Social Perception – Concept & Behaviors



Social psychology is the scientific investigation of how the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of others. In fact. various aspects and variables of individual level processes are studied under it. It includes Social Cognition, Social Perception, Self, Attitude, etc.

Let us get familiar with the term Social Perception.

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Social Perception

First of all, what is perception?

The answer according to APA is – the process or result of becoming aware of objects, relationships, and events by means of the senses, which includes such activities as recognizing, observing, and discriminating.

Social Perception—the process through which we seek to know and understand other people.

Social Perception allows people to know and understand other people in their, social world.

This is a crucial process and one we must perform every day because perceiving and understanding others accurately provides a basic foundation of all social life.

For instance, it’s often important to know when others are being truthful and when they are attempting to deceive us, to know why they say or do certain things (e.g., did they make a remark that hurt our feelings on purpose, or by accident), and whether the outward face they show really reflects their true inner selves.

Variables studied under Social Perception are mainly –

  • Non verbal Communication
  • Attribution
  • Impression Formation and Management

Non-Verbal Communication

Think for a moment: Do you act differently when you are feeling very happy than when you are feeling really sad? Most likely, you do.

People tend to behave differently when experiencing different emotional states. But precisely how do differences in your inner states—your emotions, feelings, and moods—show up in your behavior?

This question  relates to the basic channels through which such communication takes place. Research findings indicate that five of these channels exist: facial expressions, eye contact, body movements, posture, and touching.

These are nothing but forms of Non – Verbal Communication.

Facial Expressions

More than 2,000 years ago, the Roman orator Cicero stated: “The face is the image of the soul.”

By this he meant that human feelings and emotions are often reflected in the face and can be read there in specific expressions. Modern research suggests that Cicero was correct: It is possible to  learn much about others’ current moods and feelings from their facial expressions.

In fact, it appears that five different basic emotions are represented clearly, and from a very early age, on the human face: anger, fear, happiness, sadness, and disgust (Izard, 1991; Rozin,Lowery, & Ebert, 1994). Surprise, has also been suggested as a basic emotion reflected clearly in facial expressions.

Eye Contact

We often learn much about others’ feelings from their eyes.

For example, we interpret a high level of gazing from another as a sign of liking or friendliness (Kleinke, 1986). In contrast, if others avoid eye contact with us, we may conclude that they are unfriendly, don’t like us, or are simply shy.

If another person gazes at us continuously and maintains such contact regardless of what we do, he or she can be said to be staring. A stare is often interpreted as a sign of anger or hostility—as in cold stare—and most people find this particular nonverbal cue disturbing (Ellsworth & Carlsmith, 1973).

In fact, we may quickly terminate social interaction with someone who stares at us and may even leave the scene.

Body movements and Posture

Our current moods or emotions are often reflected in the position, posture, and movement of our bodies. Together, such nonverbal  behaviors are termed body language. They, too, can provide useful information about others.

First, body language often reveals others’ emotional states. Large numbers of movements— especially ones in which one part of the body does something to another part (touching, rubbing, scratching)—suggest emotional arousal. The greater the frequency of such behavior, the higher the level of arousal or nervousness.


Suppose that during a brief conversation with another person, he or she touched you briefly. How would you react? What information would this behavior convey? The answer to both questions is, it depends.

And what it depends on is several factors relating to who does the touching (a friend, a stranger, a member of your own or the other gender). Further the nature of this physical contact (brief or prolonged, gentle or rough, what part of the body is touched). And the context in which the touching takes place (a business or social setting, a doctor’s office).

Depending on such factors, touch can suggest affection, sexual interest, dominance, caring, or even aggression. Despite such complexities, existing evidence indicates that when touching is considered appropriate, it often produces positive reactions in the person being touched (e.g., Alagna, Whitcher, & Fisher, 1979; Levav & Argo, 2010). But remember, it must be viewed as appropriate to produce such reactions!

Related : Facial Feedback Hypothesis



The process through which we seek such information and draw inferences is known as attribution. More formally, attribution refers to our efforts to understand the causes behind others’ behavior and, on some occasions, the causes behind our behavior, too.

APA defines it as –  an inference regarding the cause of a person’s behavior or an interpersonal event.

How does it affect?

You meet an attractive person from your class. You ask them to hangout with you next week.

The person answers, “No, sorry . . . I can’t do it next week.” Now, you are left wondering why they refused your invitation. Because they don’t like you as much as you like them or they are currently in a serious relationship? Because they are so busy with other commitments ?

The conclusion you reach will be important to your self-esteem. And it will also strongly influence what you do next.

This simple example illustrates an important fact about social perception: Often, we want to know more than simply how they are feeling right now. In addition, we want to know why they have said or done various things, and further, what kind of person they really are. What lasting traits, interests, motives, and goals they have.

For instance, to mention just one of countless possibilities, we want to know if other people are high or low in self-control.

If they are high in self-control we tend to view them as trustworthy. While if they are low on this aspect of self-regulation, we may conclude that they are unpredictable and not someone we can rely on (Righetti & Finkenauer, 2011).

Social psychologists believe that our interest in such questions stems, in large part, from our basic desire to understand cause-and effect relationships in the social world (Pittman, 1993; Van Overwalle, 1998). We don’t
simply want to know how others have acted—that’s something we can readily observe. We also want to understand why they have done so, too.

Because this knowledge can help us to understand them better and also can help us to better predict their future actions.

Impression Formation and Management

Impression Formation

When we meet another person for the first time, we are—quite literally—flooded with information. We can see, at a glance, how they look and dress, how they speak, and how they behave.

Although the amount of information reaching us is large, we somehow manage to combine it into an initial first impression of this person—a mental representation that is the basis for our reactions to him or her. Clearly, then, impression formation is an important aspect of social perception.

In many cases, in order to form impression about others’ personality, we combine information in terms of personality traits. Moreover, we do it possibly in a mathematical way. We assign some positive or negative value to all the traits inferred in the person. Then we derive an additive or average value of those traits.

Impression Management

The desire to make a favorable impression on others is a strong one, so most of us do our best to “look good” to others when we meet them for the first time.

Social psychologists use the term impression management (or self-presentation) to describe these efforts to make a good impression on others, and the results of their research on this process suggest that it is well worth the effort: People who perform impression management successfully do often gain important advantages in many situations.

The different techniques for boosting their image fall into two categories:

  • Self Enhancement – Effort to increase their appeal to others
  • Other Enhancement – Effort to make the target person feel good in various ways

Self Enhancement

With respect to self-enhancement, the strategies include effort to boost one’s physical appearance through style of dress, personal grooming and the use of various props. (example: eye glasses).

Additional tactics of self enhancement involves efforts to describe oneself in positive terms.

Other Enhancement

Individuals use many different tactics to induce positive moods and reaction in others example: flattery.

In addition there are acts like soothing others, taking interest in their work, helping them, etc.

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  • Baron, R. A. and Byrne, D. (1997). Social Psychology, 8th edition. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
  • Ciccarelli, S. K.; White J. N. Adapted by Girishwar Misra (2018). Psychology (5th Edition). Pearson

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