"In his best selling book ‘The No Asshole Rule’ Robert Sutton, a professor at Stanford University, has a lot to say on the topic of, well, assholes in the workplace. The book is erudite and amusing in equal measures and well worth reading especially for the final chapter where Sutton examines the advantages of being an asshole. He cites work by Teresa Amabile, who did a series of controlled experiments using fictitious book reviews. While the reviews themselves essentially made the same observations about the books, the tone in which the reviewers expressed their observations was tweaked to be either nice or nasty. What Amabile found was:
… negative or unkind people were seen as less likeable but more intelligent, competent and expert than those who expressed the the same messages in gentler ways"
"Amanda Knox was convicted of murder and her reputation sullied around the world, in large part because of her facial expressions and demeanour. Her story reveals how our instincts about others can be dangerously superficial, writes Ian Leslie"
In 2008 a group of Norwegian researchers ran an experiment to better understand how police investigators come to a judgment about the credibility of rape claims. Sixty-nine investigators were played video-recorded versions of a rape victim's statement, with the role of victim played by an actress. The wording of the statement in each version was exactly the same, but the actress delivered it with varying degrees of emotion. The investigators, who prided themselves on their objectivity, turned out to be heavily influenced in their judgments by assumptions about the victim's demeanour: she was judged most credible when crying or showing despair.
In reality, rape victims react in the immediate aftermath of the event in a variety of ways: some are visibly upset; others are subdued and undemonstrative. There is, unsurprisingly, no universal reaction to being raped. The detectives were relying on their instincts, and their instincts turned out to be constructed from inherited and unreliable notions about women in distress.
Emily Pronin, a psychologist at Princeton University, points out that there is a fundamental asymmetry about the way two human beings relate to one another in person. When you meet someone, there are at least two things more prominent in your mind than in theirs – your thoughts, and their face. As a result we tend to judge others on what we see, and ourselves by what we feel. Pronin calls this "the illusion of asymmetric insight".
Studies have found that people over-estimate how much they can learn from others in job interviews, while at the same time maintaining that others can only get a glimpse of them from such brief encounters. The model we seem to work with is something like this: I am infinitely subtle, complex and never quite what I seem; you are predictable and straightforward, an open book.
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