Tag Archives: Nalini Ambady

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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Self-Stereotypes Still Limit Women’s Performance

A common cultural stereotype in the U.S. is that women perform more poorly than men on quantitative tasks and that Asians perform better than other groups.

Larry Hedges

Larry Hedges

Susan L Forman

Susan L Forman

Test performance data support these perceptions, according to separate findings by Northwestern’s Larry V. Hedges and Amy Nowell, then of University of Chicago, as well as by Susan L. Forman and Lynn Arthur Steen of St. Olaf College.

Lynn Arthur Steen

Lynn Arthur Steen

Asian-American women are susceptible to two conflicting stereotypes regarding quantitative performance.
-*Which stereotype most influences performance?

Margaret Shih

Margaret Shih

UCLA’s Margaret Shih, Todd L. Pittinsky of SUNY, 
and Stanford’s Nalini Ambady activated ethnic identity or gender identity before Asian-American women competed a mathematics test.

Todd Pittinsky

Todd Pittinsky

Volunteers performed better when their Asian ethnic identity was activated, but worse when their gender identity as females was activated, compared with participants who had neither identity activated.

Nalini Ambady

Nalini Ambady

The stereotype threat of gender identity contributed to poorer performance among individuals who could perform better.

Claude Steele

Claude Steele

This effect was demonstrated among African-American students, who were stereotyped to be poor students.
These volunteers underperformed compared with white students in a study by Stanford’s Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson of NYU.

Joshua Aronson

Joshua Aronson

Yale’s Becca Levy demonstrated the same effect by priming elderly participants with a negative stereotype of older people.

Becca Levy

Becca Levy

These volunteers performed more poorly on a memory task in contrast to their superior performance when they were primed with a positive stereotype of aging.

Individuals vulnerable to stereotype threat can mitigate effects by symbolically disconnecting from the self-reputational threat, according to Shen Zhang, then of University of Wisconsin with University of British Columbia’s Toni Schmader and William M. Hall.

Toni Schmader

Toni Schmader

They asked male and female volunteers to complete a math test using their real name or a fictitious name.
Women who used a fictitious name performed significantly better than those who used their actual names, and they reported less self-threat and distraction.

Zhang and team posited that women performed better when they were not part of a group attributed with poorer math performance.

In contrast, male participants performed equivalently when completing the math problems using real and fictitious names, suggesting that stereotype threat is not activated for men during quantitative tasks.

Stereotyping by others and even oneself can undermine task performance, yet consciously refuting the preconception may mitigate these effects.

-* What other approaches do you use to reduce and manage stereotype threat?

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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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Neuronal Recordings Suggest “Free Will” Might be “Free Won’t”

Itzhak Fried

Itzhak Fried

People may think they consciously control their actions and performance, but findings from UCLA’s Itzhak Fried and Roy Mukamel with Gabriel Kreiman of Harvard challenged conventional assumptions about “conscious intention” and “free will. ”

Roy Mukamel

Roy Mukamel

Fried, Mukamel, and Kreiman adopted Benjamin Libet’s procedure to assess “free will” at University of California, San Francisco, using intracranial recordings to identify neuron activity that precedes and predicts volunteers’ decision to move a finger.

Gabriel Kreiman

Gabriel Kreiman

Volunteers, who had electrodes implanted in their brains to record early indicators of seizures, pressed a button when they chose and indicated the clock’s hand position when they decided to press the button.

Libet’s process marks the time a voluntary action occurred, and the volunteer’s report of when the decision to act was completed.
These data points enabled researchers to identify specific neurons that were active during the time around the conscious decision to act and the completed action.

Benjamin Libet

Benjamin Libet

About a quarter of neurons in the frontal lobe’s supplementary motor area (responsible for motor activity coordination) and the anterior cingulate cortex (which directs attention and motivation) changed activity before volunteers said they wanted to press the button.

Spontaneous, voluntary acts were initiated in the cerebrum about 200 milliseconds before the person was consciously aware of the ‘decision’ to act, and researchers predicted with greater than 80 percent accuracy whether a movement had occurred and when the decision to make it happened.

Libet’s team suggested that unconscious brain processes, which are more rapid than conscious decision-making (“free will”), are the instigators of volitional acts.
However, these researchers also proposed that “free will” is more accurately described as “free won’t” because conscious volition can exercise “veto power” over intentions to act.

Kreiman extended this research to better understand loss of voluntary movement in Parkinson’s disease when he pre-empted volunteers’ movements after observing brain activation in the supplementary motor area and the anterior cingulate cortex.
StopHe activated a “stop” sign on a screen in front of each volunteer before the person actually moved, and reported that his volunteers frequently said, ”That was weird. It was like you read my mind.”

Nalini Ambady

Nalini Ambady

These brain studies complement Stanford professor Nalini Ambady’s work at Harvard University on “thin slicing”, or the experience of “knowing before you know.”
Also described as “intuition” or “unconscious cognitive processing,” these findings suggest that the conscious mind is the last to know when we make a decision.

-*How do you manage the discrepancy between unconscious mental processes and conscious awareness of them?

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“Productive Pause”, Intuition for Better Decisions

Everyday wisdom offers familiar advice to curtail impulsivity through slowing down and reflecting:

  • “Go slow to go fast”
  • “Sleep on it”
  • “Wait before sending an emotional email”
  • “Count to 10, think again”
Frank Partnoy

Frank Partnoy

Former investment banker and lawyer Frank Partnoy’s Wait: The Art and Science of Delay provides empirical evidence on the value of delay to increase the quality of decisions and performance across investment, sports, comedy, and other disciplines.Wait

Creativity experts have demonstrated the importance of an “incubation period” in developing innovative solutions, and Partnoy suggests that similar principles provide and advantage: gathering maximum information in uncertain situations, by executing decisions and performance close to the last opportunity.

University of San Diego’s Partnoy recommends a three step approach to decision-making:

1) Determine the maximum time available to gather information and take the decision
2) Consider, reflect, “incubate” on the information as long as possible
3) Act quickly at the last possible moment

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell

His approach could be summarized by referring to Malcolm Gladwell’s best-seller, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking : “Don’t just blink but think.”

Nalini Ambady

Nalini Ambady

Gladwell argues that people with expert experience and insight are often skilled at using ‘adaptive unconscious’ intuition to “thin-slice” subtle cues to filter relevant information from “noise,” a concept based on Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal’s research at Harvard.

Justin Albrechtsen

Justin Albrechtsen

Christian Meissner

Christian Meissner

Research by Justin Albrechtsen, Christian Meissner, and Kyle Susa  of University of Texas at El Paso demonstrated “thin-slicing” when they found that intuitive processing can lead to more accurate judgments of deception when compared with deliberative processing.

Kyle Susa

Kyle Susa

Gladwell and these researchers acknowledge that non-experts, and even experts, can be make erroneous decisions due to bias and prejudice that comes from automatic thinking and habitual cognitive heuristics like the halo effect.

Gerard Hodgkinson

Gerard Hodgkinson

Gerard Hodgkinson of Leeds University found that biased intuitive judgment may be mitigated by “devil’s advocacy” and applying analytical tools like multi-attribute decision analysis and root cause analysis.

He suggests that informed intuition or ‘intelligent-unconscious’ results from subconscious information storage, processing and retrieval, and has conducted several empirical studies to evaluate its mechanisms applied to developing business strategies.

Intuitive judgment was positively correlated with quality and speed of decisions, organizational financial and non-financial performance in at least five studies.

Hodgkinson’s team summarized recent advances in neuroscience, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies to explain complementary intuitive and analytical approaches to decision making  instead of the overly-simplified notion of left brain vs right brain processing  strengths.

He synthesized intuition attributes:

  • Instantaneous insight after incubation period
  • Subjective judgments
  • Based on experience, tacit knowledge, “knowing without knowing
  • Arise through rapid, non-conscious holistic associations
  • Affectively-charged: “feels right”, experienced as ‘‘inklings’’ or ‘‘glimmerings’’
  • Lacking verbalization or conscious awareness of problem solving.

Cognitive neuroscientists have differentiated intuition from instinct and insight using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques.

Instinct refers to hardwired, autonomous reflex actions, whereas insight involves recognizing and articulating a problem’s structure, and may follow from intuition.

Hodgkinson’s research suggests that intuition can be enhanced by increasing:

  • Expertise (“prepared mind” or ‘‘deep smarts’’)
  • Self-awareness (feeling and cognitive style)
  • Reflection
Akio Morita

Akio Morita

His team’s research supports an assertion by Akio Morita, co-founder of Sony and driving force behind its successful Sony Walkman, that ‘‘creativity requires something more than the processing of information. It requires human thought, spontaneous intuition and a lot of courage.’’

-*How have you used pauses or intuition to strengthen decision-making and advance business innovation?

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