Two Questions Everyone Asks When They Meet You

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Are you warm-hearted and/or competent? People make their judgements almost instantly.

When a person meets you for the first time they ask themselves two questions. The answers to these two questions will have all sorts of knock-on effects for how they think about you and how they behave towards you.

Professor Susan Fiske of Princeton University has shown that all social judgements can be boiled down to these two dimensions (Fiske et al., 2007):

  1. How warm is this person? The idea of warmth includes things like trustworthiness, friendliness, helpfulness, sociability and so on. Initial warmth judgements are made within a few seconds of meeting you.
  2. How competent is this person? Competency judgements take longer to form and include things like intelligence, creativity, perceived ability and so on.

Susan Fiske’s research has looked at different cultures, times and types of social judgements, but these two concepts come up again and again in slightly different guises. Not only do we make these judgements about other people, but we frame their behaviour using these two questions; we ask ourselves whether it was friendly, moral, sincere, clever etc..

The primacy of warmth and competence may reflect evolved, instinctual reactions to these two questions about others:

  1. Friend or foe? Is this person going to hurt me or help me?
  2. Capable of hurting or helping? Can this person help me if they’re friendly or hurt me if they’re not?

How warm and competent do other people find you? According to new research by Carlson et al. (2011) you probably know quite well how other people view you.

Image credit: Marco Bellucci



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About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 22 September 2011

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