Inference process: what it is, characteristics and stages

In psychology, the term “inference” has been used quite frequently, the process by which people are able to draw our conclusions from a series of premises, these being a series of propositions that are given before an argument.

The process of inference involves making decisions about what information to collect around a particular topic or problem, as well as collecting that information and combining it in some way. Inference is a widely used tool in social psychology to influence the social knowledge of others.

In this article, we will explain what the inference process is and how it can be implemented in different domains (social inference, clinical, etc.).

    What is the inference process?

    The inference process involves decide what information should be collected about a particular topic, as well as collect that information and combine it in some way. In social psychology, the term social inference process has been used to refer to how people are able to perceive, retain, and use social information.

    Social knowledge, much studied within social psychology, often implies that the observer must go beyond the information at his disposal to form impressions, make judgments and evaluations, as well as carry out a process of inference.

    The process of inference became extremely important in the development of the theory of social cognition by Fiske and Taylor, who defined the concept of social cognition as the set of processes by which human beings are able to analyze, interpret, memorize and even interpret information about the social world. It comes down to how we think about ourselves, others and also about interpersonal relationships, as well as how we make sense of all the above information.

    The product of the inference process is the result of a reasoning process developed during this process. For the inference process to take place, 3 phases are usually given sequentially, which we will briefly explain in the next subsection.

      Phases of the inference process

      Some authors who have carried out their research on the inference process argue that for it to develop correctly, it must necessarily go through 3 sequential phases, so we would speak of a theory or a normative model.

      Below we will briefly explain what each of these phases consists of that must be developed in the inference process.

      1. Collecting information

      The first phase of the inference process would be information gathering. The first thing a subject, the social perceiver, must do in this process is review and weigh all relevant information before drawing conclusions.

      However, it should be noted that there is evidence that the decision-making process about which information is most relevant it is usually influenced by the subject’s prior expectations (because of the knowledge that has been activated).

        2. Sampling of information

        Second, we are faced with the information sampling phase during the inference process, how occurs when the person has already managed to decide which information is most relevant, so the data needs to be sampled.

        In this process, Fiske and Taylor state that if we are provided with a suitable sample, we usually use it in a fairly correct manner, but when you are the one to select the sample, you often comment on an error, such as that which may be we will comment below:

        One of those mistakes is not paying enough attention to sample it might be quite inappropriate for the search to be valid.

        Another error would be the fact that get carried away with extreme examples. Finally, a fairly common mistake would be to use biased samples (there have been cases where the biased nature of the sample has been pointed out and is still used for research.

          3. Use and integration of information

          In the third phase of the inference process, a series of mechanisms and rules are used that allow all available information to be combined with the aim of performing 2 essential forms of operations.

          3.1 Establishing relationships between events

          We will cite first of all the operation known as “establishing relations between events”, which consists in perform a covariate diagnosis. Relevant data must be available for this, as there may be a strong influence on the prior beliefs of social beneficiaries (illusory correlation).

          3.2 Probability estimation in the inference process

          The second is the operation known as “probability estimation”, where several difficulties are identified that could arise, such as a “calculation bias” caused by the representativeness heuristic because this heuristic provides the subject with a quick solution. Another error could be due to errors in the calculation of joint probabilities, ignorance of previous probabilities (base rates) and difficulties in processing information.

            The corresponding inferences

            Another inference process is the so-called “corresponding inference theory”, developed by Jones and Davis.which refers to the fundamental goals of the inference process is to make predictions (a series of personal or internal attributions in order to predict behavior).

            The purpose of this inference process is to give an explanation of why people give external or internal attributions. A person compares his actions with other available alternatives so that he can evaluate the decisions that have been made. Moreover, considering various factors, a person does not have the possibility to decide whether his actions were caused by an internal disposition or not.

            According to this theory, corresponding inferences constitute a process of inference which serves to directly infer a personal characteristic or disposition of another subject or group of subjects from the behaviors that have been observed. Of course, for the corresponding inference to occur, there must be an intention, because it is a prerequisite.

            When it comes to attributing a series of characteristics to a specific person, it depends on a series of variables. There is also a problem with the possibility of doing a process of inference in order to define intentions precisely because it is not easy, because there can be a wide variety of possible motivations for each observed action.

              The clinical inference process

              The process of clinical inference is that used in clinical or health psychology when developing a series of hypotheses and clinical judgments. by the therapist in order to decode information about the patient.

              In the process of clinical inference, there are 2 main types of inference that therapists can use when treating their patients during a consultation.

              1. Diagnostic Inference

              The diagnostic inference would be made frame the detected symptoms in a diagnostic category through the problems expressed by the patient.

              2. Prognostic Inference

              This second type of inference is applied by the clinician in order to be able to make assessments about the future course of treatment and the possible effectiveness of the therapy, in order to apply the one that best suits the particular case of each patient. In this case, also influences the predisposition of the patient himself to initiate such treatment, since if there were not enough, the prognosis would be less favorable.

              3. Prognosis in the therapeutic process

              The prognosis of patient in the therapeutic process is a type of inference made by the therapist. depending on the evolution of the disorder before, during and after the end of the treatment.

              Bibliographic references

              • PIR Preparation Academy (2019). Handbook of Basic Psychology. Madrid: APIR.
              • PIR Preparation Academy (2019). Handbook of social psychology. Madrid: APIR.
              • Fiske, ST & Taylor, SE (1984). Social cognition. New York: random.
              • Genoa, G. (1996). The three modes of inference. Philosophical Yearbook, 29 (3), pp. 1249-1263
              • Leon, JA (2001). Inferences in the understanding and interpretation of speech. Revista Signos, 34 (49-50), p. 113-125.
              • Roger, S., Ferrández, A., Peral, J., Ferrández, S. and López, P. (2006). An inference mechanism applied to the search for an answer. XII Argentine Congress of Informatics, pp. 1966-1977.
              • Santiago, J., Etchebarne, I., Waizmann, V., Leibovich, A. & Roussos, A. (2009). The process of clinical inference, the prognosis and the interventions of the psychotherapist. Faculty of Psychology (UBA) Research Yearbook, 16, pp. 43-51.

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