chapter 6 - perceiving others

chapter 6 - perceiving others - Chapter 6 Perceiving Others...

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Chapter 6- Perceiving Others 6-1 Chapter 6 Perceiving Others
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Every day we see and meet new people, and we make countless decisions abou t how to react to them. Some of these people are not particularly relevant to us -- the unknown pedestrians we pass on the sidewalk or the checkout clerk at the grocery, for instance. In these cases our interactions might be on a fairly superficial level – we might just want to engage in a quick transaction, nod our head in passing, exchange pleasantries, or accomplish some relatively limited tasks with the person before we move on. You can imagine that interactions like this are going to involve cursory, resource-saving processing on our part, and therefore may be subject to some errors and biases. On the other hand, there are other people whom we cannot or do not wish to ignore – our family, friends, bosses, and teachers, for example. We might wonder whether the attractive person at the movies has a current partner, or whether our new social psychology professor is going to be an easy or hard grader. We might suspect that our boss or best friend is angry at us and wonder if we did something wrong, and how we might rectify the situation. In these cases we are more thoughtful -- these individuals have meaning for us because they are essential for helping us meet the important goals of protecting the self and relating to others. We think carefully about how our boss is feeling toward us and our work, because we really want and need to know whether we are doing a good enough job. And we definitely need to know about that professor – if he is an unfair grader or a boring lecturer, we’ll want to consider other options rather than spending a whole semester in his class. Learning about people is a lot like learning about any other object in our environment -- with one major exception. With objects, there is no interaction--we learn about the characteristics of a car or a house, for example, without any concern that the car or the house is learning about us. It is a one-way process. With people, in contrast, there is a two-way social interaction – just as we are learning about the other person, that person is also learning about us. In this social dynamic, we have two goals – first, we need to learn about others, and, second, we want them to learn about (and hopefully like and respect) us. Our focus here is on the former process – how we make sense of other people. But remember that, just as you are judging them, those others are also judging you. The process of learning about other people, or person perception, is a skill that we all need to master. Indeed, we have an underlying desire to evaluate and understand our own actions and the actions of others (Bandura, 1977, 1986; Pittman & D'Agostino, 1989). Of course, a great deal of our knowledge – including that about people – is learned indirectly. If we want to learn about our new psychology professor, we might simply ask other students for their opinion (another social interaction in itself) or we might check out the professor’s teaching evaluations online.
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