Frequently used shortcuts in judging others


Perceiving and interpreting what others do is burdensome. That is why individuals develop techniques for making the task more manageable. These techniques are valuable as they allow persons to make accurate perceptions rapidly about others and provide valid data for making predictions. However, they are not foolproof. They can get into trouble sometimes because the perceptions may not always be correct.. An understanding of these shortcuts can be helpful in recognizing when they can result in significant distortions.

Selective Perception:
Any characteristic that makes a person, object, or event stand out will increase the probability that it will be perceived. Why? Because it is impossible for us to assimilate everything we see- only certain stimuli can be taken in. This tendency explains why some people may be reprimanded by their boss for doing something that, when done by another employee, goes unnoticed. Because we can’t observe everything going on about us, we engage in selective perception.
A classic example shows how vested interests can significantly influence the problems they see.

A perceptual study was performed in which 23 business executives read a comprehensive case describing the organization and activities of a steel company. Of the 23 executives, 6 were in sales, 5 in production, 4 in accounting, and 8 in miscellaneous functions. Each manager was asked to write down the most important problem he found in the case.

Eighty-three percent of the sales executives rated sales important; only 29% of the others did so. This, along with other results of the study, led the researchers to conclude that the participants perceived aspects of a situation that were specifically related to the activities and goals of the unit to which they were attached.

A group’s perception of organizational activities is selectively altered to align with the vested interests they represent. In other words, when the stimuli are ambiguous, as in the steel company case, perception tends to be influenced more by an individual’s base of interpretation (that is, attitudes, interests, and background) than by the stimulus itself.

But how does selectivity work as a shortcut in judging other people? Because we cannot assimilate all that we observe, we take in bits and pieces. But those bits and pieces are not chosen randomly but selectively according to interests, background, experience, and attitudes. Selective perception allows us to “speed-read� others, but not without the risk of drawing an inaccurate picture. Because we see what we want to see, we can draw unwarranted conclusions from an ambiguous situation.

Halo Effect When we draw a general impression about an individual on the basis of a single characteristic, such as intelligence, sociability, or appearance, a halo effect is operating. This phenomenon frequently occurs when students appraise their classroom instructor. Students may give prominence to a single trait such as enthusiasm and allow their entire evaluation to be tainted by how they judge the instructor on that one trait. Thus, an instructor may be quiet, assured, knowledgeable, and highly qualified, but if his style lacks zeal, the students would probably give him a low rating.

The reality of the halo effect was confirmed in a classic study in which subjects were given a list of traits such as intelligent, skillful, practical, industrious, determined, and warm and were asked to evaluate the person to whom those traits applied. When those traits were used, the person was judged to be wise, humorous, popular, and imaginative. When the same list was just slightly modified cold was substituted for warm, a completely different set of perceptions were obtained. Clearly, the subjects were allowing a single trait to influence their overall impression of the person being judged.

The propensity for the halo effect to operate is not random. Research suggests that it is likely to be most extreme when the traits to be perceived are ambiguous in behavioral terms, when the traits have moral overtones, and when the perceiver is judging traits with which he or she has had limited experience.

Contrast Effects
There is an old adage among entertainers who perform in variety shows. Never follow an act that has kids or animals in it. Why? The common belief is audience love children and animals so much that you’ll look bad in comparison. This example demonstrates how contrast effects can distort perceptions. We don’t evaluate a person in isolation. Our reaction to one person is influenced by other persons we have recently encountered.

An illustration of how contrast effects operate is an interview situation in which an interviewer sees a pool of job applicants. Distortions in any given candidate’s evaluation can occur as a result of his or her place in the interview schedule. A candidate is likely to receive a more favorable evaluation if preceded by mediocre applicants and a less favorable evaluation if preceded by strong applicants.

It is easy to judge others if we assume that they’re similar to us. For instance, if you want challenge and responsibility in your job, you assume that others want the same. Or, you’re honest and trustworthy, so you take it for granted that other people are equally honest and trustworthy. This tendency to attribute one’s own characteristics to other people—called projection—can distort perceptions made about others.

People who engage in projection tend to perceive others according to what they themselves are like rather than according to what the person being observed is really like. When managers engage in projection, they compromise their ability to respond to individual differences. They tend to see people as more homogeneous than they really are.

When we judge someone on the basis of our perception of the group to which he or she belongs, we are using the shortcut called stereotyping.

Let’s begin by acknowledging that generalization can have advantages. It’s less difficult to deal with an unmanageable number of stimuli if we use stereotypes. As an example, assume a sales manager is looking to fill a sales position in your territory. You want to hire someone who is ambitious and hardworking and who can deal well with adversity. You’ve had success in the past by hiring individuals who participated in athletics during college. So you focus your search by looking for candidates who participated in collegiate athletics. In so doing, you have cut down considerably on your search time. Furthermore, to the extent that athletes are ambitious, hardworking, and able to deal with adversity, the use of this stereotype can improve your decision making. The problem, of course, is when we inaccurately stereotype. All college athletes are not necessarily ambitious, hardworking, or good at dealing with adversity. Many people are making the same inaccurate perception on the basis of a false premise about a group.
One of the problems of stereotypes is that they are widespread, despite the fact that they be irrelevant . Their being widespread may mean only that.

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