Social Inference

Think about an example of making a social judgment about another person or a group of people. You probably make some kind of judgment with every encounter you have or observation you make of others. Just try watching
the evening news. With each news story, you no doubt make a social judgment about the individuals and groups of individuals in the story. This process of making a judgment is called social inference. For most people, there are several steps in making the inference.
Some of the factors important in making a social inference include the following:
• The information you gather probably is founded in your own biases, cultural influences, and experiences.
• The more information you can gather, the better or more accurate your inferences will be.
• The kind of information and the source of the information will influence your impression and decision
• How you frame the information impacts your inferences.• Your mood, emotions, and motivations impact your inferences.
These schemas significantly influence your impressions of a social situation and facilitate (usually
automatically) your social cognition processes. They are founded in your past experiences, elements of your
culture that influence how you look at the world, and your biases. These schemas may contribute to or hinder
the accuracy of your impressions.
To prepare for this Discussion:
• Review Chapter 3 in the course text, Social Psychology, focusing on the factors and information used in
forming social inferences, how emotion and motivation impact these inferences, and how the brain uses mental
shortcuts, such as schemas and heuristics, to make inferences automatically.
• Watch the video, “Social Cognition,” from the Contemporary Videos in Social Psychology DVD. Focus on what
social cognition is and how it can be studied.
• Review the article, “Person Perception,” found by clicking on the Person Perception tab on the left-hand
navigation on the the Social Psychology Basics Web site. Focus on the examples used in this discussion of
person perception.
• Recall a time when you had to form an impression about a situation so as to make a decision. For example,
perhaps you applied for a job and needed to form an impression about your potential work environment to
determine whether or not it was a fit for you. Or maybe you went to a party and wanted to size up the
situation to decide whether to stay or move on to another evening activity.
• With respect to the situation you recalled, consider the following questions:
• What information did you use to size up or make inferences about the people and the social situation? How did you decide what information was important to use?
• What biases and past experiences influenced your impressions and decision making? Do you think aspects of your culture or views of a different culture impacted your impressions?
• How did you frame the decisions you had to make?
• How did your emotions, mood, and motives impact the inferences?
• What shortcuts (schemas, heuristics) did you use to form your inferences? How did these shortcuts help or
hinder your decision-making process?
• What elements of your culture influence these schemas? Would a person from a different culture draw on a different schema?