Introduction to Psychology “Perception and Reflection”

The aim of the essay is to discuss what are the factors that affect our perception of people, and some of the elements that impact our accuracy or otherwise of first impression, and how perception effects the decision-making process in the first few moments of contact e.g. “first date”. Why we all have first impressions of someone we just met in the

first few seconds. Why do we form an opinion about someone without knowing really anything about him or her-aside perhaps from a few remarks or readily observed traits. We are well informed that the answer is related to how our brain allows us to be aware of the world. Our brain continuously processes incoming sensory information–the sights and sounds of your world. These incoming “signals” are compared against a host of “memories” stored in the brain.
This paper will examine the aspects and the influences on first impression and perception in meeting someone on a first date. From well researched information we understand that behavioral potentials set the limits within which our dispositions can vary, and can vary in their tendencies, to argue be nervous, organized, be conservative, introvert or extravert, gender, physical attractiveness, cultural back ground and so on.

Abelson, Frey & Gregg (2004) suggest that it is a popular belief that a first impression is a lasting impression. First impressions are important because they are the initial idea that a person forms about another person and it determines whether a person decides to pursue any type of relationship with anyone. People tend to form impressions of each other rather quickly. They use minimal information, such as the sex of the person, appearance, ethnicity or a brief encounter to draw conclusions about each other; these types of factors can lead people to form remarkably detailed impressions.

Process in Forming Impression
Abelson et al (2004) found that once an impression is formed by superficial processing e.g. (when relying on accessible information to make inferences or judgments, while expending little effort in processing) or systematic processing, e.g. (giving thorough, effortful consideration to a wide range of information relevant to a judgment) it becomes a basis for decisions and behaviors. An initial impression can alter the interpretation of later information, leading to impressions that are resistant to change. Impressions often lead people to seek consistent information, or even to elicit confirming actions from others, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When people encounter information that is clearly inconsistent with an impression, they may take it into account. Most of the time, however, they may attempt to explain it away or attribute it to situational factors. It is only when people are actively looking for change in an individual that fundamental change is possible.

Factors of Perception
Perception is a constructive process, based on the available information but greatly influenced by past experience and expectations. For the most part these systems provide us with the accurate information upon which we base our actions. There is still sufficient uncertainty within the systems, however, to allow our higher thought processes and emotional states to greatly influence how we experience things. Other important factors of perception that we traditionally talk about are the five senses, taking these to be touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing Wright & Macleod (2006).

The decision-making process
Davito (2007) suggests that people who are physically attractive are perceived to be happy, warm, friendly, successful, confident, and well-adjusted. At other times, however, people form impressions based on a careful observation of a person’s behavior. From the observers perspective he will look for other visual variables and observations such as, appearance, dress, posture, manner and body language.

We are all aware and it’s an area that is well researched, that first impression is everything. There is no second chance for a first impression. People immediately cast others into stereotypes in every situation: they form a schema or an organized set of thoughts and hypothesize about others within the first eight seconds of meeting or seeing an individual for the first time. These schemas affect the way people carry themselves and around others Bem, D. (1972) explains that this behavior that people come up with is called attributions. Explaining (“attributing”) is classifying, assigning, another person’s behavior to some cause, deciding on a reason for their actions, whether it be something about their stable personality (values, beliefs, traits) or something about the situation they are in.

Using Our Body language is a term for communication using body movements or gestures instead of, or in addition to, sounds, verbal language or other communication. It forms part of the category of paralanguage (non verbal), which describes all forms of human communication that are not verbal language. This includes the most subtle of movements that many people are not aware of, including smiling, fondling of hair, winking and slight movement of the eyebrows. In addition body language can also incorporate the use of facial expressions Wikipedia (access 2007).

Let’s examine the following setting, “If an attractive woman tilts her head to the side, licks her lips, fondles her hair, and looks over her shoulder directly at someone to make eye contact we can then presume that she’s interested in that person.

As Abelson et al (2004) explain that we can be distracted by the most visible and salient aspects of a person’s personality and physical attractiveness and charisma (a large part of which is extroversion) can hide the inner layers of the onion. The attractive woman would have been stereotyped as being warm and friendly by her counterpart. For example in this instance the attractive woman may have been a serial killer and the inevitable counterexample of first impressions can, sometimes, be dreadfully wrong.

Examining Stereotyping in General
A crucial aspect of this theory is the fluctuating nature of identity. While people tend to identify with many social groups, based on various factors such as race, ethnicity, class, gender, physical appearance, attributes, and so on, these factors become salient at different times and in different ways. According to social identity theory, if and when a particular group identity becomes salient at a particular time – for whatever reason – the sentiments, emotions, and behaviours of any given member of the salient group will tend to be affected and guided by the norms and aspirations of that group, Rathus (2007).

In the vast literature on identity and gender, several approaches have found it useful to regard women and men as members of social categories. For example, gender stereotypes are pervasive, and carry relatively well-defined prescriptions for typical male and female behaviour Deaux & Major (1987). In this case we could argue that the first impression of the male recipient would have been “ I am attracted to her” she is making gestures to attract my attention, I hope she not a girl of the night. It would not be uncommon for the male recipient not to stereotype the attractive women in this social group. It is well researched that males are predominant as being the authoritarians in nature of men’s social identification in relation to gender-related beliefs.

What if in this case the attractive woman was a “blonde”, what would have been the stereotype let’s say in this case it was “Marilyn Monroe” who played the role extremely well as a dumb blonde in most of her movies, for example in role she played “Gentleman Prefer Blondes”. The behaviour from the male participant would have somewhat different in reference of facial expressions, body language and of course other sexual innuendos and so on. The dumb blonde stereotype is traditionally an exhibitionist role so fits perfectly into this type.

Broad view of gender stereotypes in the expression and perception of vocal and facial effects:
Researchers have documented stereotypic beliefs about females and males for the perception and expression of emotion. Such research consistently shows that fear and sadness are considered to be female emotions while anger is viewed as a predominantly masculine emotional state. This general pattern of beliefs has not only been found for adults but has also been shown to exist for preschoolers and elementary school children, who tend to associate sadness, fear, and happiness with females and anger with males (Fabes & Martin, (1991).
Gender expression can be defined as the way in which every human being expresses herself/himself in genderized terms – that is to say, the way in which all persons express themselves within the different possibilities that the gender spectrum offers -like masculinity, femininity, androgyny, facial attractiveness etc Rathus (2007)

My Perspective
I have learned that we are all unique. We all have our own ‘world’, our own way of looking at and understanding our environment and the people within it. A situation may be the same but the interpretation of that situation by two individuals may be vastly different. As in the case of the attractive woman stereotyped by first impression and yet there was a possibility being a serial killer. The physical properties may be identical in term of how they ‘are’, but they are perceived quite differently because each individual has imposed upon the person and perceived their own interpretations, their own judgment and evaluation.

From the literature I would argue that stereotyping of first impression and the affects of perception are very dynamic and can have a positive or negative outcome. We can be distracted by the most visible and salient aspects of a person’s personality and physical attractiveness by first impression. Kenny (1994) explains that we immediately cast others into stereotypes in every situation; we form a schema or an organized set of thoughts and hypothesize about others within the first eight seconds of meeting or seeing an individual for the first time.

I have learned more about human nature, and in the course of my observations from this essay. I learned that we all, even myself, are victims of this judgmental view of others. First impressions and perceptions, formed by all people truly affect your interactions in everyday life.

In summary we have evaluated the following:
Impressions of other people are influenced by many cues. These cues are interpreted with the help of associated or accessible knowledge. During social interactions, people’s eyes convey a wealth of information about their direction of attention and their emotional and mental states. Particular focus is given to the gaze-cueing paradigm that has been used to investigate the mechanisms of joint attention. The contribution of this paradigm has been significant and will likely continue to advance knowledge across diverse fields within psychology and neuroscience, Rathus (2007).

When processing information superficially, people infer traits from observable behaviors. Often traits are also inferred when situational causes actually account for behaviors. When processing systematically, people make causal attributions for behavior. A cause is more likely to be considered as an explanation when it is accessible or salient.
To create an overall impression, knowledge is organized by clustering behaviors, and by creating causal links among characteristics. When people devote time and effort to forming an impression, biases may still occur.

Impressions are a basis for decisions and behaviors. Impressions alter the interpretation of later information, often lead people to seek consistent information, and elicit confirming actions from others, leading to impressions that are resistant to change. When people encounter information that is clearly inconsistent with an impression, they may take it into account. Most of the time, however, people’s impressions can be difficult to change.

Abelson, R.P. Frey, K.P and Gregg. A.P (2004) Experiments With People Revelations from Social Psychology: Lawrence Erlbaum publishers New Jersey London
Bem, D. (1972). Self-perception theory. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology, (Vol. 6). New York: Academic Press.
Davito J.A. (2007) The interpersonal Communication Book, 11th Edition. Pearson Allen and Bacon
Deaux, K., & Major, B. (1987). Putting gender into context: An interactive model of gender-related behaviour. Psychological Review, 94, 369-389.
Fabes, R. A., & Martin, C. L. (1991). Gender and age stereotypes of emotionality. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17, 532-540 (accessed 2007)
Kenny, D.A (1994) Interpersonal Perception: A Social Relations Analysis. New York: Guilford Press.
Rathus, A S. (2007) Psychology Concepts & Connections Brief Version (8thed.) Thompson Learning, Inc.
Wright, P. and Macleod H. (2006) Get Set for Psychology. Edinburgh University Press Ltd 22 George Square, Edinburgh.

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