How we See Others Drives the Value of our Self-Perception

Warmth and Competence

In a paper on Warmth and Competence as Universal Dimensions of Social Perception published with Susan Fiske and Peter Glick, Amy Cuddy presents a framework that synthesizes how individuals and groups perceive a combination of these traits to determine status as they decide whether to collaborate or compete with someone.

We use warmth and competence as human data to decide who to trust because they help us answer two critical live saving questions:

1./ what are another person's intentions?

2./ can they make good on those intentions?

The characteristics of warmth include traits like morality, trustworthiness, sincerity, kindness, and friendliness; those of competence include efficacy, skill, creativity, confidence, and intelligence.

The Cuddy et al schema allows social psychologists to disaggregate the notion of prejudice, which is too often conceived merely as an us vs. them phenomenon — “My in-group is superior to your out-group.” It’s not that simple, says Cuddy, “That [binary] model predicts almost nothing about the treatment of an out-group. Not prejudice, the emotional component, and not discrimination, the behavioral component.”

Because the warmth dimension is primary (due to its perceived link to others’ intentions), perceived warmth predicts active behaviors: groups judged as warm elicit active facilitation (i.e. help), whereas those judged as lacking warmth elicit active harm (i.e. attack).

The competence dimension, being secondary (because it assesses others’ capability to carry out intentions), predicts passive behaviors: groups judged as competent elicit passive facilitation (i.e. obligatory association, convenient cooperation), whereas those judged as lacking competence elicit passive harm (i.e. neglect, ignoring).

In short, distinct types of discrimination follow each warmth-by-competence combination.

Cuddy found that body language affects how others see us —and how we see ourselves. For example, “A lot of what reveals lying happens below the neck,” says Cuddy. “Lying leaks out physically. To come across as authentic, your verbal and nonverbal behavior must be synchronized.”

The link to competence is based on physical dominance. Leaning in is a low dominance pose, for example. Which is why it makes for a bad metaphor if we seek to provide advice to groups that are already facing an uphill battle in perception, for example women.

We also treat people based on our expectations of them. We should be careful of creating the conditions that make the stereotypes we hold a self-fulfilling prophecy. Stereotypes are cognitive shortcuts we use when we have nothing to lose, says Cuddy.

For example, top leaders in organizations don't risk much when they confuse one person for another or see everyone under them as the same. They see themselves as separate from everyone else. The incentives they receive reinforce this perception.

Because the smartest person in the room is often the room itself when we recognize the value of collaboration and connection we are able to get better at creating more. That increases the value of our contribution.