I was reading a very interesting article in the Harvard Magazine by Craig Lambert on the work of Amy Cuddy titled The Psyche on Automatic The Psyche On Automatic
Her work involves how people come to perceive others, and what actions they are likely to take based on those perceptions. As times get more difficult, and margin for error can get to be very small on the personal level, I think it would do many people well to learn more about these human tendencies.
The two traits are judged differently. A single negative example of competence will not change someone’s overall estimation of you. But a single example of cruelty or rudeness will very quickly strike you down in the warmth category. In general this is because people can fake friendliness to a degree, but it is very hard to fake competence.
And of course it gets even more muddled. People do a lot of their judging based on stereo types. We link to cues about race, and gender, age, etc. And oddly enough we stereotypically view competence and warmth as being inversely proportional. So if someone is very friendly, they will often be viewed as less competent. “If he were really that good, he wouldn’t have to be so nice to people”.
As Ms. Cuddy noted, warmth will get you further than competence. If you are viewed as warm and incompetent, you will be pitied. But if you are cold and competent, you will be envied.
A really dangerous group to be in is an envied group who does not have the power to protect itself. Groups that have been targeted for genocide in the past have often been fit into this stereotype. So in a chaotic situation were rules are breaking down, you do not want to be seen as unfriendly or the larger group will come after you. You also may want to avoid placing yourself within a group with cold or incompetent reputations. So you may want to tone down that overly hostile battle gear you wear around.
Though snap judgments get no respect, they are not so much a bad habit as a fact of life. Our first impressions register far too quickly for any nuanced weighing of data: “Within less than a second, using facial features, people make what are called ‘spontaneous trait inferences,’” says Amy Cuddy.Social psychologist Cuddy, an assistant professor of business administration, investigates how people perceive and categorize others. Warmth and competence, she finds, are the two critical variables. They account for about 80 percent of our overall evaluations of people (i.e., Do you feel good or bad about this person?), and shape our emotions and behaviors toward them. Her warmth/competence analysis illuminates why we hire Kurt instead of Kyra, how students choose study partners, who gets targeted for sexual harassment, and how the “motherhood penalty” and “fatherhood bonus” exert their biases in the workplace. It even suggests why we admire, envy, or disparage certain social groups, elect politicians, or target minorities for genocide.Warmth—does this person feel warm or cold to me?—is the first and most important interpersonal perception. It no doubt has roots in survival instincts: determining if another human, or indeed any organism, is “friend or foe” can mean life or death.Competence is assayed next: how capable is someone of carrying out those intentions? “If it’s an enemy who’s competent,” Cuddy explains, “we probably want to be vigilant.” Surprisingly, in their self-perceptions, individuals value competence over warmth. “We want other people to be warm, but we want to be competent,” she says. “We’d rather have people respect us than like us.” (Cuddy thinks this human tendency represents a mistaken judgment: “Social connections will take you farther than respect.”)