This chapter reviews the theoretical and empirical bases for identifying the criteria appropriate for assessing the accuracy of social beliefs, interpersonal expectancies, and social stereotypes. Many famous social psychologists have concluded that identifying appropriate criteria for assessing accuracy is so difficult that, in fact, it cannot or should not be done. This chapter contests such pessimistic conclusions. First, it reviews broad theoretical perspectives on accuracy (probabilistic realism, functional perspectives, and social constructivism), and it concludes that both functional and constructivist perspectives are incoherent with respect to accuracy, whereas probabilistic realism is based on the same principles that scientists (including social scientists) use to reach conclusions about the validity of their theories and hypotheses. In short, establishing the accuracy of lay social beliefs is much like the scientific enterprise of establishing construct validity in the social sciences. Specific contenders for criteria, such as objective measures, agreement among perceivers, target behavior, expert judgments, self-reports, and self-perceptions, are critically evaluated in order to highlight their strengths and weaknesses. The chapter also highlights several concrete examples whereby social scientists are themselves logically incoherent and hypocritical when they reach conclusions about sociological and psychological phenomena and also suggest that there are no good criteria for assessing accuracy.
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