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Chapter 2: Communication, Perception, and the Self

Chapter Goals

  • Explain the influence on the perception process.

  • Discuss the dimensions of self-concept.

  • Identify the relationship between identity management and face work.

  • Describe the strategies for identity management.

  • Select skills for perception checking.


I. The perception process and understanding of the self.

  1. We perceive the world around us with a personal lens (Stone, Patton, & Heen, 2002).

  2. Perceiving requires an understanding of the self.

II. Understanding perception and interpersonal encounters.

  1. The process of perception involves all five senses: taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing.

  2. The perception process occurs in four stages

  1. Attending and Selecting

  2. Organizing

  3. Interpreting

  4. Retrieving

III. Influences on perception

A. Culture

  1. Culture dictates how something should be organized and interpreted.

  2. What is usual in one culture might be very different in another.

B. Sex and gender

  1. Sex is the biological make-up of an individual.

  2. Gender is the learned behaviors a culture associates with being male or female.

  3. Both masculine and feminine traits in equally large amounts are called androgynous.

  4. Low amounts of masculinity and femininity is termed undifferentiated.

C. Physical factors

  1. Age influences our perceptions because we perceive things differently as we age due to life experiences.

  2. Health shapes our perceptions and is broadly defined to include such things as fatigue, stress, biorhythms, and physical ability.

3. Ability refers to some individuals needing accommodations to be able to attend to stimuli in their surroundings.

D. Technology

1. The Internet, in particular — which has little oversight and no accountability —requires us to be critical in our perceptions.

E. Self-concept

IV. Understanding the Self: The "I's" Have It.

  1. As already noted, self-concept is everything we believe about ourselves, although it does change over time.

  2. Self-awareness is our understanding of who we are.

  3. Self-esteem is an evaluation of who we perceive ourselves to be.

  4. Self-fulfilling prophecy

V. Identity Management: Let's Face It

  1. At the heart of the self is identity management.

  2. Erving Goffman (1959) was one of the first people to discuss identity management.

VI. Perception, the self, and Interpersonal Communication

  1. Four conclusions illustrate how perception, the self, and interpersonal communication are closely related.

  2. Perceptual problems can inhibit interpersonal communication.

  3. Our identity is a process, not a constant, and this implies that we and our relationships are changing.

VII. Choices for Checking Perceptions and Improving Self-Concept.

A. Improving perception checking.

  1. Understand your personal worldview.

  2. Realize the incompleteness of perception.

3. Distinguish facts from inferences.

B. Improving self-concept

  1. Have the desire and will to change.

  2. Decide what you'd like to change.

3. Set reasonable personal goals.

Terms for Review

attending and selecting

attribution theory



gender role socialization

gender schema

halo effect

identity management

implicit personality theory



negative face

negative halo



positive face

positive halo

relational schema

relational uppers


selective perception

selective retention




self-fulfilling prophecy




symbolic interactionism

Student Activities

1. Directions: Read the following story once and then identify which of the numbered statements are facts and which are inferences without looking at the story again.
A doctor walked into a hospital waiting room to speak with Tim's parents. As soon as the doctor appeared, Tim's grandma started crying. Tim's dad put his arm around her to comfort her and the doctor quickly assured her Tim was going to be fine. The doctor told them they could visit Tim one at a time but asked they only stay a few minutes so he could get some rest.

Tim's father tried to comfort Tim's grandmother.

  1. fact

  2. inference

Tim's mother was in the waiting room.

  1. fact

  2. inference

The doctor was a man.

  1. fact

  2. inference

Tim was able to go home.

  1. fact

  2. inference

Tim's father and grandmother started crying.

  1. fact

  2. inference

The doctor came into the waiting room.

  1. fact

  2. inference

2. Making Attributions

Directions: This activity will heighten your awareness of how different kinds of attributions affect meaning.
First read the scenario and then write down the first thing that comes to your mind to explain why it might have happened. After you go through and write your first reaction as to why the situation happened, go back and write an alternative reason.

1. Although you know your roommate didn't study for a chemistry midterm, s/he gets an A.




  1. You're having lunch with a good friend and another student you have only met once before briefly. The student you don't know well makes a racist joke. Explain why the student thought it was funny.




  1. You are not accepted to a graduate program you wanted to attend.

Why? ____________________________________________________________



4. Coming back to your room late one night, you trip and fall.




After creating alternative attributions, consider how the different explanations affect your interpretation of the scenario. How does it affect your opinion of yourself or the person in question? Does your opinion change after each reason?

3. Self Improvement

Directions: Identify two or three things in your self-concept that you'd like to change or improve. For example, do you sometimes get defensive when people critique you? Are you not confident when speaking to your professors? Maybe you speak too quickly and hurt people's feelings without meaning to. Do you think of yourself as uninteresting?

Write down a couple of areas you would like to focus on. Follow the steps for improving your self-concept and refer back to what you've written down periodically to remind yourself of the improvements (listed at the end of the outline and explained in your text) that you're making.

  1. Read Between the Ink

Directions: Do you or someone you know have a tattoo? Find four others who also have at least one tattoo and ask them each the questions below. Compare and contrast the answers. If your self-concept is flexible what does a tattoo say about oneself? Do all cultures view having a tattoo the same way?

  1. What made you pick this particular tattoo?

  2. How did you pick the particular location for the tattoo?

  3. Is there anyone who you would not want to know about your tattoo? Why or why not?

  4. Can you imagine a time when you might feel differently about this particular tattoo? Why or why not?

  5. What do you think your tattoo says about you to other people?

  6. Is a tattoo different from a removable ornament that you might wear? If so, how?

Interactive Activities

2.1 Stereotypes about Americans

Many people in the United States advocate cultural tolerance and encourage us to avoid stereotyping others. But have you ever thought about how others perceive Americans?
1. Click on the website Cultural Stereotypes about Americans and discover how representatives from Spain, Australia, and Russia stereotype America.
2. The author of the website notes where he thinks these stereotypes come from. Do you think he is correct?
3. As he asks, which stereotypes are accurate?

4. What do you do to manage the impression others have of you?

2.2 Optical Illusions and Perception

How is it that two people can look at the same thing and interpret them differently? Sometimes what we see—or what we think we see—is different from reality. That's why optical illusions and visual perception of pictures and objects can be fun to explore. Check out this site,, for several examples of visual illusions. Consider how sight can affect our perception of objects, events, or other people.
2.3 Perception Filters

In her Psychology of Human Relations course, Professor Karen Hamilton provides a thorough handout summarizing theories of perception, the perception process, and influences of perception. Read her handout at the website Perception and the Self, and note the Individual's Unique Perceptual Filter diagram. Notice that our filters fall somewhere between reality and appearance.
1. How do each of the items listed under the filter column of the diagram affect our perception? Can you think of an example from your experience?

2. Write out your thoughts on each of these "filters" and compare them with the thoughts of a classmate.
2.4 Pygmalion in the Classroom

Probably the most famous study of self-fulfilling prophecy was conducted by Harvard professor Robert Rosenthal and elementary school principal Leonore Jacobson. Their study examined teacher expectation and student achievement. Read the article "Rosenthal and Jacobson Publish Pygmalion in the Classroom" at the History of Education website, then answer the following questions:

1. What do you think about the teachers' perceptions of their students in the classroom?

2. Do you believe accurate or inaccurate perceptions can affect student performance?
3. What would happen if a teacher had a negative opinion of a student? Do you think it could actually harm a student's future success?
4. Can you think of any positive or negative messages sent to you by an influential person at a young age? Funny how these things stay with us, isn't it?

InfoTrac College Edition Activities
2.1 Attending to What Is Important
“Bet You Can't Remember How to Tie the Bows on Your Life Jackets” by Jeremy Bullmore

Marketing, 5 August 1999
Marketing and advertising experts know that we often receive many more messages than we can possibly decode. The article "Bet You Can't Remember How to Tie the Bows on Your Life Jackets" by Jeremy Bullmore uses the concept of selective perception to explain that if something is important to us or we have a need for the information, we will pay more attention to it. In particular, he discusses airplane safety videos to explore the concept of the attending and selecting stages of the perception process.
1. What do you think about his proposed study of airplane passengers?

2. For the next class period, think of some sort of message that we see or hear regularly but rarely attend to and select.
3. Share your thoughts with the class.

2.2 Cultural Perceptions and the Glass Ceiling
“Asian-Americans Face Great Wall; Perceptions, Cultural Traditions Hinder Advancement to Top Corporate Ranks” by Valerie Block

Crain's New York Business, 3 November 2003

The cultural perceptions of others can make it difficult for people outside the mainstream American culture to get ahead in the business world. This is especially true if a person's cultural heritage is perceived as being at odds with what Americans perceive as the typical business person. Read the article "Asian-Americans Face Great Wall; Perceptions, Cultural Traditions Hinder Advancement to Top Corporate Ranks" by Valerie Block and then complete the following activity:

1. With a partner, describe what you consider to be a successful business person.

2. Are any of the descriptors you use related to gender, culture, or communication style?
2.3 Sex, Gender, and Perception about Communication
“Exploring the Impact of Gender Role Self-Perception on Communication Style" Women's Studies in Communication, Fall 1999

Very few would argue that men and women differ in the way they interact with others, but is this difference a biological trait or perception of interaction? Read the article "Exploring the Impact of Gender Role Self-Perception on Communication Style" and then complete the following activity:

1. Go to the student center at your school and observe two women, or a group of women, interacting. What do you notice about their communication? Are you close enough to determine their topic of conversation? What is the purpose of the communication?

2. Now observe two men, or a group of men, interacting. Answer the same questions.

3. Did you perceive any differences? What were they?

2.4 Positive and Negative First Impressions
"Quality Interpersonal Communication—Perception and Reality" by Michael B. Coyle

Manage, July 1993
The article "Quality Interpersonal Communication—Perception and Reality" by Michael B. Coyle discusses perception and the self and applies this concept to communicating in an organization.

Coyle has a creative insight as he discusses self-talk and its influence on perception. In the article he states, "positive views of and feelings about one another are difficult to develop but easy to lose; on the other hand, negative views of and feelings about one another are easy to develop and hard to lose."

1. With a partner or in groups of three, discuss this insight. What is your response to Coyle's idea?

2. Together, can you recall a situation in which you had a difficult time making a positive impression?

3. How about when someone else did not make a good initial impression on you and you held on to this impression?

4. As a group, share your thoughts with the class.

2.5 The Self and the Workplace
Quality Interpersonal Communication—Managing Self-Concept” by Michael B. Coyle

Manage, October 1993

In the workplace, how does your self-concept influence your performance and the performance of those around you? The article "Quality Interpersonal Communication—Managing Self-Concept" by Michael B. Coyle discusses the importance of self-concept in the workplace.
1. As you read the article, think back to messages sent to you by influential people in your life.

2. Identify a positive message sent to you from a "powerful other." How did it affect you?

3. Now identify a negative message sent to you from a powerful other. How did that affect you?

4. We are also powerful others for people in our lives. Consider how your past experiences with people who were powerful in your eyes could influence your interactions with people who think of you as a powerful other.

Your Turn Journal Activity

Think about a time when your self-concept was affected by your communication with another person. Did you feel particularly good or bad about yourself in response to something someone said to you? What were the circumstances of the communication? How did your dialogue influence your self-concept? Were your self-awareness and self-concept both affected? Use examples to describe and explain your experiences.


True or False

1.When we talk about perception it's not necessary to talk about our sense of self. (p. 47)

True or False

2. The perception process occurs in four stages. (p. 48) True or False

3.The first stage is organizing because we are bombarded by stimuli. (p. 48)

True or False

  1. Our cultural heritage has little to do with our present perceptions. (p. 53)

True or False

  1. Low amounts of masculinity and femininity is termed undifferentiated. (p. 55)

True or False

6. Physical factors often help shape our perceptions. (p. 57)

True or False

7. Developing a relationship online shortchanges us, because we can't perceive the whole picture. (p. 58)
True or False

8. Most people's self-concept is unchanging. (p. 59)

True or False

  1. George Herbert Mead believed that our understandings of ourselves and the world around us are shaped by our interactions with those around us. (p. 61)

True or False

  1. We use face work to preserve our sense of self. (p. 65) True or False

  2. The image of the self we choose to present to others in our interpersonal encounters is referred to as face. (p. 66)

True or False

12. If we practice self-monitoring too much it will result in being preoccupied with details that may be unimportant. (p. 67)

True or False
Multiple Choice Questions

1. The third stage of the perception process, interpreting, involves: (p. 51)
understanding why people do things.
understanding why you do certain things.
C. assigning meaning to events.

D. none of the above.

2. When we use selective retention we are recalling information that agrees with our perceptions and selectively: (p. 53)
agrees with others' perceptions.
forgets information that does not.
forgets how we learned the information.
forgets why we need to know something.

3. The perception process occurs in the following order: (p. 48)

A. Organizing, attending & selecting, interpreting, retrieving.
Organizing, interpreting, attending & selecting, retrieving.
Attending & selecting, retrieving, interpreting, organizing.
Attending & selecting, organizing, interpreting, retrieving.

4. Which of the following is not a source of self-concept? (p. 58)
your genetic make-up
your own interpretations and evaluations
social comparisons
others' images of you

5. A self-fulfilling prophecy is created when something happens because: (p. 62)
you expect it to happen.
you make a wish that it will happen.
of something you've done before.
you have a desire to change your self-concept.

6. Maggie registered for Professor Sills's introductory class because she overheard two students in the bookstore saying she was a smart and kind professor. Maggie assumed if Professor Sills was smart and kind she must also be a good professor. This line of reasoning--drawing inferences from a few characteristics--is known as: (p. 69)

  1. attribution theory.

  2. halo effect.

  3. implicit personality theory.

  4. explicit personality theory.

7. Sarah decided to go out for pizza with her friends the night before a test instead of studying, because she was doing pretty well in the course so far. When she got a very poor grade on the test, Sarah thought the professor's tests were too hard and the questions were also somewhat confusing. Sarah's assignment of blame on the part of the professor was due to a common perceptual error resulting from: (p. 69)

A. halo effect.

B. negative halo effect.

C. attribution theory.

D. implicit personality theory.

8. Self-monitoring refers to the extent to which people actively think about and control: (p. 67)

  1. their behaviors and actions.

  2. what they wear.

  3. their values and beliefs.

  4. their ethics and ideals.

9. When we receive messages that do not support either our positive or negative face: (p. 65)

  1. our friends are trying to tell us something.

  2. our self-awareness is increased.

  3. our identities become threatened.

  4. our self-concept improves.

10. Each of the following are ways to improve your self-concept EXCEPT: (p. 70)

  1. have the desire and will to change.

  2. set personal goals

  3. decide what you'd like to change.

  4. have people you trust set goals for you.

11. A world view can best be explained as: (p. 71)

A. the language you use to describe something.

B. a unique personal frame for viewing life and life’s events.

C. the reason why all Americans think similarly.

D. the reason why all Americans disagree with each other.

12. Our _____________ is/are what we rely on to understand experiences and to guide our future behavior in relationships. (p. 49)

A. thinking cap

B. relationships

C. relational schema

D. perceptual set

13. Jim was still regretting breaking up with Melody. Whenever Jim caught a whiff of the perfume Melody wore on someone else, he first recalled how much he missed all of the good times they shared and forgot that she cheated on him. One way to explain this is by understanding: (p. 53)

A. how our sense of smell affects our memory.

B. selective exposure.

C. selective senses.

D. selective retention.

14. Scott, who was born and raised in Boston, had a crush on Yuki, who grew up in Kyoto. She felt similarly but Scott thought Yuki did not like him because she always avoided looking him in the eye when they spoke. This misunderstanding is easily explained because: (p. 54)

A. only European-American culture encourages staring.

B. Yuki felt uncomfortable around Scott.

C. people from Japan don’t respect people from Boston.

D. different cultures have different conversational expectations.

15. The process by which people learn their respective gender roles is a result of: (p. 56)

A. gender role socialization.

B. gender schema.

C. gender selection.

D. gender role assignment.

Essay Questions

1. Define the four stages in the perception process and explain what selective perception is.

2. Give an example and explain how culture affects perception. (p. 18)

3. How do men and women learn their culture's appropriate gender roles? Give an example for each.

4. Identify and discuss some of the ways cultivating a relationship online might be shortchanged.

Answers to Quiz
True or False

  1. False

  2. True

  3. False

  4. False

  5. True

  6. True

  7. True

  8. False

  9. True

10. True

11. True

12. True

Multiple Choice Questions

  1. D

  2. B

  3. D

  4. A

  5. A

  6. C

  7. C

  8. A

  9. C

  10. D

  11. B

  12. C

  13. D

  14. D

  15. A

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