Enemy Perceptions

Topic: Enemy Perceptions

Posted by: Duwon and his assistant Melanie

Key Terms:

  • Fundamental attribution error: The tendency for observers, when analyzing another's behavior, to underestimate the impact of the situation and to overestimate the impact of personal disposition.
  • Stereotype: A generalized (sometimes accurate but often overgeneralized) belief about a group of people.
  • Self-serving bias: A readiness to perceive oneself favorably.
  • Self-fulling prophecy: Perceptions that confirm themselves as a person influences the other to react in ways that seem to justify them.


People in conflict have a curious tendency to form diabolical images of one another. This is reflected by the way that Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush demonize each other, forming distorted images that are so similar that they are like mirror-image perceptions. As enemies change, so do perceptions. In American minds and media, the "bloodthirsty" Japanese of World War II became "self-disciplined" allies. Biased perceptions have deep psychological roots. The self-serving bias leads each party to accept credit for good deeds and to shuck the blame for bad deeds. Also, the fundamental attribution error leads each side to see the other’s bad actions as arising from an immoral disposition, but their bad actions as arising from the influence of the situation. This creates enduring stereotypes. Another result of such perceptions is a vicious cycle of hostility. If Victor thinks Samantha is annoyed with him, he may snub her, causing her to act in ways that justify his perception. This is an example of the self-fulfilling prophecy.

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