Hostname: page-component-797576ffbb-jhnrh Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-12-03T04:40:15.729Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

An evolutionary approach to accuracy in social perception

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 March 2017

Anthony C. Little*
Department of Psychology, University of Bath, Bath FK9 4LA, United Kingdom.


An evolutionary approach highlights that accuracy should be expected over error because selection pressures will have shaped social perception to be functional. Behaviour is extremely complex and so it is unlikely that observers will be perfectly accurate, but an evolutionary view strongly predicts that people will behave as rational observers and in many cases social perception should favour adaptive responses.

Open Peer Commentary
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Albright, L., Kenny, D. A. & Malloy, T. E. (1988) Consensus in personality judgments at zero acquaintance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 55(3):387–95.Google Scholar
Apicella, C. L., Dreber, A., Campbell, B., Gray, P. B., Hoffman, M. & Little, A. C. (2008) Testosterone and financial risk preferences. Evolution and Human Behavior 29(6):384–90.Google Scholar
Bergman, T. J., Ho, L. & Beehner, J. C. (2009) Chest color and social status in male geladas (Theropithecus gelada). International Journal of Primatology 30(6):791806. Available at: Google Scholar
Bond, C. F., Berry, D. S. & Omar, A. (1994) The kernal of truth in judgements of deceptiveness. Basic and Applied Social Psychology 15:523–34.Google Scholar
Boothroyd, L. G., Jones, B. C., Burt, D. M., DeBruine, L. M. & Perrett, D. I. (2008) Facial correlates of sociosexuality. Evolution and Human Behavior 29(3):211–18. Available at: Google Scholar
Carre, J. M. & McCormick, C. M. (2008) In your face: Facial metrics predict aggressive behaviour in the laboratory and in varsity and professional hockey players. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 275(1651):2651–56.Google Scholar
Carre, J. M., McCormick, C. M. & Mondloch, C. J. (2009) Facial structure is a reliable cue of aggressive behavior. Psychological Science 20(10):1194–98.Google Scholar
Carre, J. M., Morrissey, M. D., Mondloch, C. J. & McCormick, C. M. (2010) Estimating aggression from emotionally neutral faces: Which facial cues are diagnostic? Perception 39(3):356–77. Available at: Google Scholar
Dreber, A., Gerdes, C., Graensmark, P. & Little, A. C. (2013) Facial masculinity predicts risk and time preferences in expert chess players. Applied Economics Letters 20(16):1477–80. Available at: Google Scholar
Enquist, M. & Leimar, O. (1983) Evolution of fighting behaviour: Decision rules and assessment of relative strength. Journal of Theoretical Biology 102:387410.Google Scholar
Fink, B., Neave, N. & Seydel, H. (2007) Male facial appearance signals physical strength to women. American Journal of Human Biology 19(1):8287.Google Scholar
Gibson, J. J. (1979) The ecological approach to visual perception. Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
Gosling, L. M., Atkinson, N. W., Dunn, S. & Collins, S. A. (1996) The response of subordinate male mice to scent marks varies in relation to their own competitive ability. Animal Behaviour 52:1185–91. Available at: Google Scholar
Gosling, S. D., Ko, S. J., Mannarelli, T. & Morris, M. E. (2002) A room with a cue: Personality judgments based on offices and bedrooms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 82(3):379–98.Google Scholar
Haselton, M. G. (2003) The sexual overperception bias: Evidence of a systematic bias in men from a survey of naturally occurring events. Journal of Research in Personality 37(1):3447.Google Scholar
Haselton, M. G. & Buss, D. M. (2000) Error management theory: A new perspective on biases in cross-sex mind reading. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 78(1):8191.Google Scholar
Hazlett, B. A. (1996) Assessments during shell exchanges by the hermit crab Clibanarius vittatus: The complete negotiator. Animal Behaviour 51:567–73. Available at: Google Scholar
Jussim, L. (2012) Social perception and social reality: Why accuracy dominates bias and self-fulfilling prophecy. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Kenny, D. A., Albright, L., Malloy, T. E. & Kashy, D. A. (1994) Consensus in interpersonal perception: Acquaintance and the big five. Psychological Bulletin 116:245–58.Google Scholar
Krebs, J. R. & Dawkins, R. (1984) Animal signals: Mind reading and manipulation. In: Behavioural ecology: An evolutionary approach, 2nd edition, ed. Krebs, J. R. & Davies, N. B., pp. 380402. Blackwell Scientific.Google Scholar
Lefevre, C. E., Lewis, G. J., Perrett, D. I. & Penke, L. (2013) Telling facial metrics: Facial width is associated with testosterone levels in men. Evolution and Human Behavior 34(4):273–79. Available at: Google Scholar
Little, A. C., Jones, B. C., DeBruine, L. M. & Dunbar, R. I. M. (2013) Accuracy in discrimination of self-reported cooperators using static facial information. Personality and Individual Differences 54(4):507–12. Available at: Google Scholar
Little, A. C., McPherson, J., Dennington, L. & Jones, B. C. (2011) Accuracy in assessment of self-reported stress and a measure of health from static facial information. Personality and Individual Differences 51(6):693–98. Available at: Google Scholar
Little, A. C. & Perrett, D. I. (2007) Using composite images to assess accuracy in personality attribution to faces. British Journal of Psychology 98:111–26.Google Scholar
Little, A. C., Trebicky, V., Havlicek, J., Roberts, S. C. & Kleisner, K. (2015) Human perception of fighting ability: Facial cues predict winners and losers in mixed martial arts fights. Behavioural Ecology 26:1470–75..Google Scholar
Mazur, A. & Booth, A. (1998) Testosterone and dominance in men. Behavioural and Brain Sciences 21:353–71.Google Scholar
Mileva, V. R., Cowan, M. L., Cobey, K. D., Knowles, K. K. & Little, A. C. (2014) In the face of dominance: Self-perceived and other-perceived dominance are positively associated with facial-width-to-height ratio in men. Personality and Individual Differences 69:115–18. Available at: Google Scholar
Parker, G. A. (1974) Assessment strategy and evolution of fighting behavior. Journal of Theoretical Biology 47(1):223–43. Available at: Google Scholar
Passini, F. T. & Norman, W. T. (1966) A universal conception of personality structure? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 4:4449.Google Scholar
Penton-Voak, I. S. & Chen, J. Y. (2004) High salivary testosterone is linked to masculine male facial appearance in humans. Evolution and Human Behavior 25:229–41.Google Scholar
Perrett, D. I., Lee, K. J., Penton-Voak, I. S., Rowland, D. R., Yoshikawa, S., Burt, D. M., Henzi, S. P., Castles, D. L. & Akamatsu, S. (1998) Effects of sexual dimorphism on facial attractiveness. Nature 394:884–87. Available at: Google Scholar
Rule, N. O. & Ambady, N. (2010) Democrats and republicans can be differentiated from their faces. PLoS ONE 5(1):e8733. Available at: Google Scholar
Tibbetts, E. A. & Dale, J. (2004) A socially enforced signal of quality in a paper wasp. Nature 432(7014):218–22. Available at: Google Scholar
Trebicky, V., Havlicek, J., Roberts, S. C., Little, A. C. & Kleisner, K. (2013) Perceived aggressiveness predicts fighting performance in mixed-martial-arts fighters. Psychological Science 24(9):1664–72. Available at: Google Scholar
Zebrowitz-McArthur, L. & Baron, R. M. (1983) Toward and ecological approach to social perception. Psychological Review 90:215–38.Google Scholar