The unique contributions of perceiver and target characteristics in person perception

Eric Hehman, Clare AM Sutherland, Jessica K Flake, Michael L Slepian

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128 Citations (Scopus)
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Models of person perception have long asserted that our impressions of others are guided by characteristics of both the target and perceiver. However, research has not yet quantified to what extent perceivers and targets contribute to different impressions. This quantification is theoretically critical, as it addresses how much an impression arises from "our minds" versus "others' faces." Here, we apply cross-classified random effects models to address this fundamental question in social cognition, using approximately 700,000 ratings of faces. With this approach, we demonstrate that (a) different trait impressions have unique causal processes, meaning that some impressions are largely informed by perceiver-level characteristics whereas others are driven more by physical target-level characteristics; (b) modeling of perceiver- and target-variance in impressions informs fundamental models of social perception; (c) Perceiver × Target interactions explain a substantial portion of variance in impressions; (d) greater emotional intensity in stimuli decreases the influence of the perceiver; and (e) more variable, naturalistic stimuli increases variation across perceivers. Important overarching patterns emerged. Broadly, traits and dimensions representing inferences of character (e.g., dominance) are driven more by perceiver characteristics than those representing appearance-based appraisals (e.g., youthful-attractiveness). Moreover, inferences made of more ambiguous traits (e.g., creative) or displays (e.g., faces with less extreme emotions, less-controlled stimuli) are similarly driven more by perceiver than target characteristics. Together, results highlight the large role that perceiver and target variability play in trait impressions, and develop a new topography of trait impressions that considers the source of the impression. (PsycINFO Database Record

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)513-529
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number4
Early online date8 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

This research was partially supported by a SSHRC Institutional Grant and SSHRC
Insight Development Grant (430-2016-00094) to EH and postdoctoral research support from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, University of Western Australia (CE110001021) and an Australian Research Council Discovery Project Grant (DP170104602) to CS.


  • impression formation
  • person perception
  • face perception
  • multilevel modeling


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