Raters were again very consistent in their judgments: If one rater perceived a stick-figure walker as male or attractive, it was very likely that the other raters did. For some physical characteristics (e.g., gender) raters were both consistent and also fairly accurate, but for others (e.g., age), raters agreed with each other but were not correct in their assessments. Regardless of the accuracy of these judgments, the assessments of physical characteristics like gender and attractiveness reliably predicted the perceived personality traits for each stick-figure walker. For example, walkers perceived as masculine were also perceived as emotionally stable, those perceived as attractive were also considered approachable, and those perceived as calm were also viewed as warm.
The findings suggest that in the absence of good information, viewers glean what they can from a situation and use that information to form impressions about personality traits. Even though trait judgments that are derived from minimal detail (like gait) are likely to be wrong, there is an odd consistency in those errant judgments. People seem to rely on common factors when forming impressions, and reach similar, albeit inaccurate, conclusions when information is scarce.
Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe. He can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas.