Chapter 3: Perceiving individuals
Case Study: Attribution to salient causes and discounting
Chapter 3 suggests two factors that determine the activation of stored knowledge; namely, the accessibility and the salience of relevant information. In addition, a third factor, the specificity of information, is also very important. Those three factors also influence the activation of situational information; first, situational information becomes salient as a function of its properties such as loudness, movement, and contrast. Second, primed or chronically accessible situational information may become momentarily accessible. Finally, situational information may become more specific to the extent to which it applies to the particular actor.
Gilbert et al. (1988; SP p. 77) demonstrated that extra effort is required to discount an initial impression. However this cognitive load did not impair perceivers' awareness of the situational information Therefore, they argued that cognitive load constrains awareness of situational information. As Trope and Gaunt (2000) have put this: "awareness of situational information and the ability to correct dispositional inferences on the basis of this information are separate and necessary conditions for discounting." According to them, perceivers may be fully aware of salient situational demands, but fail to correct their initial dispositional inferences on the basis of this information when the ability to compute such corrections is impaired by cognitive load.
Trope and Gaunt (2000) conducted three experiments to investigate how cognitive load and the salience, accessibility, and specificity of situational demands affect the utilization of these demands in drawing dispositional inferences from behavior. Each experiment varied a different knowledge activation factor (salience, accessibility, or specificity), cognitive load, and situational demands. In all three experiments, participants had to infer the actor's attitudes or traits from his or her behavior. The results demonstrated that cognitive load eliminated discounting when situational information was low in salience, accessibility, or specificity. However, when situational information was more salient, accessible, or specific, it produced strong discounting effects, even when perceivers were under cognitive load.
- Gilbert, D. T., Pelham, B. W., & Krull, D. S. (1988). On cognitive busyness: When person perceivers meet persons perceived. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 733–740.
- Trope, Y., & Gaunt, R. (2000). Processing alternative explanations of behavior: Correction or integration? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 344–354.