Jacquie D. Vorauer
University of Manitoba
The Other Side of the Story: Transparency Estimation in Social Interaction
A well-known proverb advises individuals against “judging a book by its cover” when they are evaluating other people. It is clear, however, that this wisdom is often not put into practice. Decades of research on the correspondence bias (Jones, 1979) reveal that individuals are quite ready to jump to conclusions about others on the basis of limited or superficial information. Perceivers tend to infer that behavior on the surface reflects the person underneath even when this inference is unwarranted, as is the case when behavior is highly constrained by the situation (for a review, see Krull, chap. 13, this volume).
The present chapter focuses on a complementary phenomenon that has received less attention from researchers and theorists, whereby (to twist the metaphor) individuals tend to “feel like an open book” when considering the judgments that others form of them. My colleagues and I use the term transparency overestimation to describe the case where people exaggerate the extent to which their true self has been revealed to an audience via their behavior—that is, where they perceive that their self has come to the surface although it has not (Vorauer & Claude, 1998; Vorauer & Ross, 1999). For example, individuals may overestimate how easy it is for someone else to tell that they hold tolerant racial attitudes.
The correspondence bias and transparency overestimation represent two sides of the same coin, in that the former reflects what people infer from an individual's behavior and the latter reflects what that individual expects people to infer from it. Each of these biases represents a failure to appreciate how the actor's behavior may be nonrepresentative of his or her self—either because only a small sample of actions and remarks is under consideration or because the situation somehow led the actor to behave in an uncharacteristic manner. 1 Both of these phenomena involve seeing behavior as full of meaning about the actor. However, for the observer the meaning that is attached to behavior is guided by the nature of the behavior, whereas for the actor the meaning attached to behavior is guided by his or her general self-knowledge. Thus, each person may hold a confident but conflicting perception of the information that the actor has conveyed.
Much of the research that has been conducted to date on social perception has focused on individuals' impressions of other people. Even a brief review of this literature illustrates that there are a variety of ways in which individuals tend to be less than even-handed when making judgments about others. Consider, for example, research demonstrating primacy effects in impression formation (e.g., Asch, 1946), stereotyping (e.g., Kunda & Sherman-Williams, 1993), victim derogation (Lerner & Simmons, 1966), the group-serving bias or ultimate attribution error (Hewstone, 1990; Hewstone & Ward, 1985; Pettigrew, 1979; Sande, Goethals, Ferrari, & Worth, 1989), mirror-image perceptions (Bronfenbrenner, 1961), and many others.
Among all of these effects, the correspondence bias stands out as one of the most well-known and widely studied. Individuals' tendency to form impressions congruent with a target's behavior despite clear situational constraints on that behavior has proved to be a robust phenomenon across a range of interaction contexts. For example, individuals will draw conclusions about a target's attitudes from an essay he or she wrote, although the position adopted was assigned by the experimenter (Jones & Harris, 1967). Similarly, individuals will form impressions of a target's true warmth and friendliness from his or her behavior even when they are told that the experimenter instructed the target to act in a particular way (Napolitan & Goethals, 1979). Perceivers do no better at correcting for the influence of social roles than they do at correcting for lack of choice: They tend to make inferences about a target's knowledgeability and leadership qualities that are insensitive to the advantages or disadvantages conferred by the role he or she currently occupies (Humphrey, 1985; Ross, Amabile,