LEE ROSS at Stanford University discovered that our established impressions of others (and it doesn’t take a lot to establish these impressions) tend to endure even if we are convinced later that our impressions are wrong.
In Ross’s experiment, subjects who took on the role of a “student” were given a verbal test one at a time and then given fake results as to how well they scored. At the end of the test, a third of the subjects were told that they had scored exceptionally well compared to the average person (“success condition”); another third were told that they scored way below the average (“failure condition”); and the final third were told that they scored equal to the average person (“average condition”). At the end of the experiment, the researcher then told the subjects that the results were bogus—that is, that they had been given fake test scores.
Unbeknownst to each “student” taking the test, there was another subject who was observing the experiment through a one-way mirror. The observer’s task was to document the student’s answers and speed of response, and rate the student’s confidence in answering the test questions. Of course, the observer heard the initial scores of the student and later, at the end of the study, heard the experimenter tell the student that the feedback was false.