Academic journal article International Journal of Business and Society

Perceiving Own and Others Behaviour: An Exploration in Social Perception

Academic journal article International Journal of Business and Society

Perceiving Own and Others Behaviour: An Exploration in Social Perception

Article excerpt


The paper reports the findings of a study conducted to find differences in self-perception with perception of others in order to identify a culturally sensitive method to explore social reality. The instruments measured how respondents rate themselves or others on several negative and positive descriptions of thoughts and behaviours. A sample of 100 respondents from diverse background in India rated predominantly positive and negative description of beliefs, values and preferences twice - first for the people residing around them and then for themselves. They also rated themselves on a scale of social desirability. The findings confirmed that they attributed negative cognitions (beliefs, values and preferences) to the others more than themselves but attributed predominantly positive beliefs, values and preferences to themselves. The social desirability orientation was significantly related to respondents' self but not to others' perception. The findings thus suggested the use of informants rather than respondents in social research especially on sensitive issues such as ethical and moral behaviour.

Keywords: Social Research; Social Desirability Effect; Response Bias; Informants Method.


"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth." - Oscar Wilde

There has long been a controversy in social sciences that whether an individual or the group should be the basic unit of analysis to understand the social reality. The western thinkers (e.g. Hogan, 1975; Spence, 1985) have adopted the individual as the basic unit of analysis to interpret the nation, culture and psychological reality. A different view emphasizes that the collective determines and explains the psychological make-up of an individual (Brodbeck, 1976; Hsu, 1972). Earlier, Allport (1924) asserted that "There is no psychology of groups which is not essentially and entirely a psychology of individuals" (Allport, 1924, p.4). G. W. Allport (1968) advanced this individualistic tradition to study the conscious motivations of individuals. He emphasized a rational approach seeking consistency in the complexity of human behaviour. It was argued that Individuals are conscious of their cognitions and motivations and are rational in their behaviour.

Following this individualistic tradition, Edwards (1957) contended that "It might seem logical to assume that if we want to know how individuals feel about some particular psychological object; the best procedure would be to ask them directly" (p. 3). Once the individualistic foundation was well laid out, even the social reality was conceptualized as a totality of how individuals conceive it. A number of scholars (e.g. Hogan, 1975; Spence, 1985) studied macro level societal phenomena from this individualistic perspective. Hofstede (1980), for example collected responses of IBM employees in a large number of cultures, aggregated them into cultural scores, and extracted the dimensions to compare the cultures.

Despite such a strong tradition presuming the validity of individualistic approach, there were voices of skepticism even in the West that remained largely unattended in the psychological research. Edwards (1957), for example, had admitted "the reluctance of many individuals to give public expression to their feelings or attitudes on controversial issues..." (p.3). Triandis (1980) further cautioned,

"Respondent methods [where the subject is responding to stimuli presented by the researcher] are more obtrusive, and they are more likely to be distorted by reactivity. The respondents are more likely to distort their answers, so that they will appear to be socially desirable people to the researcher, their peers, or the authorities in their culture or from the point of view of their culture's ideal." (p. 80)

If individuals' responses are susceptible to social desirability effects in an individualistic culture in the USA, they are likely to be much more tailored in a collectivist culture where people identify themselves in terms of collectives, comply with social norms rather than individual attitudes, yield personal goals to those of the collectives, and prioritize relationships over rationality (Triandis, 1995). …

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