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I'm very interested in how people size one another up in social situations and in particular what we key in on when we are making these judgements.


Let's make an imaginary experiment.

I make several video tapes of actual business meetings just prior to when they begin. I edit the videos so that all explicit characterizations of the people are cut out (e.g. you wouldn't here one person address another person as "sir" or "ma'am"). I also get several simultaneous camera angles on each meeting. So basically you're seeing the people freely interact.

Now, I want you as the subject to watch the videos and tell me what you think the people are like. Who's the leader? Who is smart? Who is ineffective? Who is conniving? Etc.

Next, I ask you why you made each of these judgements, and I attempt to elicit very explicit rationale - such as "people who slump in their seats seem ineffective to me" or "people who hold their chins higher seem like leaders to me".


Can anyone point me to discussions of real experiments similar to this?

In particular I'm interested in

  • How accurate humans tend to be in quickly "sizing up" people.
  • How aware people are of why they are making these judgements and aware of what they are cueing in on.
  • What is it that they are actually cueing in on?

I'm more interested in all types of social appraisals, (intelligence, wealth, honesty, etc.), but I'm most interested in appraisals of leadership qualities.

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Hi John. Welcome to the site. I imagine your question will get some interesting responses. You may also want to ask 3 or 4 separate questions focusing on particular aspects (e.g., accuracy could be one question; awareness of inference could be another; major cues could be another). –  Jeromy Anglim Feb 9 '12 at 2:34
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1 Answer

You may be interested in the research on "thin slices" of behavior, defined as a very short video clip of behavior, often without audio.

Abstract from Ambady & Rosenthal (1992):

A meta-analysis was conducted on the accuracy of predictions of various objective outcomes in the areas of clinical and social psychology from short observations of expressive behavior (under 5 min). The overall effect size for the accuracy of predictions for 38 different results was .39. Studies using longer periods of behavioral observation did not yield greater predictive accuracy; predictions based on observations under 0.5 min in length did not differ significantly from predictions based on 4- and 5-min observations. The type of behavioral channel (such as the face, speech, the body, tone of voice) on which the ratings were based was not related to the accuracy of predictions. Accuracy did not vary significantly between behaviors manipulated in a laboratory and more naturally occurring behavior. Last, effect sizes did not differ significantly for predictions in the areas of clinical psychology, social psychology, and the accuracy of detecting deception.

This methodology has been used frequently since this publication. I do not know the literature well enough to cite specifics, but perhaps this will point you in the right direction.

Ambady, N., & Rosenthal, R. (1992). Thin slices of expressive behavior as predictors of interpersonal consequences: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin; Psychological Bulletin, 111(2), 256. PDF

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