In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Person Perception

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Specialized Overviews
  • Face Processing

Psychology Person Perception
Sheila Cunningham
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0136


“Person perception” is an element of social psychology concerning how we process information about people. The term is somewhat misleading because person perception does not deal with perception per se. Rather, it concerns social processing issues like what information we extract when we see other people, how we interpret what we see, and how this interpretation influences our subsequent behavior. Research in person perception has focused on the social and cognitive biases that influence our interpretation of others, particularly of people we do not know (rather than intimate others). For example, models of person perception can offer accounts of what we remember about the person who serves us coffee, our impression of the couple sitting behind us on the bus, and how we feel when someone in our social group performs poorly on a task. Research has highlighted the non-veridical nature of person perception, revealing a number of biases that are relied upon in order to cope with the enormous complexity of social information processing. These biases include Attribution Errors, Context Effects, and the most widely studied element of person perception: social categorization. Social categories, or stereotypes, can have a significant influence on person perception, providing a framework through which the processing of stereotype-consistent information is facilitated. Dual-process models predict the situations in which social cognition is dominated by categorization, rather than individuation. Social categories also influence our sense of identity. The tendency to identify with particular “in-groups” and denigrate “out-group” members is modeled in Social Identity Theory (see Social Identity: Us and Them) and the related Self-Categorization Theory. More recent work has focused on identifying the neural correlates of social processing, highlighting roles for prefrontal and limbic areas in the brain. These wide-ranging aspects of person perception are addressed in this article.


Most social psychology textbooks will cover person perception in some depth, as this topic is at the heart of social cognition. The four listed here are particularly good examples. An early-21st-century classic, Aronson 2018 is the most readable introduction to social psychology available, with chapters dealing with person perception issues like attributions and social categorization. (There are many previous editions to this textbook, all of which are worthwhile.) Although highly accessible, Aronson 2018 provides important empirical examples and real-world applications of theory. Moskowitz 2005 provides a similar overview with good examples, suitable for more advanced readers. Smith and Mackie 2014 is a more conventional textbook, clearly presenting up-to-date and classic social psychology, with an emphasis on person perception. Finally, Fiske and Taylor 2017 links cognitive processes, such as attention and memory, to person perception issues, such as biases, stereotypes and prejudice.

  • Aronson, E. 2018. The social animal. 12th ed. New York: Worth.

    An engaging and very accessible introduction to social psychology in general, covering all aspects of person perception. Ideas are explained with insightful examples from both real-life situations and empirical studies. Suitable for all stages, from undergraduate to academic.

  • Fiske, S. T., and S. E. Taylor. 2017. Social cognition: From brains to culture. 3d ed. London: SAGE.

    A significant update on previous editions, this textbook covers the key person perception areas (attributions, categorical processing, faces, etc.), with detailed links to their underpinning cognitive mechanisms.

  • Moskowitz, G. B. 2005. Social cognition: Understanding self and others. New York: Guilford.

    Integrates experimental work with illustrative real-world examples. Suitable for readers from undergraduate students to academics.

  • Smith, E. R., and D. M. Mackie. 2014. Social psychology. 4th ed. New York: Psychology Press.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203833698

    An introductory textbook on social psychology with an emphasis on person perception processes, written from a sociocognitive perspective.

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