Biases in Person Perception

In a series of studies, I have been investigating with my colleagues the question of forming first impressions of others, by considering motivational factors (e.g., personal needs and expectations) underlying different types of first impressions that are formed spontaneously (quickly and with limited awareness or intention). My research adopts a dynamic approach of person perception by investigating different types of characteristics (e.g., traits, goals, attitudes or stereotypes regarding the person's social groups) that could be inferred from others' behaviors in parallel, and potentially bias one's perceptions of others. In multiple studies, my colleagues and I show that first impressions are resistant to change and highly likely to affect people's judgments of others, unless people take their time and engage in elaboration during their judgments [link] or consider (spontaneously or elaboratively) the situational factors that might have affected others' actions ("contextualization", e.g., one's goal to be quick when taking the elevator). Our recent work shows that the chronic tendency to spontaneously contextualize others' actions varies across individuals (e.g., liberals show a higher tendency than conservatives) and is partially explained by individuals' chronic tendencies to take the perspectives of others when trying to understand their actions [link]

"Our work shows that people can spontaneously associate multiple inconsistent (positive and negative) traits with a person."

Imagine that you see a new colleague of yours taking the elevator up one flight. What do you think your first impression of this colleague would be? The literature on inference-making suggests that you might infer that your new colleague is a “lazy” person, regardless of having any awareness or intention of forming an impression of this person’s traits. This tendency to overly rely on traits as the way of making sense of others’ behaviors has critical implications for the perseverance of stereotypes. Inferences about a person’s traits can facilitate the formation of stereotypes and impede regulation and change in stereotypes by facilitating stereotypical interpretations of other’s behaviors, even the ones as simple as taking an elevator.

Biases in Intergroup Interactions

Intergroup bias is a widely shown phenomenon in social psychological research; people (especially members of majority groups) tend to show a preference for the members of their own group (e.g., ethnic, gender, racial, ideological, age group). These biases are manifested in various ways, from attitudes (e.g., higher likelihood to have more favorable attitudes for ingroup members) to decision-making (e.g., biases to recruit ingroup members as employees) and behavioral interactions (e.g., greater physical proximity, eye contact and time dedicated when interacting with ingroup members). 

"We found that perception of time slows in cross-race interactions" 

My work contributes to this literature by focusing on perceptual and attributional biases in the domain of intergroup interactions, such as cross-race, cross-gender, and inter-ideological interactions [link]. For instance, my colleagues and I demonstrate a novel form of perceptual bias in which time perception is slowed as a result of intergroup anxiety [link1][link2]. In another study, we found that White people were slower to learn about trust-relevant information in cross-race (vs. same-race) interactions [link]. 

Motivational Factors Underlying Biased Perceptions

What are the motivational reasons underlying bias? And what are the motivational factors that facilitate reducing bias?


Focusing on these two broad questions, I aim to understand why people adopt stereotypical perceptions, make prejudicial evaluations, and show antisocial tendencies by ignoring views that are different from their own. My current work looks at the phenomenon of Paradoxical Knowing, a firm conviction that one knows the unknowable, as a psychological paradox that distorts perceptions of others and oneself, and perpetuates divisiveness. Further, I investigate the motivational factors that help people effectively regulate their tendencies to take a short-cut to knowledge.

Photo by Ante Hamersmiton on Unsplash

©2018 by irmakolcaysoyokten. Proudly created with