Chapter 4: Social Cognition

•     The process of perception and judgment by which we make sense of our social worlds.

•     What we think helps determine what we feel and how we act.

First Impressions: why they matter

•      Stereotypes filter preconceptions about people 

•      And we use stereotypes all the time, usually without even being aware of it.

•      Initial information influences how we interpret later information.

Make a Quick Judgment

•      This Person is:

•      Envious

•      Stubborn

•      Critical

•      Impulsive

•      Industrious

•      Intelligent


•      This Person is:

•      Intelligent

•      Industrious

•      Impulsive

•      Critical

•      Stubborn

•      Envious

Primacy Effect

•      The tendency for the first information we receive to carry more weight, along with stereotypes in shaping our overall impression of others.

Hannah Experiment

•      Hannah experiment:

•      2 tapes different social class

•      Assumed average grades

•      Inconsistent performance on aptitude test

•      Poor Hannah seen as performing below average—mistakes emphasized

•      Rich Hannah seen as performing above average---successes emphasized.



•      Darley & Gross (1983) found that students interpreted the same event differently depending on their preconceptions about the person involved in the event.

•      People usually show a confirmatory bias- they seek information that will prove them right more often than seeking information that prove them wrong.


•      Potentially dangerous since people are not likely to seek information that refutes their first impressions. People are often overconfident in their beliefs about others.

•      Study at U of Texas found that people’s confidence in knowledge of partner’s sexual history increased over time but accuracy rate stayed the same. From 62% confidence level to 90% over time, but actual accuracy was .39. (See figure 4.1 page 99)


•      Existing beliefs influence how people perceive others and what information they seek about others at every stage of a relationship.

•      Primacy effects direct our attention to certain types of new information.

•      Influence our interpretation of new facts.



•      This is similar to the need for self-consistency noted in the discussion of the self-concept.

•      We filter information in the direction of our preconceptions and we tend to be confident that we are correct and objective, not recognizing how we overlook contradictory information.


•      Who makes better predictions about how long a current romantic relationship will last?

•      You?

•      Your parents?

•      Your roommates?


•    What are the implication of these for relationships?


The Power of Perceptions

•      People often choose one particular perspective over another about their partners and relationships, although they may not realize it.

•      This will facilitate or inhibit our satisfaction with our relationships.

Idealizing Our Partners

•      Positive illusions

•      constructed to emphasize partners’ positive qualities and minimize their faults.

•      People usually evaluate partners more positively than the partners themselves.

•      Is this dangerous??


•      It depends on the degree of idealization.

•      If we merely interpret facts in a benevolent light, rather than actually distort real qualities, this can be positive.

•      Our high regard for our partner can improve their self-concept over time

•      We also tend to revise our opinions of what we want so that they begin to fit the partner we have.



•      Attributional Processes

•      Attributions are the explanations people come up with to explain why things happen.

•      Can be internal or external, stable or unstable, global or specific.

•      So, in relationships judgments of cause and effect can be quite difficult.



•      Even though partners may know each other well, they are influenced by actor/observer effects: they come up with different explanations of their partners’ actions then they do for their own similar actions.

•      We often attribute some of the causes of our behavior to external factors while attributing the causes of our partners behavior to internal factors.

•      This is part of the Fundamental Attribution Error.


•      People also demonstrate self-serving bias, the tendency to take personal credit for successes but avoid blame for failures, by attributing them to external factors.

•      Patterns of attribution can be relationship-enhancing or distress-maintaining.


Relationship Enhancing Attributions

•      Positive actions are:

•      Intentional

•      Habitual

•      Generalize to other situations

•      They are: internal, global and stable.

•      Negative behavior is seen as external, unstable and specific.

Distress Maintaining Attributions

•      Negative actions are:

•      Intentional

•      Habitual

•      Generalize to other situations.

•      Positive behavior is unintended and accidental.

•      Distressed couples see each other in ways that produce distress no matter how each behaves.


•     What accounts for these differences?

TABLE 4.1. The Romantic Beliefs Scale

•      How romantic are you?  Rate how much you agree or disagree with each of these statements by using this scale:


•           1       2       3        4      5       6       7

Strongly disagree                 Strongly agree



•      1.   I need to know someone for a period of time before I fall in love with him or her.

•       2.  If I were in love with someone, I would commit myself to him or her even if my parents and friends disapproved of the relationship.

•       3.  Once I experience "true love," I could never experience it again, to the same degree, with another person.

•       4.  I believe that to be truly in love is to be in love forever.




•      5.   If I love someone, I know I can make the relationship work, despite any obstacles.

•       6.  When I find my "true love" I will probably know it soon after we meet.

•       7.  I'm sure that every new thing I learn about the person I choose for a long-term commitment will please me.

•       8.  The relationship I will have with my " true love" will be nearly perfect.




•      9.   If I love someone, I will find a way for us to be together regardless of any opposition to the relationship, physical distance between us, or any other barrier.

•      10.  There will be only one real love for me.

•      11.  If a relationship I have was meant to be, any obstacle (such as lack of money, physical distance, or career conflicts) can be overcome.

•       12. I am likely to fall in love almost immediately if I meet the right person.



•      13. I expect that in my relationship, romantic love will really last; it won't fade with time.

•       14. The person I love will make a perfect romantic partner; for example, he/she will be completely accepting, loving, and understanding.

•      15. I believe if another person and I love each other we cm overcome any differences and+ problems that may arise.

•      Reverse your rating of Q 1 and add you totals.  Divide by 15. M– 4.8 >5.8, <3.8, F- 4.6 >5.6, <3.6


C. Relationship Beliefs

•      People already have ideas about what relationships should be like when they start a relationship.

•      These are called schemas, a filing system for our knowledge and assumptions about relationships.

•       Romanticism is one schema that regards love as the most important reason for choosing a partner.

•      Based on Sprecher & Metts’s Romantic Beliefs Scale, people high in romanticism also believe that 1) their loves will be perfect, 2)everyone has

   one perfect true love, 3)true love will overcome any obstacle, and 4)love at first sight is possible.


The Romantic Beliefs Scale

•      High scorers tend to experience more love, satisfaction and commitment than low scorers.

•      High scores do not predict which relationships last over a four year span.

Dysfunctional Beliefs

•      Disagreements are destructive

•      “Mindreading” is essential

•      Partners cannot change

•      Sex should be perfect every time

•      Men and women are different

•      Great relationships just happen



•      People’s expectations about others can become self-fulfilling prophecies: false predictions that become true by leading people to behave in ways that confirm them.

•      Some self-fulfilling prophecies disappear over time, but others don’t.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

•      Expectancy about the TargetΰAction (communicating expectancy to target)ΰ

•      Target interprets perceiver’s behaviorΰ

•      Target responds reciprocally, usually meeting kindness with kindness, hostility with hostilityΰPerceiver interprets Target’s

•      response, usually ignoring own role in producing it. Support for expectations perceived.


•      Snyder and colleagues did a study of this with phone calls to either attractive or unattractive women.

•      Given fake photographs.

•      Attractive photographs more interest, sociable,warm, outgoing.

•      Women responded accordingly (no knowledge of pictures).


•      So, our perception of our partners, the attributions we make, the beliefs and expectations we we bring to relationships exert a very powerful influence on what happens. 

The Self-Monitoring Scale

•      Is each of the following statements true or false?

•       1.  I find it hard to imitate the behavior of other people.

•      2.   At parties or social gatherings, I do not attempt to say or do things that others will like.

•      3.   I can only argue for ideas that I already believe.

•      4.   I can make impromptu speeches even on topics about which I have almost no information.




•      5.   I guess I put on a show to impress or entertain others.

•      6.   I would probably make a good actor.

•      7.   In a group I am rarely the center of attention.

•      8.   In different situations and with different people I often act like very different persons.

•      9.   I am not particularly good at making other people like me.



•      10.   I'm not always the person I appear to be.

•      11.   I would not change my opinions (or the way I do things) in order to please someone.

•       12. I have considered being an entertainer.

•      13. I have never been good at games like charades or improvisational acting.

•      14. I have trouble changing my behavior to suit different people and different situations.



•      15. At a party I let others keep the jokes and stories going.

•      16. I feel a bit awkward in public and do not show up quite as well as I should.

•      17. I can look anyone in the eye and tell a lie (if for a right end).

•      18.  I may deceive people by being friendly when I really dislike them.

•       T-4,5,6,8,10,12,17,18  F-1,2,3,7,9,11,13,14,15,16

•      >13 high  <7 low      7---13 Average

Impression Management

•      People frequently try to influence other’s impressions of them.


•      Ingratiation: seeking acceptance and liking from others. Do favors, pay compliments, be charming.

•      Self-promotion: seeking respect. Mentioning accomplishments etc.

•      Intimidation: portraying oneself as dangerous.

•      Supplication: portraying oneself as needy and helpless to get support or avoid obligations.

 Impression Management in Close Relationships

•      People make less of an effort to present certain positive images of themselves to their intimate partners, take pains to create good public images of their partners.

•      Engaging in self-monitoring is common, and high self-monitors surround themselves with friends who are good companions only for a particular activity, while low self monitors have fewer friends but have more in common with them.

Just How Well Do We Know Our Partners?

•      Usually we know our partners less well then we think we do.


–   -Over time people spend more time together and understand each other better.



–   -Levels of interest in trying to understand each other help determine how accurate we will perceive our partners.

–   Women, on the average, spend more time thinking their relationships than men do.

–   -Moods influence and color how people perceive their partners.



Partner Legibility

–   Certain personality traits (i.e. extraversion) are more obvious and more easily recognized than others, like neuroticism.

–   The more clues people give the easier it is to know them.


•      Perceiver Ability

•      Intelligent, open-minded people are better judges than dogmatic narrow-minded people.

•      Secure attachment style people have a better understanding of their partners than insecure people. Anxious-ambivalent people more likely to overestimate how much they have in common with their partners.


•      Threatening Perceptions

•      When accurate perceptions are unpleasant, intimate partners are tempted to be inaccurate so as to ward off doubts about their relationship. 

•      Anxious-ambivalent types were more accurate in judging unpleasant situations like moths drawn to a flame.


 Perceiver Influence

•      Sometimes people experience a strong desire to construct their partners the way they want them to be.

•      As a result, initially inaccurate perceptions may become more correct through shaping and reinforcement in the desired direction.