According to Edward Jones and Keith Davis, each of us tries to understand other people by observing and analyzing their behavior. Jones and Davis’s correspondent inference theory predicts that people try to infer from an action whether the act corresponds to an enduring personal trait of the actor. Is the person who commits an act of aggression a beast? Is the person who donates money to charity an altruist? To answer these kinds of questions, people make inferences on the basis of three factors.
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The first factor is a person’s degree of choice. Behavior that is freely cho- sen is more informative about a person than behavior that is coerced by the situation. In one study, participants read a speech, presumably written by a col- lege student, that either favored or opposed Fidel Castro, then the former com- munist leader of Cuba. Some participants were told that the student had freely chosen this position, and others were told that the student had been assigned the position by a professor. When asked to judge the student’s true attitude, participants were more likely to assume a correspondence between the essay (behavior) and the student’s attitude (disposition) when the student had had a choice than when he or she had been assigned to the role. Keep this study in mind. It supports correspondent inference theory, but, as we’ll see later, it also demonstrates one of the most tenacious biases of social perception.