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Impression Formation

“Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person”. (Mark Twain). “Most of our behavior involves sending messages about ourselves to others–in other words, impression management”. (Adler & Rodman, 1997, p. 54) The desire to avoid embarrassment or sometimes to look good or better than oneself, people use impression formation to control the impressions others make of them.

The impression formation is attempted by the use of one’s clothing, accent, the cars one possesses, and the houses they own. At other times, people play the role of adoring partners, pacifying the angry customers or meeting any other circumstances to save themselves from embarrassment. There exists several ways of impression formation. Solomon Asch examined the process of impression forming and developed a classic ‘Warm-cold’ method to review all the processes of impression formation by the people to form a unified impression of a target person.

According to Solomon Asch between the central and peripheral traits there occurs an interactive process which replaces the simple process of summation of traits. The perceiver blends diverse features of the target person into a unified impression that includes not only discrete units of information about the person, but also both the meaning of the individual features and their relationships (Asch, 1946, as cited in Hock, 1995; Kunda & Thagard, 1996).

The later works of Asch continued to explore this theme of unified nature of person-perception concept to demonstrate that the participants on their own readily found ways of discordance by using similar or same lawful ordering and organizing processes when they are made to deal with incongruent pairs of disproportionate traits like sociable but lonely people. These people formed their own impressions about the target persons.

Such impressions were not based on just the summation of information presented to them. The impressions encompass meaningful analysis and reasoning about the ways in which two diametrically opposite traits could co-exist within the same person. This is the essence of the Gestalist theme. There are other works contributed by different authors and scholars in addition to Asch. One of such studies by N. H. Anderson proposed another model of analyzing the impression formation which is an elementaristic model.

The process of this impression formation involves receiving every piece of information separately about the target person by the perceiver, assessing the meaning of the various elements of information collected and then to combine them in an algebraic way to arrive at a summary of impression. More recent models of impression formation are Brewer’s dual process and the continuum model invented by Fiske and Newberg. These models are serial models and they assume that perceivers first make use of the stereo-typed processes of receiving the information and forming a summation of information.

After the initial phase if they are motivated enough or if they are unable to categorize the target person as resembling any particular stereo type then they proceed to undertake attribute-based processes. Kunda and Thagard (1996) proposed yet another model of studying the impression formation which is a parallel-constraint-satisfaction model. Under this model all the factors of stereotypes, traits, and behaviors are treated as interconnected nodes in a network which again is a spreading activation one.

The spread of activation in between the different nodes is controlled or stimulated by the positive and negative associations among the interconnected nodes. The nodes as such not only activate one another but also deactivates. The basic assumption under the model is that the information of behavior of the target person which has been directly observed is open and believed to be true of the target person normally monitors the impression formed by others.

It is further assumed that the impressions are formed holistically by the interaction of the associates of the observed information which tend to activate and deactivate one another. These processes have the effect of jointly constraining the impression of the target person. Apart from the above mentioned broad theories and models of studying the impression formation, several other studies have examined the processes of making an evaluation or forming an impression about a person.

Herringer (1991) observed that the participants have exhibited a biased attitude towards making use of ‘stable-trait’ or ‘mood-state’ words for describing their nature. However the words used by them to describe others were ‘socially evaluative and metaphorical’. Jussim (1987) observed that the self-esteem of the participants had a strong impact both on the self-evaluation of their performance on a task as well as on their evaluations provided by others on their performance of the different tasks.

It was also observed that the bias towards self-esteem made the participants who possessed high self esteem to have a favorable interpretation of both positive and negative feedbacks on their performance. In fact they did not mind others’ opinion on their performance. This paper studies the various models of impression formation as they are applied in the context of studying the interrelationship between the stereotypes, traits and other information that facilitate the impression formation.


Herringer, L. G. & Haws, S. C.(1991) Perception of personality traits in oneself and others The Journal of Psychology, 125, 33-43 Hock, R. R. (1995) Forty studies that changed psychology: Explorations into the history of psychological research (2nd Ed) Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Simon and Schuster Jussim, L. , Coleman, L. , & Nassau, S. (1987). The influence of self-esteem on perceptions of performance and feedback Social Psychology Quarterly, 50, 95-99 Kunda, Z. & Thagard, P. (1996) Forming impressions from stereotypes, traits, and behaviors: A parallel-constraint-satisfaction theory Psychological Review, 103, 284-308

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