Volume 45, Issue 2 p. 51-72

Biases in the Perception and Cognition of the Actions of Enemies

Brett Silverstein

Corresponding Author

Brett Silverstein

City College of New York

BRETT SILVERSTEIN is Associate Professor of Psychology at the City College of New York; he has also taught at SUNY at Stony Brook. He directs the Enemy Images Project sponsored by SPSSI and by Psychologists for Social Responsibility. His research review, “Enemy Images: The Psychology of U.S. Attitudes and Cognitions Regarding the Soviet Union,” appeared in the June, 1989 American Psychologist.

Department of Psychology, City College of New York, New York, NY 10031Search for more papers by this author
Catherine Flamenbaum

Catherine Flamenbaum

State University of New York at Stony Brook

CATHERINE FLAMENBAUM is a teacher and care giver in early childhood education at Stony Brook Child Care Services, Inc. Research for this article was conducted while she was a graduate student in psychology at SUNY at Stony Brook, where she obtained her M.A. degree. Her current research interests include the relation between gender and war.

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First published: Summer 1989
Citations: 37


Several studies have demonstrated that once people perceive an individual or group as hostile or threatening, i.e., as an “enemy,” biases enter their processing of information in regard to the actions of that individual or group. These biases may affect any phase of social information processing, including attention, encoding, memory, assessment of credibility, evaluation of hostility, expectation of future action, and attribution. In this paper, we use data from published reports as well as previously unpublished studies to demonstrate that such biases affect how individual citizens of the United States and the U.S. media process information regarding the actions of the Soviet Union. This bias reinforces and exaggerates the U.S. enemy image of the Soviet Union.