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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Cognitive processes mediating the effect of expectations on the perception of interpersonal behavior Safran, Jeremy David


Theorists from diverse psychotherapy traditions converge in asserting that maladaptive expectations about interactions with other people play an important role in creating and maintaining clinical problems. While there is a consensus that the modification of these dysfunctional expectations is a vital aspect of effective therapy, there is also agreement that these expectations once established, are extremely resistant to change. The present study was conducted to investigate the cognitive mechanisms which mediate the effect of expectations upon the perception of other people. The objective was to explore the nature of these cognitive processes in ordinary social perception, with the hope of providing clinicians with new insights regarding potential therapeutic interventions. Subjects were given one of two sets of expectations about the interpersonal characteristics of a target male actor. They then viewed a videotape of a staged interaction between him and a female actor. Subjects were instructed to indicate subjectively salient events while observing the videotape, using a modified version of Newtson's (1973) unitizing procedure. This was employed as an index of selective encoding of interpersonal behavior. Following the videotape, subjects were administered a memory recognition test which was designed to distinguish between selective memory retrieval and selective memory reconstruction. They then rated the male actor on a series of interpersonal adjective scales. The results confirmed that subjects' impressions of the target person were biased in a manner which was consistent with their initial expectations. Evidence was obtained consistent with the hypothesis that this bias was mediated by the selective encoding of expectation congruent information. No evidence was obtained for the mediating effects of either selective memory retrieval or selective memory reconstruction. The potential clinical implications of these findings are discussed.

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