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Impression formation is an aspect of social cognition and is the processes involved in an observer integrating information regarding an individual or a group and constructing an overall social judgement about them.

Research focuses mainly on impressions of individuals involved in social actions. However, studies also deal with impressions of an individual occupying an identity who simultaneously displays a status characteristic, psychological trait, [mood]], or emotion.

Foundations[edit | edit source]

In psychology Fritz Heider's writings on balance theory[1] emphasized that liking or disliking a person depends on how the person is positively or negatively linked to other liked or disliked entities. Heider's later essay on social cognition,[2] along with the development of "psycho-logic" by Robert P. Abelson and Milton J. Rosenberg,[3] embedded evaluative processes in verbal descriptions of actions, with the verb of a descriptive sentence establishing the kind of linkage existing between the actor and object of the sentence.

Harry Gollob expanded these insights with his subject-verb-object approach to social cognition, and he showed that evaluations of sentence subjects could be calculated with high precision from out-of-context evaluations of the subject, verb, and object, with part of the evaluative outcome coming from multiplicative interactions among the input evaluations.[4] In a later work, Gollob and Betty Rossman[5] extended the framework to predicting an actor's power and influence. Reid Hastie[6] wrote that "Gollob's extension of the balance model to inferences concerning subject-verb-object sentences is the most important methodological and theoretical development of Heider's principle since its original statement."

Gollob's regression equations for predicting impressions of sentence subjects consisted of weighted summations of out-of-context ratings of the subject, verb, and object, and of multiplicative interactions of the ratings. The equations essentially supported the cognitive algebra approach of Norman H. Anderson's Information Integration Theory.[7] Anderson, however, initiated a heated technical exchange between himself and Gollob,[8] in which Anderson argued that Gollob's use of the general linear model led to indeterminate theory because it could not completely account for any particular case in the set of cases used to estimate the models. The recondite exchange typified a continuing debate between proponents of contextualism who argue that impressions result from situationally specific influences (e.g., from semantics and nonverbal communication as well as affective factors), and modelers who follow the pragmatic maxim, seeking approximations revealing core mental processes. Another issue in using least-squares estimations is the compounding of measurement error problems with multiplicative variables.[9]

In sociology David R. Heise relabeled Gollob's framework from subject-verb-object to actor-behavior-object in order to allow for impression formation from perceived events as well as from verbal stimuli, and showed[10] that actions produce impressions of behaviors and objects as well as of actors on all three dimensions of Charles E. Osgood's semantic differential—Evaluation, Potency, and Activity. Heise used equations describing impression-formation processes as the empirical basis for his cybernetic theory of action, Affect Control Theory.[11]

Erving Goffman's book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life[12] and his essay "On Face-work" in the book Interaction Ritual[13] focused on how individuals engage in impression management. Using the notion of face as identity is used now, Goffman proposed that individuals maintain face expressively. "By entering a situation in which he is given a face to maintain, a person takes on the responsibility of standing guard over the flow of events as they pass before him. He must ensure that a particular expressive order is sustained-an order that regulates the flow of events, large or small, so that anything that appears to be expressed by them will be consistent with his face."[14] In other words, individuals control events so as to create desired impressions of themselves. Goffman emphasized that individuals in a group operate as a team with everyone committed to helping others maintain their identities.[15]

Impression-formation processes in the US[edit | edit source]

Ratings of 515 action descriptions by American respondents yielded estimations of a statistical model consisting of nine impression-formation equations, predicting outcome Evaluation, Potency, and Activity of actor, behavior, and object from pre-event ratings of the evaluation, potency, and activity of actor, behavior, and object.[16]

Stability was a factor in every equation, with some pre-action feeling toward an action element transferred to post-action feeling about the same element. Evaluation, Potency, and Activity of behaviors suffused to actors so impressions of actors were determined in part by the behaviors they performed. In general objects of action lost Potency.

Interactions among variables included consistency effects, such as receiving Evaluative credit for performing a bad behavior toward a bad object person, and congruency effects, such as receiving evaluative credit for nice behaviors toward weak objects or bad behaviors toward powerful objects. Third-order interactions included a balance effect in which actors received a boost in evaluation if two or none of the elements in the action were negative, otherwise a decrement. Across all nine prediction equations, more than half of the 64 possible predictors (first-order variables plus second- and third-order interactions) contributed to outcomes.[17]

Studies of event descriptions that explicitly specified behavior settings found that impression-formation processes are largely the same when settings are salient, but the setting becomes an additional contributor to impression formation regarding actor, behavior, and object; and the action changes the impression of the setting.[18]

Actor and object are the same person in self-directed actions such as the "The lawyer praised himself" or various kinds of self-harm. Impression-formation research[19] indicates that self-directed actions reduce the positivity of actors on the Evaluation, Potency, and Activity dimensions. Self-directed actions therefore are not an optimal way to confirm the good, potent, lively identities that people normally want to maintain. Rather self-directed actions are a likely mode of expression for individuals who want to manifest their low self-esteem and self-efficacy.

Early work on impression formation[20] used action sentences like, "The kind man praises communists," and "Bill helped the corrupt senator," assuming that modifier-noun combinations amalgamate into a functional unit. A later study[21] found that a modifier-noun combination does form an overall impression that works in action descriptions like a noun alone. The action sentences in that study combined identities with status characteristics, traits, moods, and emotions. Another study[22] focused specifically on emotion descriptors combined with identities (e.g., an angry child) and again found that emotion terms amalgamate with identities, and equations describing this kind of amalgamation are of the same form as equations describing trait-identity amalgamation.

Cross-cultural Studies[edit | edit source]

Studies of various kinds of impression formation have been conducted in Canada,[23] Japan,[24] and Germany.[25] Core processes are similar cross-culturally. For example, in every culture that has been studied, Evaluation of an actor was determined by-among other things-a stability effect, a suffusion from the behavior Evaluation, and an interaction that rewarded an actor for performing a behavior whose Evaluation was consistent with the Evaluation of the object person.

On the other hand, each culture weighted the core effects distinctively. For example, the impact of behavior-object Evaluation consistency was much smaller in Germany than in the U.S.A., Canada, or Japan, suggesting that moral judgments of actors have a somewhat different basis in Germany than in the other cultures. Additionally, impression-formation processes involved some unique interactions in each culture. For example, attribute-identity amalgamations in Germany involved some Potency and Activity interactions that did not appear in other cultures.

A book, Surveying Cultures[26] reviewed cross-cultural research on impression-formation processes, and provided guidelines for conducting impression-formation studies in cultures where the processes are unexplored currently.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Heider, Fritz, (1946). "Attitudes and cognitive organization" Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied 21: 107–112; Heider, F, The psychology of interpersonal relations (Wiley, 1958)
  2. Heider, F. (1967) "On social cognition," American Psychologist, 22:25–31
  3. Abelson, Robert P., and Milton J. Rosenberg (1958). "Symbolic Psycho-Logic: A Model of Attitudinal Cognition," Behavioral Science, 3:1–13
  4. Gollob, Harry F. (1968). "Impression formation and word combination in sentences," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 10: 341–353; Gollob, H. F. (1974). "The subject-verb-object approach to social cognition," Psychological Review 81: 286–321.
  5. Gollob, H. F. and Betty B. Rossman (1973). "Judgments of an actor's 'Power and ability to influence others'," Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 9: 391–406
  6. Reid Hastie (1983). "Social inference," Annual Review of Psychology, 34: 511–42, p. 535
  7. Anderson, Norman H. Unified Social Cognition (Psychology Press, 2008)
  8. Anderson, Norman H. (1977). "Some Problems in Using Analysis of Variance in Balance Theory" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35:140–158; Gollob, H. F. (1979). "A Reply to Norman H. Anderson's Critique of the Subject-Verb-Object Approach to Social Cognition," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37:931–949; Anderson, N.H. (1979). "Indeterminate Theory: Reply to Gollob," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37:950–952
  9. David R. Heise (1986). "Estimating nonlinear models: Correcting for measurement error." Sociological Methods & Research, 14: 447–472
  10. Heise, David R. (1969). "Affective dynamics in simple sentences." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 11: 204–213\; Heise, D. R. (1970). "Potency dynamics in simple sentences," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 16: 48–54
  11. Heise, D. R. (1977). "Social action as the control of affect," Behavioral Science 22: 163–177; Heise, D. R. (1979). Understanding Events: Affect and the Construction of Social Action (Cambridge University Press, 1979); Heise, D. R. Expressive Order: Confirming Sentiments in Social Actions (Springer, 2007)
  12. Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Anchor, 1959)
  13. Goffman, E. Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior (Anchor Books, 1967)
  14. Goffman, E. Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior (Anchor Books, 1967), p. 9
  15. Goffman, E., 1959
  16. Maximum-likelihood estimations are reported in Smith-Lovin, Lynn. "Impressions from events," pp. 35–70 in L. Smith-Lovin and D. R. Heise, Eds. Analyzing Social Interaction: Advances in Affect Control Theory (Gordon and Breach, 1988)
  17. Impression-formation effects are described in detail by Heise, D. R. Expressive Order, Chapter 6. Ordinary least squares estimations of equations from the 515-event study, and from studies mentioned below, can be examined in Interact On-Line (Java applet)
  18. Smith-Lovin, Lynn (1979). "Behavior settings and impressions formed from social scenarios" Social Psychology Quarterly 42: 31–43; Smith-Lovin, L. "The affective control of events within settings," pp. 71–102 in L. Smith-Lovin and D. R. Heise, Eds. Analyzing Social Interaction: Advances in Affect Control Theory (Gordon and Breach, 1988)
  19. Britt, Lory, and D. R. Heise (1992). "Impressions of self-directed action." Social Psychology Quarterly 55: 335–350
  20. Gollob, 1968; Gollob and Rossman, 1973
  21. Averett, Christine P., and D. R. Heise. "Modified social identities: Amalgamations, attributions, and emotions," pp. 103–132 in L. Smith-Lovin and D. R. Heise, Eds. Analyzing Social Interaction: Advances in Affect Control Theory (Gordon and Breach, 1988)
  22. Heise, D. R., and Lisa Thomas (1989). "Predicting impressions created by combinations of emotion and social identity" Social Psychology Quarterly 52: 141–148.
  23. MacKinnon, Neil J. (1985/1988/1998). Final Reports to Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada on Projects 410-81-0089, 410-86-0794, and 410-94-0087; Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Guelph.
  24. Smith, Herman W., Takanori Matsuno, and Michio Umino (1994). "How similar are impression-formation processes among Japanese and Americans?" Social Psychology Quarterly 57: 124–139; Smith, H. W. (2002). "The dynamics of Japanese and American interpersonal events: Behavioral settings versus personality traits" Journal of Mathematical Sociology 26: 71–92; Smith, H. W. and Linda E. Francis (2005). "Social versus self-directed events among Japanese and Americans: Self-actualization, emotions, moods, and trait disposition labeling" Social Forces 84: 821–830.
  25. Schröder, Tobias (2011). "A Model of Language-Based Impression Formation and Attribution Among Germans" Journal of Language and Social Psychology 30: 82–102
  26. Heise, D. R. Surveying Cultures: Discovering Shared Conceptions and Sentiments (Wiley Interscience, 2010)

Further reading[edit | edit source]

Key texts[edit | edit source]

Books[edit | edit source]

Papers[edit | edit source]

  • Luchins, A.S. (1959) Primacy-recency in impression formation. In: C.I. Hovland (ed.) The Order of Presentation in Persuasion, New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

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