Many people judge another person's personality and mood by only processing a small amount of information about them. We may see a person laughing at the grocery store and think they have a jovial spirit. When we see them at work, they may be cold and aloof. People are often judged by these situational moods. Yet, the person is adapting to the situation. This overemphasis on personality and the underestimation of the situation is known as fundamental attribution error (Myers 706). The person has changed their behavior to react to a different situation. This error can cause us to label and catalog people falsely.
When we use only mood and behavior to judge a person and overlook the situation it's an attribution error. When we react to situations it is sometimes difficult to understand how much is our behavior being controlled by our own attitudes and how much our behavior is controlling what we think. Often times people are told 'make the best of it'. There may be a class that a student doesn't enjoy yet approaches it with a positive attitude. If other outside influences are minimal, we may do well in the class (Myers 709). However, if people tell us we will fail in the class, and we don't take any action to change the attitude, we will likely fail.
Knowing that our attitude can change our behavior can be beneficial in changing our lives. We may not be able to change dramatically or quickly, but we may be able to alter our behavior a step at a time. The foot-in-the-door phenomenon states that when people agree to a small action they are more likely to agree to a larger action at a later time (Myers 709). By understanding this we can also incorporate the cognitive dissonance theory that states that we can bring our "attitudes in line with our actions" (Myers 711). By taking an attitude that we want to project, we can alter our behavior.
As much as our own attitudes and social situations determine our behavior, the group that we are in exerts even more pressure. Experiments by Solomon Asch confirmed that people feel a need to conform (Myers 714). The group we are in exaggerates this need. If we are insecure, the group is large, we admire the group, and the group is unanimous, it increases our likelihood of conforming (Myers 715). This is how lone holdouts on juries are eventually swayed into changing their vote. It is also how we are persuaded to take an action we may feel is wrong.
We may also conform to a group for the same reasons and elicit a positive outcome. A study group, church meeting, or volunteer organization may prompt us to behave in a positive manner. Yet, in some groups there is no general consensus and opposing views are suppressed resulting in "groupthink" (Myers 722). Panels, boards, and committees have often made serious blunders by succumbing to the phenomenon.
While these group pressures may result in a bad decision, they can also become destructive and overpowering. The experiments of Stanley Milgram illustrated how far people were willing to go to conform (Myers 717). People will go beyond simply conforming and to the level of blind obedience. This is especially true if the group influence has the perception of authority and the authority is close at hand (Myers 717).
The influence of people is also seen when they affect our actions such as in "social facilitation" (Myers