Tag Archives: impression formation

The Attractiveness Bias: “Cheerleader Effect”, Positive Attributions, and “Distinctive Accuracy”

Edward Vul

Edward Vul

Want to be seen as more attractive?  Be part of a group.

Individuals were rated as more attractive when they were observed in a group rather than alone, reported University of California, San Diego’s Drew Walker and Edward Vul.

This occurs because the brain’s perceptual system computes a statistical summary representation – “an ensemble,” and is biased toward perceiving the ensemble average as attractive, they wrote.

Individuals are perceived as more similar to the average group face, and this average face is more attractive than group members’ individual faces, thanks to a perceptual bias called the ”cheerleader effect.

Individuals who are judged attractive are also ascribed positive characteristics including good health, good genes, intelligence, and success as a result of attribution bias.

Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham

Further, there’s consensus across cultures and genders on ratings of physical attractiveness, found University of Louisville’s Michael R. Cunningham, Anita P. Barbee, Perri B. Druen, who collaborated with Alan R. Roberts of Indiana University and Chung Yuan Christian University’s Cheng-Huan Wu.

Features rated as most attractive for women include: 

  • High cheekbones and forehead,
  • Fuller lips,
  • Large, clear eyes,
  • Shorter jaw,
  • Narrower chin.
Alan Roberts

Alan Roberts

Women’s weight wasn’t as relevant to attractiveness as a waist-to-hips ratio of 7:10 and Body Mass Index (BMI) of 20.85.

Preferred characteristics for men were a large jaw and brow, prominent cheekbones, and broad chin, with a waist-to-hips ratio for men is 9:10 and about 12 percent body fat.
Smooth skin, shiny hair, and facial symmetry were rated as attractive for both women and men.

Genevieve Lorenzo

Genevieve Lorenzo

Physical attractiveness focuses observers’ attention on attractive individuals, and enables more accurate assessments of personality traits based on brief interactions, according to University of British Columbia’s Genevieve Lorenzo and Jeremy Biesanz with Lauren Human of University of California, San Francisco.

Jeremy Biesanz

Jeremy Biesanz

Observers more accurately identified personality traits of physically attractive people  and these ratings were more similar to attractive people’s self-reported personality traits (“distinctive accuracy”).

Lauren Human

Lauren Human

These volunteers showed a positive bias toward attractive people and accurately identified the relative ordering of attractive participants’ Big Five personality traits (extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness to experience, and emotional stability ⁄ neuroticism).

Nicholas Rule

Nicholas Rule

In addition, raters accurately evaluated CEOs’ competence, dominance, likeability, maturity and trustworthiness by viewing photographs of the executives’ faces in a study by University of Toronto’s Nicholas Rule and Nalini Ambady, then of Tufts.

Nalini Ambady

Nalini Ambady

Thirty volunteers assessed CEOs’ “leadership success” based on appearance alone, and these rating were very significantly related to profitability of the organizations the CEOs led.

John Graham

John Graham

CEOs and non-executives unconsciously compete in a “corporate beauty contest,” and those viewed as attractive are assigned positive attributions, asserted John Graham, Campbell Harvey and Manju Puri of Duke.

Photos of more than 100 white male chief executive officers of large and small companies were paired with with photos of non-executives with similar facial features, hairstyles and clothing.

Campbell Harvey

Campbell Harvey

Nearly 2,000 participants assessed photos and rated CEOs as competent and attractive more frequently than non-executives.
However, volunteers were less likely to rate CEOs as likeable and trustworthy.

Those rated as “competent” earned more money, but in this study, CEO appearance wasn’t associated with company profitability.

Elaine Wong

Elaine Wong

Specific facial structures, not just attributed personality traits, were associated with superior business results, according to University of Wisconsin’s Elaine Wong and Michael P. Haselhuhn working with Margaret E. Ormiston of London Business School.

Firms that achieved superior financial results tended to have male CEOs with wider faces relative to facial height, particularly among organizations with “cognitively simple leadership teams.”

Margaret Ormiston

Margaret Ormiston

Evolutionary biology suggests that facial structure may be perceived as possessing trustworthy leadership skills, leading to attributions of competence, and igniting loyalty to follow.

-*What positive bias do you observe toward attractive individuals in the workplace? 

-*How do you harness the positive bias toward attractive individuals?

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How Accurate are Personality Judgments Based on Physical Appearance?

Appearance, including facial expression, posture, and clothing provide important visual communications to observers.

Laura Naumann

Laura Naumann

Simine Vazire

Simine Vazire

To evaluate observers’ accuracy in judging personality traits based on the appearance of people they didn’t know, Sonoma State University’s Laura Naumann, with Simine Vazire of Washington University in St. Louis, University of Cambridge’s Peter Rentfrow, and Samuel Gosling of University of Texas at Austin asked volunteers to rate 10 personality traits.

Peter Rentfrow

Peter Rentfrow

These characteristics included Big Five Personality Traits –  Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, proposed by Paul Costa and Robert McCrae of the U.S. National Institutes of Health .

In addition, participants assessed likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity, and political orientation) of people pictured full-body photographs.

Samuel Gosling

Samuel Gosling

These measures were compared with ratings by the photographed person and people acquainted with the individual.

Paul Costa

Paul Costa

Observers’ judgments were accurate when they rated extraversion, self-esteem, and religiosity among people photographed in a “standardized” pose, and were correct for more personality traits when judging photographs in spontaneous poses and facial expressions.
This suggests that candid photographs provide more accurate cues to some personality characteristics than planned poses.

Robert McCrae

Robert McCrae

Static cues such as clothing style, and dynamic cues including facial expression and posture provided “cue validity” that enabled observers to make accurate judgments of personality characteristics by “cue utilization.”

John Irving

John Irving

These findings confirmed that observers make accurate inferences about some personality characterics based on visual cues, validating novelist John Irving’s assertion through his narrator, John Wheelwright, in A Prayer for Owen Meany: “Things often are as they appear. First impressions matter.

-*How accurate are your judgments of personality traits in people you don’t already know?
-*How accurate are other people’s inferences about your personality traits?

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Brand You: Pronounceable Names are More Likeable, Maybe More Hireable

Simon Laham

Simon Laham

Personal names, like brands, evoke inferences about likability and specific characteristics, like gender, ethnicity, social class, intellectual competence, masculinity-femininity, and even personality characteristics, according to University of Melbourne’s Simon M. Laham, Peter Koval of University of Leuven, and NYU’s Adam L. Alter.

Peter Koval

Peter Koval

They argue that these assumptions affect impression formation and may lead to bias.

More than 20 years ago, UCLA’s Albert Mehrabian began investigating the impact of personal names and developed the Name Connotation Profile to assess attributions to specific names.

Albert Mehrabian

Albert Mehrabian

He concluded that “people with desirable or attractive names are treated more favorably by others than are those with undesirable or unattractive names,” base on findings from more than ten studies.

Personal names are also associated income and educational attainment, reported Saku Aura of University of Missouri, collaborating with Claremont McKenna College’s Gregory D. Hess.

Saku Aura

Saku Aura

They evaluated the relationship among “first name features” (FNF) including:

  • “Popularity” (frequency),
  • Number of syllables,
  • Phonetic features,
  • Scrabble score (?),
  • “Blackness” (fraction of people with that name who are African-American),
  • “Exogenous” background factors (sex, race, parents’ education).
Gregory Hess

Gregory Hes

In addition, Aura and Hess scrutinized associations between first names and “lifetime outcomes” including:

  • Financial status,
  • Occupational prestige,
  • Perceived social class,
  • Education,
  • Happiness,
  • Becoming a parent before age 25. 



First name features predicted education, happiness and early fertility, which were also related to labor market productivity.
However, workforce productivity can be reduced when discriminatory decisions about names reduce labor market participation, such as for names rated for “blackness.”

Marianne Bertrand

Marianne Bertrand

University of Chicago’s Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard documented this effect when they found that name discrimination affects hiring decisions. 
 Job applicants with “African American-sounding” names were less likely to be invited for a job interview than a person with a “White-sounding” name.

Sendhil Mullainathan

Sendhil Mullainathan

Bertrand and Mullainathan responded to help-wanted ads in Boston and Chicago newspapers by sending fictitious resumes containing “African-American” or “White” names.

They found that “White name” candidate received 50% more interview invitations across occupation, industry, and employer size.
This bias was centered more on inferred race than social class, suggesting that discrimination in hiring practices persists but has become more subtle, and perhaps even unconscious.

Claire Etaugh

Claire Etaugh

Another form of name discrimination is women who take their husband’s surname.
They are typically seen as less “agentic” and more “communal” than those who retain their own names, noted Bradley University’s Claire E. Etaugh, Myra Cummings-Hill, and Joseph Cohen with Judith S. Bridges of University of Hartford.
These attributions are usually associated with stereotypic “feminine” attitudes and behaviors, which can slow career advancement.

David Figlio

David Figlio

Gender-based name discrimination can affect males as well:  Gender-incongruous names seem to invoke social penalties for boys, according to Northwestern’s David Figlio.

He reported that boys who had names usually associated with girls were more likely to be expelled from school after disruptive behavior beginning in middle school.

Daniel Y Lee

Daniel Y Lee

In related findings, Shippensburg University’s David E. Kalist and Daniel Y. Lee found that people with unusual names (less “popular”) were more likely to have juvenile delinquency experiences.

These finding suggest that unusual names may provoke negative and stigmatizing attributions, which can lead to confirmatory behaviors that lead to asocial acts.

Besides racial and ethnic associations with names, some are easier for English speaking people to pronounce.

Adam Alter

Adam Alter

Easy-to-say names are judged more favorably than difficult-to-pronounce names, in related findings by LahamKoval, and Alter.

In fact, they found that people with easier-to-pronounce surnames occupy higher status positions in law firms, demonstrating the importance of “processing fluency”- the subjective ease or difficulty of a cognitive task – when forming an impression.

Laham and team pointed to the “hedonic marking hypothesis,” that posits “processing fluency” automatically activates a positive emotional reaction, which is then attributed to the evaluated “stimulus object” – a person’s name.

They noted that pronouncability strongly influences likeability and other evaluations, and can lead to decision bias, as in hiring choices.

Names matter, whether for products or people, because they carry emotional and cognitive associations that may bias impressions and decisions.

-*How have you modified your name?

-*What have been the effects on how others perceive you?
Your occupational opportunities?

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Clothing Influences Thinking and Behavior, not Just Others’ Perceptions

A previous post highlighted the influence of the body on thinking, through “embodied cognition.”

Hajo Adam

Hajo Adam

An extension of this idea is “unclothed cognition,” the impact of clothing on thinking and behavior, according to Rice University’s Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky of Northwestern University.

Adam and Galinsky considered the symbolic meaning of clothing and wearer’s physical experience by evaluating the impact of wearing a lab coat on participants’ task performance.

Adam Galinsky

Adam Galinsky

Before the experiments, volunteers said in a survey that they associated “attentiveness” and “carefulness” with “a lab coat.”
Next, participants completed a Stroop Test, a task that requires selective attention to differentiate words in incongruent colors (“red” presented in green letters), while wear a lab coat or their street clothes.

Volunteers performed better when they wore a lab coat than when they completed the same tasks while wearing street clothes.

In other experiments, Adam and Galinsky described the lab coat to some participants as a “doctor’s coat” and to others as a  “painter’s coat.”
Volunteers who wore a “doctor’s coatperformed better on sustained attention tasks and were better able to discriminate features in nearly-similar images, than those who wore a  “painter’s coat.” 

Joshua Davis

Joshua Davis

Clothing’s symbolic meaning as visual communication can influence the viewer’s attributions and the wearer’s behavioral alignment with the role suggested by clothing, argued Joshua I. Davis of Barnard College, who studied the effect of BOTOX injections on emotional experience.

Sandra Forsythe

Sandra Forsythe

Clothing’s impact on others’ evaluation of the wearer was further detailed by Sandra Forsythe, now of Auburn University collaborated with University of Tennessee’s Mary F. Drake, and Charles E. Cox.
They videotaped simulated job interviews of women wearing various styles of dress, and found that more than 75 human resources professionals recommended hiring female job applicants who wore more “masculine” attire than those wearing other styles of dress.

Norah Dunbar

Norah Dunbar

Clothing’s influence on the viewers’ impression of others’ credibility was investigated by University of Oklahoma’s Norah E. Dunbar and Chris Segrin of University of Arizona guided by their colleague Judee Burgoon‘s expectancy violation theory.

Chris Segrin

Chris Segrin

Two instructors gave lectures in undergraduate college classes, wearing either expected “appropriate” attire for this role, or wearing unconventionally casual clothing.
The instructors also provided either high interpersonal support or less rewarding interactions.

Judee Burgoon

Judee Burgoon

Dunbar and Segrin found that students were less influenced by unexpected attire when the instructor provided more social rewards.
They suggested that interpersonal demeanor can be even more influential than clothing in determining impressions of credibility and likability.

Similarly, the impact of clothing on judgments of competence and achievement for both students and teachers in Ohio high schools was demonstrated in research by Bowling Green State’s Dorothy Behling with Elizabeth Williams.

Anat Rafaeli

Anat Rafaeli

Clothing’s influence on impression formation and related organizational dynamics is based on attributes, homogeneity and conspicuousness, posited Anat Rafaeli of Technion, and Boston College’s Michael Pratt.

Michael Pratt

Michael Pratt

Clothing has been considered an important influence on others’ perception of the wearer, and Adam and Galinsky’s studies offer evidence that clothing can affect the wearer’s actual task performance.

-*How has clothing changed your workplace behavior and performance?
-*How do others treat you different depending on your attire?

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Perceived Power Affects Vocal Characteristics, Life Outcomes

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher participated in vocal training to project greater authority in her political role, with highly effective results.

Even without specific vocal training, research volunteers adopted powerful vocal elements when believed they had power and informational advantages in lab experiments by San Diego State University’s Sei Jin Ko and Melody S. Sadler with Adam D. Galinsky of Columbia.

Sei Jin Ko

Sei Jin Ko

Ko’s team asked more than 160 volunteers to read a text designed to evaluate speaking skills as a baseline for later comparison.
Then, they randomly assigned volunteers to a “high” ranking role with the prime “you have a strong alternative offer, valuable inside information, or high status in the workplace, or by asking participants to recall an experience in which they had power.

The remaining participants were told they had “a weak offer, no inside information, or low workplace status,” or were asked to recall an experience in which they lacked power.

Melody Sadler

Melody Sadler

To compare the impact of these power primes with the baseline reading performance, participants in both groups read a text about negotiating.
People in the high power group spoke in a higher pitch, with greater volume, and less tone variability than the low-power group.
In fact, team Ko found that people in the high power prime group had a similar vocal profile to Thatcher following her vocal training.

Mariëlle Stel

Mariëlle Stel

This contrasts previous research that demonstrated lower vocal pitch is associated with greater perceived power in work by Tilburg University’s Mariëlle Stel and Farah M. Djalal with Eric van Dijk and Wilco W. van Dijk of Leiden University, collaborating with University of California, San Diego’s Pamela K. Smith.

Eric van Dijk

Eric van Dijk

In additional investigations by Ko’s team, additional participants listened to recordings of people who read in the previous condition, and accurately determined which volunteers conveyed higher status and were more likely to engage in high-power behaviors, based only on vocal elements.

Joris Lammers

Joris Lammers

Power primes” or asking people to recall a time they had power and felt powerful, can significantly influence important life opportunities determined by hiring and university admission decisions, reported Tilburg University’s Joris Lammers with David Dubois of INSEAD and Northwestern’s Derek D. Rucker collaborating with Adam D. Galinsky of Columbia.

Thomas Mussweiler

Thomas Mussweiler

Self-generated primes are especially influential because they lead to “assimilation of the power suggestion, whereas primes provided by other people, as in Ko’s investigation, yield “contrast,” suggested Universität Würzburg’s Thomas Mussweiler and Roland Neumann.

Egon Brunswik

Egon Brunswik

The strong impact of beliefs about power has been explained by Egon Brunswik of Berkeley’s “lens model” of perception, self-fulfilling prophecy theory by University of California’s Robert Rosenthal, and self-efficacy theory described Stanford’s Albert Bandura.

Francesca Gino

Francesca Gino

To personalize these theories and demonstrate the impact of power beliefs on life outcomes, Francesca Gino discussed her use of power primes to increase her confidence during presentations, leading to her current role at Harvard, where she pursues research on the impact of power primes and beliefs on personal performance and outcomes.

These findings suggest that beliefs about personal power shape behaviors like vocal profile, which can lead to differing outcomes in occupational and life opportunities.

Egon Brunswik's Lens Model

Egon Brunswik’s Lens Model

  • How do you modify your voice to convey power and authority?
  • How do you develop confidence in your power?

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Racial Categorizations Change Based on Social Status Markers

Aliya Saperstein

Aliya Saperstein

Race is a changeable status marker of rather than a fixed individual attribute, according to Stanford’s Aliya Saperstein and Andrew Penner of University of California, Irvine.

Andrew Penner

Andrew Penner

Racial fluidity” – or changeable racial categorization – influences and is influenced by racial inequality in the United States, noted Saperstein and Penner.

They analyzed longitudinal U.S. national survey data collected over two decades and found that individuals’ racial classification, both rated by themselves and by others, changed over time in response to changes in social position.

In these data, unemployed, incarcerated, or impoverished Americans were more likely to be seen and self-identify as Black, even if the same individuals were originally classified in a different racial category.

Jonathan Freeman

Jonathan Freeman

Racial self-perception and racial perceptions by others depend on social position, even though most people believe that race is perceived in facial features, such as skin color.
However, social status cues around a face systematically change the perception of race, found Dartmouth’s Jonathan B. Freeman, Matthias Scheutz of Tufts, with Penner, Saperstein and her Stanford colleague, Nalini Ambady.

Matthias Scheutz

Matthias Scheutz

Participants categorized 16 computer-generated face identities (8 male) that were morphed along a 13-point race continuum, from White (morph −6) to Black (morph +6).
Developed by Max Planck Institute’s Volker Blanz and Thomas Vetter, this program generated 3D models based on laser scans of human faces.

Volunteers saw faces in a randomized order and evaluated them as White or Black using the keyboard, which recorded and analyzed mouse movement with MouseTracker software.

Participants rated the race of faces along “White–Black morph continua” when they saw faces with “high-status” attire (suit) or “low-status” attire (maintenance uniform).

“Low-status” attire increased the likelihood of categorization as Black, whereas “high-status” attire increased the likelihood of categorization as White, and this effect increased as physical characteristics associated with each race became more ambiguous.

The team  also monitored hand movements to determine hesitation in making a racial category decision.

They noted hesitation and shifting between choices when participants categorized faces with high-status attire as “Black” or faces with low-status attire as “White.”
Stereotypes interact with contextual and physical cues to shape “neutrally- plausible” person categorization, concluded Freeman and team.

When stereotypes associated with race and occupation categories overlap, contextual cues to occupation can activate social status stereotypes, then exert “top-down pressure” on the race categorization process.

For example, business attire can activate high-status stereotypes that influence visual processing of race-categorization.
Race categorization, therefore, could be driven by both “bottom-up” processing of facial features, and “top-down” stereotypes activated by contextual cues.

Racial fluidity reinforces stereotypic status differences by classifying “successful” or high-status people as “White” or “not Black” and “unsuccessful” or low-status people as “Black” or “not White.”

“Social cognition” can influence visual perception because “person perception…makes compromises between how other people “actually” appear and the stereotyped expectations dictating how they ‘should’ appear,” noted Freeman and team.

Aaron Gullickson

Aaron Gullickson

The U.S. briefly fluidity and ambiguity in racial classification when it adopted a “mulatto” category for the U.S. Census between 1870 and1920.

Saperstein and University of Oregon’s Aaron Gullickson noted that people categorized as “mulatto” in one census were re-categorized as Black in the next census, particularly when Southern men’s occupational status changed “downward” between censuses.

Like clothing, another non-racial factor – cause of death – influences racial classification, and can bias official U.S. statistics, according to Penner and UC Irvine colleague
Andrew Noymer with Saperstein in their analysis of a representative sample of U.S. death certificates.

Andrew Noymer

Andrew Noymer

They controlled for existing statistical reports by interviewing decedents’ next-of-kin regarding cause of death and racial classification.

Noymer’s team reported significant discrepancies between the two racial classifications by cause of death, with cirrhosis decedents more likely to be recorded as Native American and homicide victims more likely to be recorded as Black.

These findings are another example of interaction between changeable indicators of social status and seemingly fixed characteristics like physical appearance of race – both in forming perceptions of others and in defining oneself.

-*How have you adjusted your self-categorization based on occupational role and status over time?

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Detecting Trustworthiness, Opening Your Mind?

Yaacov Schul

Yaacov Schul

-*Does mistrust increases willingness to consider new information, or “open-mindedness”?

When people mistrust information, they are more likely to consider alternative information and interpretations,  according to Hebrew University’s Yaacov Schul and Ruth Mayo, with Eugene Burnstein of University of Michigan.

Ruth Mayo

Ruth Mayo

Likewise, Ann-Christin Posten and Thomas Mussweiler of Universität zu Köln noted that “distrust frees your mind” by leading people to use non-routine cognitive strategies.”

Eugene Burnstein

Eugene Burnstein

Posten and Mussweiler reported that when volunteers participated in an “untrustworthy” interaction, they later provided less stereotypic evaluations of others in an unrelated task.

Ann-Christin Posten

Ann-Christin Posten

The research team replicated this effect when they influence volunteers’ expectations of others by “priming” participants with preliminary information that elicited stereotypes.

When people distrust information and interactions, they focus on dissimilarities and discrepancies,  which enables people to more carefully attend to individual differences that disprove stereotypes, according to Posten and Mussweiler.

Thomas Mussweiler

Thomas Mussweiler

Although trust may feel better, distrust can lead to more mindful observation, and reduced stereotyping.

-*How do people determine trustworthiness?

Princeton’s Alexander Todorov and Sean G. Baron with Nikolaas Oosterhof of Dartmouth presented volunteers computer model-generated faces  representing a range of trustworthiness while participants’ brains were scanned with fMRI.

Alexander Todorov

Alexander Todorov

Specific brain areas, the right amygdala and left and right putamen, became more active when participants’ viewed less trustworthy faces.

Sean Baron

Sean Baron

Faces judged most trustworthy and most untrustworthy faces were associated with greater brain activity in the left amygdala.
In contrast, moderately trustworthy faces evoked strongest responses in the medial prefrontal cortex and precuneus areas.

Nikolaas Oosterhof

Nikolaas Oosterhof

These findings pinpoint brain areas that lead to inferences of trust and distrust, and lead to relaxed or vigilant information processing strategies.

-*How do you determine trustworthiness for information and for people?
-*What helps you minimized stereotyped judgments?

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