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Strangers’ personality traits can be accurately judged from small samples of behavior

Press release: "Judging personality from a brief sample of behavior: Detecting where others stand on trait continua"

A recent study by Dr. Wenjie Wu and colleagues investigated the extent to which people are capable of making accurate judgments of the personality traits of strangers based on limited information. The researchers examined this in three studies, in which people viewed or heard short film clips of strangers and were then asked to rate them as either low, middle, or high on each of the Big Five personality traits (i.e., Neuroticism, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness). The results show that people are generally quite accurate in making their judgments of other people’s personalities, especially when their actual scores on a personality test are either very low or very high. This pattern of findings suggest that people tend to judge others as average, unless their behavior suggests otherwise. This seems to be a strategy that is quite effective, because most people pretty much fall somewhere in the middle.

The results of this study were published in the November/December issue of the European Journal of Personality.

In their research, Dr. Wu and colleagues showed a series of short clips of a stranger either telling a joke, having a conversation, or reading aloud a paragraph of promotional material to Malaysian participants. Their results showed that perceivers were not only quite accurate in judging the personalities of people who score on the extreme ends of each personality trait, they were also able to do so based on very little information. Participants that heard only the audio track of the film clips did equally well as those that watched film clips with sound. The researchers replicated these findings in a third study of British participants.

The current study shows that people are quite effective in judging the personality of other people, especially when targets deviate from average. Moreover, it appears they need very little information to make such judgments; even just hearing an audio recording of someone may be enough. The authors suggest that the higher accuracy in the extreme scores may be attributed to a strategy that judged individuals as “average-until-proven-otherwise”, which is effective because most people do fall into this category. What’s more, when judgments of personality extremity are made they are often correct, as these people tend to stand out from the crowd.

Correspondence about this research may be addressed to the lead author, Dr. Wenjie Wu, School of Education, Lingnam Normal University, Cunjin Road No. 29, Chikan District, Zhanjiang 524048, China. Dr. Wu can be contacted via email on The article can be accessed here.

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