Tag Archives: impression formation

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

Bad Hair Day? Consider spending time in a group of attractive people.
Observers may find you more attractive and likable when you’re in a group, and may more accurately judge your personality traits.

Edward Vul

Edward Vul

University of California, San Diego’s Drew Walker and Edward Vul reported that volunteers rated target individuals as more attractive when they were observed in a group rather than alone.
Walker and Vul argue that the brain’s perceptual system “computes a statistical summary representation, or an ensemble,” and is biased toward perceiving the ensemble average as attractive.

As a result, individuals are perceived as more similar to the average group face, which is more attractive than group members’ individual faces – the ”cheerleader effect,” which might confirm the value of a “wingman/woman” in social and networking situations.

Previous blog posts mentioned that individuals who are judged attractive have additional “unfair advantages”:  The prevalent bias in attributing positive characteristics to them, including good health, good genes, intelligence, and success.

Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham

There tends to be agreement on ratings of physical attractiveness across cultures and genders, according to 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.

They reported features rated as most attractive for women: 

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

Alan Roberts

Cunningham’s group noted that 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, a finding that may surprise weight-conscious individuals.

In contrast, 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 enable more accurate assessments of their 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

They found that observers identify the personality traits of physically attractive people more accurately and similarly to the attractive person’s self-reported personality traits (“distinctive accuracy”).

Lauren Human

Lauren Human

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

Nicholas Rule

Nicholas Rule

Similarly, University of Toronto’s Nicholas Rule and Nalini Ambady, then of Tufts, reported that volunteer raters could accurately evaluate the competence, dominance, likeability, maturity and trustworthiness of CEOs by viewing photographs of the executives’ faces.

Nalini Ambady

Nalini Ambady

In addition, 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

John Graham, Campbell Harvey and Manju Puri of Duke demonstrated positively biased attributions toward CEOs and non-executives in their “corporate beauty contest.”

They paired photos of more than 100 white male chief executive officers of large and small companies 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 appearing “competent” earned more money, but here, 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.

They noted that 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

These results may be interpreted through the lens of evolutionary biology, suggesting that facial structure may be perceived by observers and followers as possessing trustworthy leadership skills, leading to attributions of competence, and igniting loyalty and motivation 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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Gender Differences in Emotional Expression: Smiling

Previous blog posts have outlined dilemmas women face in being seen as competent yet  “likeable” in negotiations.

Deborah Gruenfeld

Deborah Gruenfeld

Deborah Gruenfeld of Stanford and researcher Carol Kinsey Goman note that women can increase perceived authority. if they smile when situationally-appropriate instead of consistently.

Simine Vazire

Simine Vazire

They imply that observers assign different interpretations to women’s smiles than to men’s smiles.
Washington University in St. Louis’s
Simine Vazire teamed with Laura Naumann of University of California, Berkeley, University of Cambridge’s Peter Rentfrow, and Samuel Gosling of University of Texas to investigate gender differences in the meaning of smiling behavior.   

Jacob Miguel Vigil

Jacob Miguel Vigil

They drew on University of New Mexico professor Jacob Miguel Vigil‘s theory that emotional behaviors promote attraction and aversion, based on others’ perceived:

  • Power to provide resources or harm (dominant, masculine behaviors)
  • Trustworthiness to reciprocate altruism (submissive, feminine)
Laura Naumann

Laura Naumann

Vazire’s team reported that women’s smiles signal positive affect and warmth, which are seen as “trustworthiness cues” in Vigil’s model, and typically attract fewer, but closer relationships.
Gruenfeld and Goman argue that women’s smiling also signals low power in negotiation situations and interpersonal interactions.

Peter Rentfrow

Peter Rentfrow

In contrast, smiling among men indicates confidence and lack of self-doubt, seen as “capacity cues” to the ability to either help or hurt others.
These expressions usually attract numerous, but less-intimate relationships while
conveying a key element of power, self-assurance.

Samuel Gosling

Samuel Gosling

Team Vazire’s research validated Gruenfeld’s and Goman’s hypothesis that observers interpreted women’s smiles differently than men’s, even if the underlying, subjective emotional experience is similar.

Their work supports  Gruenfeld’s and Goman’s recommendation that women balance smiling, a signal of interpersonal warmth, with powerful non-verbal behaviors to achieve best outcomes in negotiations and workplace performance.

-*How has smiling helped establish your warmth?
-*When has smiling undermined your credibility and power?

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