What is Social Perception?

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  • Written By: Karize Uy
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 20 June 2019
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Social perception is a term in social psychology that defines an individual’s ability to create an impression or judgment of other individuals or social groups. This is formed through observation and understanding existing information about an individual and drawing out conclusions from the information. This kind of perception is classified under social cognition, the brain’s ability to store and process available information associated with creatures of the same species. Aside from available information, observers with different moods and temperament can account for a variety of perceptions.

Many psychologists and sociologists agree that an individual’s social perception can have some inaccuracies or even be utterly wrong. It is inevitable that people will have biases, which causes wrong perception. One example is the in-group bias. An individual is more likely to perceive someone in a positive light if he is a member of the individual’s group, such as in a family or a clique. This favoritism can also be seen among romantic couples, where a partner sees more of his partner’s good qualities as opposed to the bad. In contrast, an individual can have prejudice against someone who is not affiliated with the group.


Another kind of biased social perception is the halo effect. Usually, people have a tendency to associate positive qualities with people who are physically attractive, rather than with people who might be plain-looking or even ugly. Studies have shown that babies react more to pictures of beautiful women, by staring at them longer, than to pictures of less-appealing women. The halo effect can also explain why many people have judged and misunderstood subcultures to be rebellious, anti-social, and even disruptive.

Social perception can also be affected by nonverbal communication. In a process called joint attention, a person can hint to his companion to judge an object or another person by merely looking and pointing. A person’s smile or smirk towards a subject can hugely influence another person’s opinion of it, whether positive or negative. Social perception is an individual’s way of making order of his environment.

Perceiving a person or an object as such can greatly determine the individual’s actions. A dark alleyway, for example, will always be seen as a dangerous part of the street and will almost always be avoided. Tourists who are in need of direction will most likely approach a person who looks friendly or who is already smiling. In a way, social perception helps an individual decide on an action that will secure his betterment or survival.


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Post 3

@Crispety - I wanted to say that I was watching a show in which the host was trying to demonstrate various social perception exercises based on various circumstances that the subjects were in.

For example, they had an unattractive man pretend to steal a bicycle and then a beautiful woman does the same thing. When the man attempted to steal the bicycle in the park, a number of people confronted him and even called the police.

Then the attractive woman attempted to steal the bike, and the men that passed by tried to help her steal the bike as well. It really demonstrated the definition of social perception. For some reason we see attractive people in an entirely different

light than we do average looking people.

There was another instance in which a man collapsed on the floor and was ignored, but when a woman did this people immediately people around her called an ambulance. People saw the women as less threatening than the man which is why I think more people responded to her.

Post 2

@Comfyshoes - I know what you mean. We are always surprised when a celebrity gets into trouble but the fact is they are people just like us the only difference is that everyone knows their name.

I know that there is also a social perception bias regarding people that we have something in common with. Usually we tend to like people that went to the same college or grew up in the same town. For example if an interviewer were to interview someone from the interviewer’s alma mater than that applicant has a leg up from the rest of the applicants for that reason.

It may not seem fair but people are generally biased in their belief systems. This also happens in political elections. We may vote for someone because he or she grew up in the same town or has the same nationality or religion.

Post 1

When I think about the halo effect I always think of celebrities. They are usually very attractive and the public is usually in awe of everything they do.

This is a good social perception example because we really don’t know these celebrities intimately yet we associate positive traits to them because they are attractive and we like their work. This is why a lot of celebrities receive product endorsements because the advertisers know that the public has a highly favorable opinion of a particular celebrity and will most likely purchase the product that they are pitching.

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