With reference to relevant psychological theory and research critically discuss the factors which make social judgement of ourselves and others difficult

Term Paper 2011 13 Pages

Psychology - Social Psychology


Q. With reference to relevant psychological theory and research critically discuss the factors which make social judgement of ourselves and others difficult.

A. The human mind possess an incessant urge to seek explanations for the behaviour of others and of ourselves in order to render the world, other people, and our future, predictable, safe and fundamentally under our control (McArthur, 1972).

One means of explaining the behaviour of others was asserted by Jones and Davis (1965) in their correspondent inference theory. This theory posits that we believe the behaviour of others corresponds to an underlying disposition that they possess, and that several factors influence the likelihood of this. Freely chosen behaviour, socially undesirable behaviour (because it is counter normative) (Jones, Davis & Gergen, 1961) and behaviour that has hedonic relevance (important consequences for the self) are more likely to be attributed to a disposition. Furthermore, behaviour that appears to be directly intended to harm/benefit us leads to a correspondent inference (personalism), as does behaviour with effects exclusive specifically to that behaviour (Non-common effects), as we tend to assume that the behaviour in question was produced specifically for that effect (outcome bias) (Allison, Mackie & Messick, 1996).

However, Bauman and Skitka (2010) noted that these studies were conducted largely on students, who are unrepresentative of the overall population. Their study used American adults and found that the effect was still exhibited, but only by 53% of their participants, suggesting that the theory is not as pervasive as is implied. Moreover, Mason and Morris (2010) found that East Asians are more likely to reference the social context. Accordingly, these researchers argue that culture can actually shape automatic mental processes, and Gilbert and Malone (1995) point out that correspondent inference is an example of this. A more recent development upon this theory is that of dispositional rebound (Geeraert, Yzerbyt, Corneille & Wigboldus, 2004) whereby correspondent inferences are more likely to be made if they are first suppressed. Again, this was found to be dependent upon culture (Geeraert & Yzerbyt, 2007) with Thai participants being most likely to reference situational factors. Furthermore, other research has found that we actually have a tendency to make dispositional inferences even when situational information is available (Jones & Harris, 1967; McArthur, 1972) and this has become known as the fundamental attribution error. This error was researched by Brozova and Vancura (2010), who found that professionals caring for the intellectually disabled in an institution exhibited the fundamental attribution error. Therefore, accurate judgement of others, even by professionals, is made difficult by our insistence on focussing upon dispositional causal attribution, regardless of situational information. The original correspondent inference theory has thus declined in importance recently, as the theory stated that situational attributions should be made if information is salient (Hewstone, 1989; Howard, 1985).

A second theory of attribution known as the co-variation model (Kelley, 1967/1973) claimed that when trying to discover the causes of people’s behaviour we try to identify what factor co-varies with it and assign this a causal role. Accordingly, we then make either a dispositional or situational attribution. Kelley argues that three classes of information are assessed in order to make this attribution. Consistency information refers to whether or not someone always behaves the same way to the situation, distinctiveness to whether they always behave this way or only in the given situation and consensus to whether everyone else behaves this way, or not. Therefore, if consistency alone is low we ‘discount’ and search for another cause of the behaviour and if all are high we make a situational attribution. Finally, as Forsterling, Buhner and Gall (1998) found, if consistency is high whilst distinctiveness and consensus are low, we tend to make a dispositional inference.



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psychology social psychology social judgement impression formation self belief in a just world unrealistic optimism



Title: With reference to relevant psychological theory and research critically discuss the factors which make social judgement of ourselves and others difficult