Causes and Consequences of Accuracy

The primary research focus of the McGill SIP lab is to understand the causes and consequences of accurate interpersonal impressions.  What psychological, social, and biological factors promote the formation of accurate impressions? And what are the psychological, social, and biological consequences of accurate impressions?

Our lab examines the roles of the perceiver, target, and dyad in each of these processes. Our work also typically examines the role of biases, such as positivity  and assumed similarity, alongside accuracy. Our primary focus is on initial, getting-acquainted social interactions but we also examine the role of impressions within close relationships. Read on to learn more.



What psychological characteristics of perceivers and targets affect how accurately they see and are seen by others? Our research has focused on the role of psychological well-being or adjustment. For example, although well-adjusted individuals have a greater understanding of what people generally tend be like, they are not necessarily better judges of others’ unique characteristics (Human & Biesanz, 2011a). In fact, there are very small differences between people in their ability to accurately understand others’ unique characteristics, and instead,  target characteristics may play a more consequential role in how accurate impressions are (for review see Human & Biesanz, 2013).

One major characteristic of targets that predicts how accurately they are perceived is psychological adjustment: well-adjusted individuals’ unique personality traits tend to be more easily understood, after just several minutes of interacting (Human & Biesanz, 2011b). This appears to primarily be because well-adjusted individuals have more coherent, consistent personalities and therefore behave more in line with their true personality traits than less adjusted individuals (Human, Biesanz, Finseth, Pierce, & Le, 2014).


The lab also explores the role of social factors in impression formation, such as social goals and interpersonal appeal. For example, perceivers who are motivated to be accurate do indeed form more accurate impressions of others’ personalities (Biesanz & Human, 2010), while targets who are motivated to be seen positively are seen both more positively and more accurately (Human, Biesanz, Parisotto, & Dunn, 2012). Interpersonal attraction also promotes accuracy: the more a perceiver likes a person (Human & Biesanz, 2011a; Human, Sandstrom, Biesanz, & Dunn, 2013) and the more attractive they view a person (Lorenzo, Biesanz, & Human, 2010), the more accurately they tend to perceive that person. The elicitation of greater perceiver attention likely plays a key role linking each of these social factors to greater accuracy (e.g., Human, Biesanz, Parisotto, & Dunn, 2012).


One current focus in the lab is on the role of biological processes in influence interpersonal impressions. For example, how do biological processes associated with social engagement, such as the hormone oxytocin and cardiac vagal tone, relate to how accurately individuals see and are seen by others?



Just as interpersonal appeal may promote accuracy, the formation of accurate impressions may also carry positive social consequences. Indeed, the more accurately a perceiver views a person with they first meet, the more they come to like and interact with that person over time (Human, Sandstrom, Biesanz, & Dunn, 2013). A major current focus of the lab is on further examining the social consequences of accuracy and bias in both longitudinal and experimental studies.


Another major area of the lab’s ongoing research is to examine whether accuracy affects physiological processes that may have downstream implications for health. In a first look at this question, we have found that adolescents whose daily stressors are seen more accurately by their parents demonstrate better inflammatory regulation (Human, Chan, DeLongis, Roy, Miller, & Chen, 2014). We are currently examining how the accuracy of first impressions relates to cardiovascular responses to stress.

Personality Coherence

Another line of research in the lab examines examines the implications of personality coherence vs. variability across time and situations. Our research has found that personality change over time may have negative health implications, as greater change is associated with a greater prevalence of the metabolic syndrome among middle-aged adults (Human, Biesanz, Miller, Chen, Lachman, & Seeman, 2013). Similarly, greater variability in positive affect is associated with less favorable cortisol daily profiles, such as flatter slopes (Human, Whillans, Hoppmann, Klumb, Dickerson, & Dunn, 2015). At the same time, however, very low levels of variability can also be maladaptive (Human et al., 2015).

The lab’s focus on intraindividual stability is also connected to our research on accuracy – one of the primary routes through which some people are more accurately understood may be through their greater consistency over time and across situations (e.g., Human & Biesanz, 2013; Human, Biesanz, Finseth, Pierce, & Le, 2014). We are currently examining experience sampling data that will enable an examination of whether greater personality coherence in daily life explains the associations between psychological adjustment and accuracy.