Home Introduction to psychology ACCURACY OF JUDGMENTS


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In the last unit, we discussed understanding and attributing causes to others’ behavior. In addition the unit served to introduce us to other units in this course. You can now explain goals and affective cues. Time is now ripe for us to discuss a most interesting unit: accuracy of judgment. We will now consider the need for society to function smoothly. Let us take a closer look at what other content you should learn in this unit as specified in the objectives below.
By the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1. describe accurate person perception; and 
  2. explain cues used to make judgment. 


3.1 Accurate Person Perception

How accurately do people perceive others? As we will see, this is a thorny question. On the one hand, people must be reasonably accurate in their judgment of others for society to function as smoothly as it does. On the other hand, having considered various evaluative and cognitive subjects, the research suggests that under many circumstances, person perception may be quite inaccurate. The answer is that we are both accurate and inaccurate.

It is important for you to note that people perceive external visible attributes fairly accurately. A man in the blue uniform with a gun strapped to his side is a police officer, and we must treat him accordingly. Note that person perception becomes difficult when we try to infer internal states, such as traits, feelings, emotions, or personalities.


Complete the following statements.

i. A man in a white top coat with a stethoscope on his neck is a person who works in an…………………………………
ii. A woman in a ………………………skirt suit wearing a white belt, putting on a pair of white shoes is a ………………………who works in the city………………..…………….
That is good of you. Let us go on with our discussion. We will now identify and explain the cues used to make judgments

3.2 Cues used to make Judgments

The Eye of the Beholder One of the most surprising aspects of person perception is the fact that different people observing the same individual can come to quite different conclusions about that person’s personality. Thus observing a talkative, cheerful and outgoing young woman, one person may conclude that she is warm and appealing, while another may infer that she is shallow and rather silly. Not only do people emphasize different aspects of other people and their impressions, they often put information together in playful ways (Pack et. al., 1994 cited in Taylor et. al., 2000). This finding implies that the more complex and integrated our impression of someone becomes, the more likely it is to diverge from that of others.

An interesting study with children illustrates this point (Richardson et. al., 1965 cited in Taylor et. al., 2000). Each child was asked to describe all the other children in the camp. The experimenters then looked at the characteristics each child used in making descriptions of other children and the characteristics used for describing each child. They could then examine whether the same child was described the same way by most people or whether the same perceiver used the same characteristics to describe all the other children.

It is important for you to note that overall, the researchers found little agreement about which dimensions described any given child. Rather, each rater tended to use the same characteristics no matter which child he or she was describing. Older children and adults share more consistent perceptions of attributes and behaviour than is true for young children. Sometimes what we notice in another person is influenced more by our ways of looking at people than by that person’s actual characteristics.

Judging Personality

There is some research on how accurate people are in judging others’ personality traits, such as dominance or sociability. Accuracy is found to be compromised by several factors.

First, people’s perceptions of others are sometimes determined by their playful preferences for particular personality dimensions than by objective attributes of the .person being evaluated.

Second, it is difficult to measure personality traits, and so it is difficult to establish the proper criteria for accuracy.

The third factor has to do with how consistent people’s personality traits are, especially in predicting their behaviour. Note that often, personality traits predict behaviour in only a limited set of circumstances. Let us cite an example: If a man cheats at pool but is very honest in dealing with his co- workers and subordinates, is he an honest or dishonest person?
Some traits have behavioural manifestations that are especially observable. Observable traits show high levels of agreement. For example, people show a lot of agreement in their ratings of whether someone is extroverted or not. Accuracy has also been measured by whether a rater’s judgments of another person match that person’s own self-perception. For example, if you were asked to rate your senior secondary school roommate, Samuel’s friendliness, your rating would be compared with Samuel’s self-rating to see how much you agree. Generally speaking, agreement between peer ratings depends upon how well the two people are acquainted (Malloy & Albright, 1990 cited in Taylor et. al., 2000). When you know a person less well, agreement may be high on publicly visible qualities, but not on qualities less open to observation.

It is important for you to note that accurate perception of another person’s attributes can be improved when we have information about situation in which the traits occur. For example, if people learn that an individual has a particular goal in a situation, they are more likely to make a trait inference from observation of behaviour.

Surprisingly, even strangers are able to rate others in a manner consistent with those others’ self-perceptions after relatively brief exposures to their behaviours. Sharing the same cultural background usually leads to more accurate inferences than if the perceiver and the perceived come from different cultures.

Remember that when we attempt to predict future behaviour, we fare rather badly. That is for the most part we are overconfident about predicting the behaviour of both other people and of ourselves (Ross, 1990 cited in Taylor, 2000). This inaccuracy seems to be due to two factors. First, when people express high confidence that certain things will happen to themselves or others in the future, it is rarely warranted. As confidence increases, the gap between accuracy and confidence widens. Recognition of Emotions
Much of the work on the accuracy of person perception has focused on the recognition- of emotions on whether a person is happy or afraid, horrified or disgusted. In a typical study, a person is presented with a set of photographs of people portraying different emotions and asked to judge what those emotions are. More recent research has made use of video taped chips of emotional reactions. Research has now shown e the virtual universal recognition of several facial expressions of emotion in both literate (Izard, 971) and pre literate Friesen, (1969) cultures.

It is now time to ask a relevant question. Why are we fairly accurate in our perception of emotional state? (I know you are eager to read the answer to this question) In 1871, on the basis of his evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin proposed that facial expressions convey the same emotional states in all cultures. His argument was that universal expressions have evolved because they have great survival value: they allow animals to communicate emotions and thereby control the behaviour of others.

One reason why people are quite accurate in judging the emotional states of others may then be because all people use the same facial expression to show a given underlying emotion. People smile when they feel happy, grimace when they feel pain, frown when they are worried, and so on.
A number of empirical investigations have supported this point Craig and Patrick (1985) induced pain by immersing participants’ hands and wrists into icy water just at freezing temperature. They found consistent responses across cultures in response to this task, including raising the cheeks and tightening the eyelids, raising upper eyelids, parting the lips, and closing the eyes or blinking.

It is to be noted that while not all individual emotions can be discriminated well, people can typically distinguish the major groups of emotions using facial cues. In an earlier study, Woodworth (1938 cited in Taylor et. al. 2000) suggested that emotions can be arranged on a continuum. The continuum of emotion is:

1. Happiness, joy
2. Surprise, amazement.
3. Fear
4. Sadness
5. Anger
6. Disgust, contempt
7. Interest, attractiveness

Two basic dimensions of emotional expression are pleasantness and arousal and people are reasonable judges of emotional states within the categories that these dimensions form. For example, positive emotions such as excitement and happiness are easily distinguished from negative ones such as fear, anger, and disgust. Among the positive emotions such as fear and anger can be distinguished from non arousing ones such as sadness.


In this unit, you have learnt the need for society to function smoothly. You have therefore learnt accurate person perception. In addition, you have learnt cues used to make judgments.


  1. What you have learnt in this unit concerns the need for society to function smoothly. 
  2. You also learnt accurate person perception and cues used to make  judgments: the eye of the beholder, judging personality and recognition of emotions. 
  3. People universally draw on the same highly specific cues for judging emotions. 


  1. Why do we fare rather badly when we attempt to predict future behaviour? 
  2.  State the basis of this inaccuracy. 
  3.  Explain why we are fairly accurate in our perception of emotional states? 


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