Impression Formation Theories

OF. The original research on impression formation (i.e., how one person perceives another person) is credited to the Polish-born American psychologist Solomon E. Asch (19071996), who addressed two major issues in his work: the meaning people give to their observations of others, and how to measure exactly a perceiver's impressions of another person. Asch used three methods to measure impressions: he asked the perceiver to write out in a brief paragraph impressions about another person (these then were evaluated in terms of the presence of consistent themes); the per-ceiver was asked to make up a list of words or phrases (i.e., a "free association" style) that came to mind when thinking about the other person; and the perceiver was given a list of prechosen adjectives and asked to place a check mark by the adjectives that applied to the other person. Recent research on impression formation employs a fourth approach -the use of a rating scale defined by end labels such as "very favorable" and "very unfavorable." Asch's main theoretical concern was the importance of understanding how people cope with the diverse information they receive about another individual (cf., the trait central-ity phenomenon and warm/cold effect - a tendency for certain personality traits, such as the "warm/cold" trait, to have a significant effect on personality impression formation, even to the extent of influencing the interpretation of other traits associated with the person being assessed, and which also may be called an atmosphere effect). This concern sometimes is called the information integration problem. Two major theoretical approaches toward impression formation and the information integration problem are the Gestalt approach and the cognitive algebra approach. The Gestalt theory maintains that people adopt a con-figural strategy where they appraise the entire information array and, subsequently, form a theoretical interpretation that integrates all the separate pieces of data into a coherent whole. This approach often involves the reinterpretation of some data and the discounting of other information. The cognitive algebra theory holds that each item of information contributes independently to one's overall impression. This approach (unlike the Gestalt view) assumes that the information items are not actively interrelated into a single thematic or meaningful configuration but, rather, each item is evaluated separately and may be combined with any pre-existing evaluations to yield a current evaluative impression of the person. This viewpoint is called the cognitive algebra approach because information items are combined through algebra rules such as multiplying, adding, or averaging. Although the Gestalt theory and the cognitive algebra theory are different in their conceptual assumptions, they seem to be equally capable of accounting for the empirical findings in research on impression formation, including a variety of characteristics regarding the information items such as primacy-recency effects -occurs when perceivers' attention is paid either to the first, or last, part of a list of items; meaning shift effects - refers to the rating of one item in a set in a particular way depending on the nature of other items in the set; and set size effects - refers to the influence of the relative number of positive items to the number of negative items in a set. Another area linked theoretically to impression formation is the study of interpersonal perception. Person perception is a complex topic involving inferences and attributions made by an observer about others. Theoretical approaches in this area include those by F. Heider (1958), H. H. Kelley (1973), and E. E. Jones and K. E. Davis (1965). According to Heider and attribution theory, causes for behavior are attributed to either the environment or the person. When an action can be attributed to environmental causes, the actor is not held responsible for the positive or negative effects of her behavior, but when the actor is perceived as the originator, she is held accountable for the effect. Kelley proposed a discounting principle to account for causes of behavior where it is hypothesized that observers have a tendency to accept the first sufficient cause as the reason for behavior, but the impact of any particular cause in producing an effect is "discounted" if other plausible causes are present. Kelley suggests, also, an augmentation principle where the more "costs" the actor risks in order to act as he does, the more likely the observer is to attribute the behavior to "person causes." Kelley's rule of thumb is that the more the actor's behavior deviates from what the perceiver believes most people would do, the more likely the action is associated with an actor-specific feature or factor. The focus of attention on the actor to the exclusion of the environment is called the fundamental attribution error - first identified by the Polish-born Austrian social psychologist Gustav Ichheiser (1897-1969) in 1933 (and described by Fritz Heider in 1944, E. E. Jones in 1965, and L. D. Ross in 1977) - and is a phenomenon leading observers to make stronger personal attributions than do actors, and is a tendency to underestimate the importance of external situ-ational pressures and to overestimate the importance of internal motives and dispositions in interpreting others' behaviors. Jones and Davis argue that once an observer makes an attribution to personal causes, a correspondent inference will be made from the observed behavior and the motive that is inferred as underlying that behavior. According to this approach, the observer notes effects that occur in the environment and traces these back to the behavior of an actor; if the behavior is attributed to environmental factors, the information processing stops. However, if a personal attribution is made, the observer assumes the actor intended the effects observed (cf., misattribution theory - posits that due to favorable emotional outcomes, events or factors that just happen to be present may gain value they would not otherwise possess). Most of the literature on interpersonal perception assumes that a stimulus person is inert basically, and the observer draws inferences from the behavior exhibited. However, the actor may have something to gain or lose by the impressions generated by behavior and may be motivated to influence them in some way such as engaging in a number of possible "impression management strategies" to negotiate an identity in the eyes of the observer. The study of interpersonal perception has not yet fully incorporated the dynamic interactions proposed by impression management theory, and the attribution process appears to be relatively static with an overreliance on rational models of information processing. See also ATTITUDE/ATTITUDE CHANGE, THEORIES OF; ATTRIBUTION THEORY; BALANCE, PRINCIPLES/THEORY OF; CORRESPONDENCE BIAS HYPOTHESIS; IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT THEORY; INFORMATION/INFORMATION-PROCESSING THEORY; INFORMATION INTEGRATION THEORY; PERCEPTION (I. GENERAL), THEORIES OF. REFERENCES

Ichheiser, G. (1933). Die vieldeutigkeit im begriff des erfolges. Zeitschrift fur Padogogische Psychologie und Ju-genkunde, 34, 97-104.

Heider, F. (1944). Social perception and phenomenal causality. Psychological Review, 51, 358-374. Asch, S. E. (1946). Forming impressions of personality. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 41, 258-290. Heider, F. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York: Wiley. Anderson, N. (1965). Averaging versus adding as a stimulus-combination rule in impression formation. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 70, 394400.

Jones, E. E., & Davis, K. E. (1965). From acts to dispositions: The attribution process in person perception. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology. Vol. 2. New York: Academic Press. Kelley, H. H. (1973). The process of causal attribution. American Psychologist, 28, 107-128. Ostrom, T. (1977). Between theory and within theory conflict in explaining context effects in impression formation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 13, 492-503. Mellers, B., Richards, V., & Birnbaum, M. H.

(1992). Distributional theories in impression formation. Organizational Behavior & Human Decision Processes, 51, 313-343.

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