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38 Examples of Social Perception

Social perception is the ability to comprehend communication, social situations and social interaction. Humans engage in nuanced communication and demonstrate a broad range of social behaviors such that social perception is a complex task. This involves heuristics including stereotypes that simplify perception but aren't particularly accurate. People can attune their perception to try to be more accurate or they can roughly judge situations in order to conserve cognitive resources. The following are common elements of social perception followed by a few concrete examples.
Body Language
Distance (e.g. too far / too close)
Eye Contact
Facial Expressions
Fashion / Style
Ingroup / Outgroup
Language Comprehension
Physical Appearance
Politeness / Impoliteness
Reading Between the Lines
Sense of Time (e.g. someone is talking slowly)
Social Context
Social Cues
Social Proof
Social Status
Speaking Rhythm
Speaking Style
A real estate agent detects that an open house visitor has a casual attitude such that it is unlikely they are serious about purchasing.
A teacher feels that a student demonstrates passive aggressive behaviors towards them.
A customer service representative can feel that a customer is angry.
Everyone in a room can sense that an individual is socially dominant due to their personal presence.
A cashier maintains strong eye contact with customers and is perceived as professional and engaged in their work.
A wife can tell what her husband is thinking from his facial expression as they talk to another couple.
A hotel clerk thinks that a customer is wealthy based on their fashion and atmosphere.
A cafe waiter in Paris thinks a customer is Australian from their appearance and accent.
You think a neighbor is slightly odd but a good person based on their mannerisms.
You feel that someone is talking louder than is the norm for an elevator.
You think someone must be into sports based on their physical appearance.
You feel a banker is disinterested in your application for a mortgage based on their unprofessional posture.
You get a joke and laugh, even where on the surface the joke could be an insult if taken literally.
A waiter can feel that a group at a particular table are coworkers based on how they interact.
An audience can feel that a speaker is confident from their speaking style and body language.
You follow a lead in a social dance by reading cues from your partner.
A teacher reads between the lines to guess that a student didn't study when they say "I tried to study a little."
A firm handshake makes it clear to you that a particular individual is physically strong.
You can sense that a new neighbor is easy going and reasonable such that you instantly like them.


As noted, social perception is often inaccurate such that people instantly evaluate others using heuristics that produce rough guesses. This can be quite problematic. For example, biases whereby a particular individual is regularly perceived negatively based solely on some element of their appearance or identity.
Overview: Social Perception
The ability to comprehend communication, social situations and social interaction.
Related Concepts

Social Perception

This is the complete list of articles we have written about social perception.
Eye Contact
Social Awareness
Social Cues
Social Information
Social Perception
Social Proof
Social Significance
Social Status
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