A Slice of Social Psychology — Expectations Matter

In a famous study, it was shown that beliefs (i.e. expectations) can actually bring about the expected behaviour, creating a reality. A famous example: people who expect to die young may smoke and take drugs, ending up dying young in reality. This phenomenon also holds true in social interactions, in what psychologists call behavioural confirmation.

Our perception of reality (social or otherwise) is influenced by what we happen to be paying attention to, our emotions, prejudices, and so on. According to social psychology, we only see what we are expecting and usually do not notice what we are not expecting. This subtle trait innate to human behaviour is the key to achieving success and getting ahead in life.

  • When people see faces of children, they check if the faces are happy/sad
  • When we see a close-up face, we wonder what the person is thinking — is he dangerous/friendly/etc?

The psychological power of expectations encompass things like:

  • Hinsight bias (i-knew-it-all-along phenomenon)
  • Confirmation bias — when people meet in a group, they seek to find out evidence that confirms their expectations
  • Self-fulfilling prophecy — fake it till you make it
  • Context effects

Social judgements usually take place very rapidly and we tend to lock into them once they are formed. Although this psychological behaviour seems on the surface to be a mental shortcut that is prone to biases, they are also quite powerful for predicting interpersonal consequences with good accuracy. The suprising accuracy of the thin-slice judgement may be tied to the evolutionary value for rapidly identifying competent leaders, potential threats, or possible partners.

In fact, social judgement is formed so quickly and unconsciously that we have a saying for it: First impression lasts:

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Kevin Siswandi

Kevin Siswandi

👨🏻‍💻 Data Scientist 📚 MSc. Mathematics & Computer Science 🎓 BSc. (Hons) Physics https://www.socialpsychology.org/member/siswandi