Confusing One Person With Another: What Errors Reveal About the Elementary Forms of Social Relations

Alan Page Fiske, Nick Haslam, Susan T. Fiske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

165 Scopus citations


Seven studies investigated the cognitive structure of social relationships exhibited in the patterns of substitutions that occur when people confuse a person with another. The studies investigated natural errors in which people called a familiar person by the wrong name, misremembered with whom they had interacted, or mistakenly directed an action at an inappropriate person. These studies tested the relational-models theory of A. P. Fiske (1990b, 1991) that people use 4 basic models for social relationships. All 7 studies provide support for the theory; Ss tend to confuse people with whom they interact in the same basic relationship mode. In addition, Ss confuse people of the same gender. Other factors (age, race, role term, similarity of names) generally have smaller, less reliable effects, indicating that the 4 elementary modes of relationships are among the most salient schemata in everyday social cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)656-674
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1991
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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