How Might Social Beliefs Relate to Social Reality?
This chapter introduces the book. It points out that scientific psychology, and especially my home discipline of social psychology, has a long history of emphasizing the flaws and failings of human judgment and social perception. Next, the chapter identifies three ways that social beliefs can relate to social reality. Beliefs may be accurate (they may reflect or predict social reality without causing that social reality). Beliefs may be self-fulfilling—even when initially false, social beliefs may trigger social interactions that lead to their own confirmation. Beliefs may also bias and distort people’s subsequent judgments (e.g., perceivers may interpret others’ characteristics as supporting their prior beliefs more than is justified). An overview of the rest of the book—which will address how beliefs, expectations, and stereotypes relate to social reality—is then provided. The chapter concludes by stating the main theme of this book: Although biases and self-fulfilling prophecies are undoubtedly real and important social phenomena, the scientific evidence shows that social beliefs such as interpersonal expectancies and even social stereotypes relate to social reality far more because they are accurate than because they are biased or self-fulfilling.
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