Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Belief Persistence in Impression Formation

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Belief Persistence in Impression Formation

Article excerpt

The differential effect of one of four types of information on impression formation was investigated to determine if the impression formed on the basis of incorrect information would persist when correct information was provided. Participants were presented with a photograph of either a male or female target accompanied by one of four types of background information: neutral, immoral, incorrect neutral corrected to immoral, and incorrect immoral corrected to neutral. Results revealed that the neutral background information produced the most positive impression followed by the immoral inaccurate background information. The accurate immoral background information provided the third most favorable impression and the most unfavorable impression was formed from the inaccurate neutral background information that was subsequently corrected to immoral background information. The results support a belief persistence hypothesis because the effect of the immoral information persisted even when the participants were told that this information was incorrect and were given the correct neutral background information. The results also support a contrast effect because, when incorrect neutral background was corrected to immoral background information, participants formed an impression of the target person that was more unfavorable than when just receiving the immoral background information.

When people meet and interact with others they form an impression of them based on their appearance, verbal statements and actions. Impressions of other persons can even be formed without meeting them, based on information about their behavior and characteristics. Early studies (Asch, 1946; Anderson, 1974), for example, revealed that knowledge of a person's attributes, such as personality traits, can influence the impression formed of them. However, the characteristics and behaviors of the target person are not the only variables contributing to impression formation. Studies have also revealed that the perceiver's cognitive and affective state contributes to the impression formed. Brewer (1988), Neuberg, Judice, Virdin, and Carrillo (1993) and others have demonstrated that a person's expectations, stereotypes and emotions have an impact on the impressions formed of another individual.

More recently, a body of research has focused on identifying the dimensions on which people form impressions. This research has identified that impressions are formed along two evaluative dimensions: morality and intelligence (De Bruin & Van Lange, 1999). The morality dimension refers to our tendency to judge others as good or bad and the intelligence dimension refers to our tendency to judge others as able or capable based on traits like skillful and intelligent. While impressions tend to be formed on these two evaluative dimensions, there is also a negativity bias in impression formation. The negativity bias refers to the tendency for people, when forming impressions, to attribute greater weight to negative behaviors and character traits than to positive behaviors and character traits (Skowronski & Carlston, 1989). Skowronski and Carlston (1987) have explained the negativity bias in terms of its category diagnosticity or the fact that negative behaviors and character traits are more diagnostic for impression formation than are positive behaviors and character traits. The negativity bias is particularly diagnostic for moral traits and behavior (Skowronski & Carlston, 1987). This suggests that negative information in the morality category will have a significant impact on the impression formed of another person.

Interestingly, research also reveals that the impressions people form are persistent even when they are based on false information (Anderson, Lepper & Ross, 1981). One of the questions researchers have investigated is whether an impression persists when confronted with evidence that discredits or invalidates the old evidence on which the belief was initially formed. …

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