Character  &  Context

What Happens When We Evaluate Others?

Image of a gloved hand with a pen writing on an x-ray

In the present climate of divisiveness and inter-group hostility, few attitude objects are as topical as other people. How we evaluate others, especially those from different groups (racial, political, class, etc.), can be consequential for a whole host of outcomes. At this year’s attitudes pre-conference, held a day before the official start of The Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) annual convention, attitudes toward other people was center stage.

Jamie Barden, who studies meta-cognitive processes and social categorization presented a unique collaboration that married attitudes, class differences, and orthodontia. Barden’s work demonstrated the extent to which our perceptions of others are impacted by their teeth.

Across several studies, Barden and his colleagues found that when individuals had aligned teeth (as opposed to crooked or “misaligned” teeth), they were perceived as more competent. Participants were even more likely to want to hire those with aligned teeth in a simulated hiring paradigm. Barden also discussed how, compared to those who have had orthodontic care, we expect those with misaligned teeth to be suited for lower-paying jobs. Barden emphasized the extent to which dental misalignment is wrapped-up in class differences. These findings show the substantial impact orthodontic care can have on people’s lives and how others perceive them.

Erin Cooley, who studies inter-group conflict and discrimination, continued the theme of how individuals perceive those with stigmatized identities, presenting work on attitudes toward Biracial individuals. Cooley discussed how White people typically categorize Black-White Biracial individuals as Black more often than White.

In her work, however, this tendency is exacerbated when Black-White Biracial individuals are in a group of other Black people instead of alone. She found that when presented with a photo of a Black-White Biracial individual that was in a group of other Black individuals, White participants were more likely to categorize them as “Black” than when the Black individual was photographed solo. Importantly, this categorization tendency only seemed to occur when White individuals were afraid of shifting demographics in America. 

Cooley presented additional data on stop-and-frisk, the controversial police practice. She found racial biases in use of force during stop-and-frisk procedures were more pronounced when people were stopped in a group instead of when alone.

On the other side of the coin, Kip Williams, who is widely known for his work on ostracism, discussed the profound impact of being on the receiving end of ostracism or alienation. Williams discussed the many stages of experiencing ostracism, as well as the many ways people attempt to cope with it. Williams discussed how painful the experience of ostracism can be, even among strangers. Williams described his now famous “Ball Tossing Game” paradigm, where a participant is quickly excluded from a game of catch among actors that the participant believes are fellow participants. When the paradigm was first developed, Williams explained that many believed that the paradigm would be unsuccessful, but they have found potent effects from even a small amount of ostracism. Williams concluded on a hopeful note by discussing how even one example of inclusion can be sufficient to reverse some of the negative effects of ostracism.

As evidenced by these talks (as well as many others at the attitudes pre-conference), our evaluations of others can have profound impacts.

Written by Aviva Philipp-Muller
Jamie Barden, Howard University
Jay Van Bavel, New York University
Alison Ledgerwood, University of California, Davis
Erin Cooley, Colgate University
Kip Williams, Purdue University
Jan De Houwer, Ghent University


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Character & Context is the blog of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). With more than 7,500 members, SPSP is the largest organization of social psychologists and personality psychologists in the world.   

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