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Interpersonal Perception and Cognition

The nature of the interaction between people and its results largely depend on how people perceive each other, understand, interpret and reproduce the behavior, assess their capabilities and other participants in communication. In the process of interaction they achieve understanding or misunderstanding, improve the ability to predict each other’s behavior or fail to anticipate the action of the communication partner. This is a consequence of sensory adequate or inadequate reflection and understanding between partners, lack of or misinterpretation of the information at their disposal.

People’s perception of each other in the course of communication, forming an impression of an individual can be considered the initial premise in understanding and acquaintance. In this case, we mean the perception of man by man as the process much more active than the perception of other objects of the world, the one that activates mental, volitional, emotional processes, often encouraging to action, to apprehension of themselves and others, to acquire knowledge (Kenny et al. 282-94; Saffrey et al. 117-39).

The direct process of perception of a person by another person starts with the display of appearance and behavior, and at this stage already the observer in a certain way evaluates the outward signs and makes some inferences (sometimes unconsciously) about the internal psychological properties of the interaction partner (Kenny et al. 282-94).

At the same time, some signs help to make the conclusion about racial and national origin of a person, the others – about gender, age, social class and level of cultural development, yet other features point to personality traits of a person, his or her ability to perform a particular job (Biesanz et al. 452-59). Mutual perception puts a high level of requirements to the participants of the interaction associated with deep intellectual analysis.

The perception is also influenced by the aesthetic tastes and emotional state. Thus, a person in love does not notice certain shortcomings of the beloved one, idealizes not only the appearance but also personal traits. A person’s mood also has the influence. If it is dull (e.g., because of health issues), the first impression may be dominated by negative feelings. A well-known fact also is that having a positive emotional attitude to a story, picture, or painting a man remembers on average two times more details than when the feelings are negative. Hence, a justified conclusion is that in order to make the first impression of a strange man more complete and accurate, it is important to set oneself positively (Biesanz et al. 452-59).

Along with that, under conditions of time shortage and rapid growth of communication information the partners have to fill the data and knowledge gaps of the other information with the information given to them by the first impression (Kenny et al. 282-94). Therein lays the danger of jumping to conclusions about a person.

Therefore, the first impression may be partially or completely opposite to further perceptions about the person. Generally, the first impression depends on many factors such as communication experience, peculiarities of the appearance, behavior of the person observed, situation in which communication is taking place, and person qualities of the observing person.

Further penetration into the inner world of another person is a very difficult task, and as it has already been noted, as a rule, only external features are opened for the observation, i.e. one can observe facial expression, behavior patterns, statements, feelings, communication capabilities of an individual, etc. The questions arising here are: 1) How can one use the features that form the external image and individual’s behavior for penetrating into individual’s inner world? 2) How does the transition process of interpersonal perception into understanding and assessment of another person occur?

The process of understanding itself is containing two levels: on the first level, one is realizing the goals, motives, and attitudes of another person, and the second level is characterized by the ability to accept these motives, goals, attitudes as one’s own. Typically, the second level is absent among children, as this level is the result of late ontogenetic development (Kenny et al. 282-94).

However, not all the adults are also able to cognize the person is at the level of perception of one’s goals, motives and attitudes. We are now talking about the level of understanding, which supposes that each partner is taking into account not only his/her own needs, motives, and values, but also corresponding requests of the other person. Saffrey et al. (117-39) note that the impressions arising in this case play a significant regulatory role in the process of communication, because 1) the cognition of another person provides the cognition of oneself, and 2) the comprehensiveness and accuracy of perception and understanding of another person determine the character of success of the interaction with this person.м

The reflection of this level is characteristic of enhanced susceptibility to certain trends of the distorted understanding of other individuals’ peculiarities on the basis of stereotyping them in further communication, when basing on one or two features a person is assigned to a certain stereotype and ascribed with a set of qualities of this stereotype (Biesanz et al. 452-59; Saffrey et al. 117-39):

  • unconscious structuring of another person’s personality is revealed in the fact that only strictly defined personality traits are logically combined into a complete image, and then any concept that is not fitting in this image is discarded;
  • the halo effect is manifested in the fact that the initial attitude to one certain side of a personality is generalized to the entire image of a person, and further, the overall impression of a person is transferred to the assessment of one’s individual qualities. If the overall impression is favorable, positive qualities of a person are overestimated, and disadvantages get either unnoticed or unrealized. And vice versa, if the overall impression is negative, even noble actions of a person are not noticed or are interpreted wrongly as selfish;
  • the projection effect is often manifested in the fact that another person is by analogy credited with one’s own qualities and emotional states, as any person perceiving and appreciating another person tends to logically suppose that “all the people are either like me, or they are all opposite to me.”

On a whole, it is proved that the formation of self-concept, which is typically based on the perception of the others, is effectively formed when people interact, make decisions together, and form a joint action plan (Saffrey et al. 117-39). It is in these circumstances that the objective testing of a person by another person is possible, as well as the change of perceptions and impressions, the change of actions and behaviors of a partner, and the formations of a strategy of one’s own behavior. Successful interpersonal cognition is possible only when people are able to realize, understand and assess a partner in the interaction activities, i.e. able to demonstrate the ability of penetrating into the inner world of another person, but not of basing the cognition on the first impression.


Works Cited:

Biesanz, Jeremy C., Human, Lauren J., Paquin, Annie-Claude, Chan, Meanne, Parisotto, Kate L., Sarracino, Juliet, and Randall L. Gillis. “Do We Know When Our Impressions of Others Are Valid? Evidence for Realistic Accuracy Awareness in First Impressions of Personality”, Social Psychological and Personality Science 2.5 (2011): 452-459. Print.
Kenny, David A., West, Tessa V., Malloy, Thomas E., and Linda Albright. “Componential Analysis of Interpersonal Perception Data,” Personality and Social Psychology Review 10.4 (2006): 282-294.
Saffrey, Colleen, Bartholomew, Kim, Scharfe, Elaine, Henderson, Antonia J.Z., and Ray Koopman. “Self- and Partner-Perceptions of Interpersonal Problems and Relationship Functioning,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 20.1 (2003): 117-139. Print.