Humans as Social Beings
As a human, you perform certain thought processes that help shape your perceptions of people and social situations. First, you observe or collect data (what is the information?); second, you detect covariation (how is the information relative to other information?); and third, you infer cause and effect (what causes the information?). Though you operate on this intuitive level of scientific reasoning, your attitudes and beliefs influence your decisions, as you'll see later in this chapter. Observing data and detecting covariation are explained here, while inferring cause and effect will be explained later when discussing interpreting behavior.
Observing and Collecting Data
Out of all the many different types of information you collect on a daily basis, the kind of information that seems to stand out the most in your mind is vivid information. Studies have shown that humans are more reactive to graphic, dramatic information than they are to less dynamic information. Even if it is the same information, when it is presented in a way that stands out more clearly in your mind, you will most likely be influenced by that information.
Mass media plays a major role in this kind of data collection, and in some cases can be one of the most influential in our decision-making. If a news station dryly reports the results of an abortion survey by simply stating there are more people that believe a woman has the right to choose, you are more likely to remember the vivid, two-second photo spot portraying an antiabortion march than you are the results of the survey. Thus, you might inaccurately conclude that there are more antiabortionists than there are people who are pro-choice.
Those warnings against allowing your children too much time in front of the television certainly do have some bearing. If a child grows up watching too much television, she might develop her social reality based on what she is seeing on television.
Another way you collect information is by developing theories of your own, especially concerning subjects such as capital punishment, abortion, and racism. Your theories often distort how you interpret the data you receive, for example, from television or the newspaper. Two people on opposite sides of the capital punishment debate can read the same article that analyzes both the pros and cons of the issue, yet still feel their argument was either strongly supported or strongly biased against. This illustration of how people filter information can also be seen in schemata and scripts, which will be discussed later in the chapter.
When two elements vary in their relationship to each other, such as height and weight, they are said to have a correlation. Part of how you interact socially involves your ability to understand or misread these correlations. For example, you might believe that people who are antiabortionists tend to be against capital punishment as well. A lot of times these correlations are assumed and turn out not to be correct. Thus, a platform for stereotyping and prejudiced judgment evolves.