Biased observation. The influence of hearsay and stereotype activation on the processing of nonverbal cues.

by Gary Bente

Person perception in everyday life draws upon different types of social information stemming from different sources and addressing different mechanisms of perception and social cognition. Our perception of others rarely meets a cognitive tabula rasa. Often hearsay and reports of a third person precedent direct contact. Hearsay about a person includes description of his/her habits, particular actions, appearance, belonging to social groups, and subjective evaluations as well. This information is likely to activate stereotypes, emotional dispositions and far reaching assumptions about the unknown person before entering a personal encounter. The same types of information might feed into our own inferences during direct observation or contact with that person. What makes direct contact particularly relevant for impression formation, however, is the access to nonverbal behaviour, which has been proved to exert an overwhelming influence on impression formation. The questions we want to answer here is, how different types of category- or attribute- based pre-information influence our own judgments, and whether and under which conditions the observation of nonverbal behaviour is capable to override the impressions formed on the basis of prior information. For this purpose we introduced a novel methodology using computer animations of human movement behaviour, which allows to clearly separate the effects of nonverbal behavior from other visual cues known to be influential in person perception, such as attractiveness, gender, race, etc. Using this technology the paper will present a series of studies contrasting he effects of nonverbal behaviour with different types of pre-information  (action reports, cultural origin, profession stereotypes). The focus will lie in the discussion of the role of cultural stereotypes and there relevance for members of different cultures.

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