Understanding of social world of any person depends upon his or her stereotyping. It is a belief, which associates with people with certain traits. Basic cognitive process like memory and attention too are influenced by social factors like stereotypes and expectancies.
Expectancies also depend upon the stereotypes. The origins of stereotyping can be traced to a number of different sources (Allport, 1954). From a historical perspective, stereotypes spring from past events. The formation of stereotypes involves two related processes. The first is categorization; people usually sort single objects into groups rather than think of each as individual. But categorizing people into groups leads to overestimate the differences between groups and to underestimate the differences within groups (Stangor & Lange, 1994). The second process is categorizing people as ingroup and outgroup which consequently leads to outgroup homogeneity effect, a pervasive tendency to assume that a greater similarity exists among members of outgroup than members of ingroup (Linville & Jones, 1980).
As a general rule, judgments of a stimulus are influenced by the discrepancy between that stimulus and one’s expectation (Hamilton & Sherman, 1994). When a stimulus differs only slightly from expectations, the difference is barely noticed. When a stimulus varies considerably from expectation, however, the perceived difference is magnified as the result of contrast effect. Thus the information seeking and retrieving from the memory of perceiver depends upon his or her prior knowledge about that particular social reality (Hamilton, Sherman & Ruvolo, 1990).
How Expectancies are Related to Cognitive Memory
Expectancies have the ability to influence the cognitive memory of a person directly, because it is the expectancy of a person, which decides that what “amount of attention” should be devoted for a particular event. Whatever a person conceives or recollect from a particular situation is the combination of his or her prior knowledge and expectancies for a particular person or situation (Koriat et al., 2000).
Those traits of people and events, which are most expected, are usually more memorable for them. These expectations are called Congruent Expectancies. These congruent expectancies are memorable to people because these are related with their existing knowledge and beliefs about people and that is why they pay more attention to them. For example if half the participants of a class were told that someone is sensitive, creative and individualistic and he is an artist, whereas the other half were told only the traits of a person without any category or label; there is a great probability that the group who were given the appropriate label would remember more traits of the person than the group who were not given any particular level (Crocker, Hannah & Weber, 1983). This is due to the congruent expectancy of people.
If a person experiences something, which is least expected for him, he is bound to pay more attention to that and this event is more memorable for the person. The least expectation of anything is called Incongruent Expectancy. These incongruent expectancies are memorable because people pay more attention to them. If a person possessed a certain trait, certain behaviors are consistent and expected from him, some are inconsistent and least expected from him while some are totally irrelevant (Hastie& Kumar, 1979). For example if a person possessed intelligence, it is quite likely that he may win the chess championship, while it is least expected from him to make a similar mistake three times while it is quite irrelevant that where he lives.
Thus both congruent and incongruent expectancies are more memorable and can be recollected more easily than such events, which do not stimulate one’s expectancies.
How Congruent and Incongruent Expectancies Work
In order to define How Congruent and Incongruent expectancies work, Macrae and his colleagues have conducted a study. Half of the participants of this study were given a social category, child abuser while the other group of participants were given a neutral category. All the participants, then given the task to learn words from two lists. List I contains the words, which were related to the specific social category (child abuser) whereas List II contains the general words. The participants then given the task either to recall all the words from both lists or forget them.
Results of the study have shown that participants were more successful in recalling list I words than forgetting them. Results have also shown that people who were given a neutral social category were more successful in recalling list II words than the group who were given the activated social category, child abuser (Macrae et al., 1997).
Research has shown that when people first encountered with least known member of a social category or least expected event, they pay more attention to it and their incongruent expectancy helped to remember this category or event (Sherman, 1996). At the first encounter, people’s memory works more thoroughly to remember the traits and behavior of a person or event. But the continuous encounter with the same category and event make it coherent to the memory and this information becomes more fluent for the memory and hence the information can be recalled easily without any thorough processing by memory (Stangor & Ruble, 1989). Thus it can easily said that people like to rely on their previous knowledge about any social category or event rather than processing the same information in memory again and again (Johnston & Hawley, 1994).
Research has also shown that people use congruent expectancy to recall thing because they are familiar with it but they pay less attention to all the details related to this information, Von Hippel and his colleagues had conducted a study to prove this. They have provided one group with an appropriate social category to describe the behaviors, whereas the other group has not provided any social category. All the participants were then given a “word-stem completion task” (von Hippel et al., 1993). Result of the study depicted that the participants who were given the appropriate schema chose less words than the participants who were not given any relevant schema. This study proved that the people with the knowledge of relevant schema relied on their congruent expectancy and thus it has decreased their memory for related details.
Johnston and Hawley’s mismatch theory also proved that memory operates in familiar environment and use the knowledge, which is fluent to it, rather wasting valuable time and resources in specific details of the event or the person. Thus when memory encountered such situation where ready and fluent information is available, it processes it quickly and presents that knowledge without delving into details. This will help the memory to allocate more attention to the incongruent expectancy.
When brain of a person encountered congruent and incongruent expectancies, “conceptual- driven processes” of mind capture and process congruent expectancy whereas “data-driven processes” captures and encodes the details of this least expected event. Sherman and his colleagues had suggested that stereotypes facilitate the congruent and incongruent expectancies of cognitive memory by making the knowledge more fluent for the memory (Sherman et al., 1998). They have also proved that when there is more cognitive resources available for memory the “conceptual encoding” of congruent and incongruent expectancies are almost equal, but when less cognitive resources for cognitive memory, congruent expectancy produce better results and more thoroughly encoded than the incongruent expectancy.
Our social knowledge also proves the above-mentioned research. For example if someone experience a scene that a black American is fighting with white American, perceiver, most probably, believe that it is a hostile activity of black, because of the stereotype based congruent expectancy for black American (Duncan, 1976). Perceiver remembers this event because it is the congruent expectancy of the perceiver, which makes the event fluent for his cognitive memory, but he or she will not recall the details of the event. Perceiver fills the details of the event through his or her stereotype based expectancy. On the other hand if the perceiver have no congruent expectancy of stereotypes of black American, he or she may recall the event with more details. Thus it can be said that congruent and incongruent expectancies are processed differently in mind and such event or behavior is more elaborately recalled by the perceiver, which is either against the prior information about such behavior or about, which perceiver has no prior knowledge.
According to the researchers the original memory of perceivers is always contaminated by post event information. Loftus with extensive research presented the theory of reconstructive memory. After a person observes something, later information about the event, whether true or not, becomes integrated into the fabric of memory. To illustrate this point Loftus and Palmer performed a study. Subjects of the study viewed a film of a traffic accident and then answered questions, including the following: “About how fast were the cars gong when they hit each other?” other subjects received the same question, except that the verb hit was replaced by smashed, collided, bumped, or contacted. Even though all subjects saw the same accident, the wording of the question affected their reports. Results demonstrated that subjects given the “smashed” question estimated the highest average speed and those responding to the “contacted” question estimated the lowest. One week later, subjects were called back for additional probing. Had the wording of the question caused subjects to reconstruct their memories of the accident? Yes. When asked whether they had seen broken glass at the accident site (none was actually present), 32 percent of the “smashed” subjects said they had. Consistent with Loftus’s theory, what these subjects remembered of the accident was based on two sources: the event itself and post event information (Loftus & Palmer, 1974).
Thus it can be said that both congruent and incongruent expectancies influence the cognitive memory of people. Such events, which influence congruent or incongruent expectancies, are more likely to recall easily than the neutral events. Stereotype based expectancies provide prior knowledge to us about any social category or event but it is not able to provide the exact details about the event or person. Thus people without any prior knowledge of a social category or event can recall the event or behavior of the person more elaborately than the person who have prior stereotype based expectancy about the event or person.