection, which the theory asserts, will not help develop the proper attitude, given the uncertain internal conflicts.
  • Two major situations may increase our dependence on the self-perception theory to interpret our attitudes. One, perhaps our internal feelings are weak, and two, we perceive that we have behaved in a particular way out of our own free will.
  • Consider the first situation. Let's say, you have tasted sushi for the first time, and cannot make up your mind whether you like it or not.
  • Now, since your internal cues are weak, you cannot decide if sushi is on your list of favorite foods. However, you have eaten it without liking or disliking it. You haven't complained. You haven't felt like throwing up. Thus, you will judge yourself based on how you have behaved.
  • Eventually, you will conclude that you probably like sushi.
  • Consider the second situation with the same instance.
  • You are unable to make up your mind whether you like or dislike sushi. But, your friends assert that it is indeed wonderful. You do not really bother with the fact whether you like it or not, but you go along with their opinion, possibly because subconsciously, you do not want to disagree with a unanimous opinion.
  • In reality, however, you condition yourself to believe that it is out of your own free will that you have declared your liking of the dish, and not by force.
  • You are, perhaps, pleased to see that your positive opinion of such a simple matter has made your friends happy, and your pleasure in this situation, your feeling of satisfaction, has led you to believe that your own free will was at work. In situations henceforth, you will begin to rely on this behavioral trait of yours, and interpret your attitude based on this behavior.
  • Thus, there are many cases when our behavior may be completely different, and developing our attitudes based on our behavior may or may not be completely reliable.

Alternative Phenomena

Cognitive Dissonance
  • Cognitive dissonance describes the discomfort experienced by people when their mind is filled with conflicting thoughts.
  • The self-perception theory was brought forth by Bem as an alternative to this theory; however, research studies have proved otherwise.
  • To combat this feeling, one can try to bring about consistency in the mind, or make a strong choice between either of the conflicts in question.
  • One can also consider the likelihood of trivialization, i.e., you need not bother facing the inconsistency in your mind. All you have to do is to focus on the positives, rather than the negatives.

The Overjustification Effect
  • This occurs when we attribute our behavior to an extrinsic factor rather than an intrinsic factor.
  • This attitude, however, does not work very well when rewards are given out for the activity.
  • Ultimately, people end up believing that they work for the rewards not for the fun that the activity offers.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
  • Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that a person experiences from within, while external motivation refers to motivation that a person experiences due an attractive outside factor (money, incentives, etc.).
  • Intrinsic motivation originates from job satisfaction, from the pleasure of a job well done.
  • Extrinsic motivation comes from the fact that the job will guarantee money/grades/rewards, etc.
  • The person may hardly be interested in the job, yet, he will complete it, since he will be given rewards.


Example I

Consider one of the simplest examples―a man having cornflakes everyday for breakfast. For all you know, he may not even have analyzed why he has this breakfast food everyday. If you ask him whether he enjoys it, his perfunctory reply will be, "Yes, I do". Or he may say, "No, I don't", or "Yeah, I guess, it's alright". Where do you find any kind of analysis here? He is observing his own behavior to develop an attitude. He notices that he has the same breakfast everyday, he eats it without complaining, he does not really love the food, but does not hate it either. Or may be, he has conditioned his mind into believing that it is good for his health. Whatever the reason, he has developed an attitude based on his behavioral traits. He does not delve deeper into self-analysis, nor does he have a strong opinion regarding the subject. Therefore, he probably concludes that he enjoys cornflakes for breakfast, or vice-versa. This is a classic case of self-perception.
Example II

Let us assume that you are a huge fan of rock music. Now, analyze why you are a fan of the same. As per self-perception theory, you are not a fan of rock music because you like it. Neither are you a fan of rock music because everybody listens to the same, nor are you fan because the music makes you feel good, makes you feel complete. Self-perception states that you have considered yourself to be a fan of rock music solely because you listen to it quite often. Whatever for? You'll probably have no idea. Thus, you are developing an attitude of a rock music fan based on your behavior of listening to it often―you conclude that you do not have any dislike towards it, yet you listen to it, so you must probably be a fan of the same.
Example III

Suppose that you have been assigned a mundane task at work You don't particularly like it, but you do not dislike it either. You complete the task as told. Later, when you are asked how you found the task to be, initially, you might be at a loss of words. This is because, a majority of the time, we are not really aware of what we feel. A couple of minutes later, you might give a perfunctory answer, "Yes, it was okay". You observe that you have not particularly enjoyed doing the assigned task, but you have completed it any way. Thus arise a number of notions―maybe you enjoyed the work, maybe you have an aptitude for it, maybe you can do it in the best way possible, and so on it goes. In this case, you have analyzed your own behavior and reactions, and you have made an inference; rather, you have believed what you told the others― that the work was alright. Whether you actually enjoyed it, whether it was worth the time, whether you learned anything―all this is negated in your mind, since your behavior probably clouds your rational thinking.
Bem's self-perception theory seems to provide an alternative to cognitive dissonance. However, many eminent researchers have found the two theories to be conflicting. In the latter, people experience discomfort due to conflicting thoughts, while in the former, people merely infer their attitudes. The question of which theory gains an upper hand among the two is still a matter of controversy and debate. While self-perception may be applicable in certain situations, sometimes, circumstances demand that alternative theories be used for attitude development and interpretation.
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