Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 3: The impact of impressions: Using, defending, and changing impressions (pp. 8291)

Ask Yourself?

In this topic

  1. Impressions and Judgments (pp. 8385)
    1. Superficial processing: Using a single attribute
    2. Systematic processing: Integrating multiple factors
  2. Defending Impressions (pp. 8589)
    1. Impressions shape interpretations
    2. Impressions resist rebuttal
    3. Perseverance in the courtroom
    4. Selectively seeking impression-consistent behavior
    5. Creating impression-consistent behavior: The self-fulfilling prophecy
    6. Self-fulfilling prophecy in the classroom and the workplace
    7. Limits on the self-fulfilling prophecy
  3. Dealing with Inconsistent information (pp. 8991)
    1. Reconciling inconsistencies
    2. Integrating inconsistencies
    3. Altering impressions: Is fundamental change possible?
Impressions and Judgments
Superficial processing: Using a single attribute

Decisions based on a single characteristic require minimal effort and thought.

Superficial processing relies on past judgments and evaluations, rather than the underlying evidence. This makes us slow to change our previous judgments.

Systematic processing: Integrating multiple factors

When processing systematically, one way of combining multiple factors is the algebraic approach; weighing each advantage and disadvantage according to its importance for a decision.

Another way of combining multiple factors is the configural approach; fitting information together into a meaningful whole. As Asch (1946), and Asch and Zukier (1984) showed, in using this approach, one item may subtly change the meaning of others (SP p. 85).

Defending Impressions
Impressions shape interpretations

Initial impressions can set up an expectation that shapes the interpretation of later information (primacy effect).

Impressions resist rebuttal

The effects of earlier impressions on the interpretation of later information can persist even if the initial impression is discovered to be false, which is called the perseverance bias.

Ross et al.'s (1975) experiment supported the existence of this bias (SP p. 86).

The most effective way to reduce the perseverance bias is to explicitly consider an opposite possibility.

Perseverance in the courtroom

In courtrooms the perseverance bias means that information may have effects that persist even after the information is found to be false.

Selectively seeking impression-consistent behavior

If people expect others to have particular characteristics, their search for more information may become biased by asking leading questions.

When giving a choice, people ask diagnostic questions; that is, questions that will provide information about the truth or falsity of their beliefs.

Creating impression-consistent behavior: The self-fulfilling prophecy

Initial impressions of someone create corresponding behaviors towards this person. The other person can act in ways to meet with the expectations. This is called the self-fulfilling prophecy.

When people are aware of their influence on others, they might try to discount that influence. However, as Gilbert and Jones (1986) demonstrated, it is difficult for people to recognize their effects on others (SP p. 87).

Self-fulfilling prophecy in the classroom and the workplace

Rosenthal and colleagues (Rosenthal, 1985; Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968) demonstrated the self-fulfilling prophecy in the classroom; teachers' expectations have an enormous influence on pupils' achievements (SP p. 88).

In the workplace, supervisors' impressions also influence subordinates' performance, as demonstrated by Kierein and Gold (2000) and by McNatt (2000).

Limits on the self-fulfilling prophecy

Self-fulfilling prophecy effects become weaker when people being perceived have strong views about themselves, when the targets are aware of the perceivers' expectations, or when the targets are motivated to convey accurate impressions. Research on self-fulfilling prophecy effects confirmed this (SP p. 88).

Dealing with Inconsistent information
Reconciling inconsistencies

When encountering inconsistent information, we often prefer to ignore it because our sense of mastery and understanding is threatened by such information, and our ability to maintain a relationship or social interaction with the person in question may be thrown into doubt.

However, important inconsistencies are likely to trigger systematic processing. When people have time and make the effort to reconcile inconsistent information, it has several effects on cognitive processing and memory; people spend more time thinking about the unexpected behavior, they try to explain unexpected behaviors, and recall of inconsistent behaviors is improved by extra processing.

Even when making an effort to reconcile inconsistencies, extensive processing does not always change impressions; unexpected behaviors may directly be explained away or be attributed to situational factors.

Integrating inconsistencies

When getting to know someone well over a period of time, potential inconsistencies should lead to developing a more complex impression of that person. We have the most complex impressions of people we meet in a number of different contexts.

Research activity: Integrating inconsistencies

Altering impressions: Is fundamental change possible?

When people are actively looking for change in an individual, fundamental change is possible.

Perceptions of change differ for different perceivers, and in different cultures. This was demonstrated by Ji et al. (2001). They showed that Asians are more willing than Westerners to see people as changing in fundamental ways.

So what does this mean?

Once an impression is formed by superficial processing or systematic processing, 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.

Back to chapter 3 introduction

In this chapter

  1. Chapter 3 introduction
  2. Forming first impressions: Cues, interpretations, and inferences
  3. Beyond first impressions: Systematic processing
  4. The impact of impressions: Using, defending, and changing impressions
  5. Chapter overview (PDF)
  6. Fill-in-the-blanks
  7. Multiple-choice questions