Bias and Accuracy in Interpersonal Perceptions


People’s perceptions of others’ emotions, thoughts and behaviour are critical in determining how people react within interpersonal contexts. However, our perceptions of others are often biased. Our research examines the predictors and consequences of biased perceptions in relationships, and has shown that biased perceptions can have important implications for relationships and psychological wellbeing. For example, people with elevated depressive symptoms tend to underestimate their partner’s commitment and overestimate their partner’s negative behaviour, which leads them to feel more insecure and depressed. Similarly, people who are high in attachment avoidance and distrust their partner’s intentions, judge their partner’s emotions to be more negative than is warranted, and this triggers more hostile behaviour during conflict and daily life. And, men who are scared that women will use men’s relationship needs to manipulate them (i.e., endorse hostile sexism) perceive their female partner’s behaviour to be more negative than is justified, which leads to more aggressive relationship behaviour. This research illustrates the importance of targeting biased perceptions to counteract the destructive impact depression, attachment avoidance and sexist attitudes can have on relationships.

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Some Relevant Publications:

Chang, V.T., Overall, N.C., Madden. H., & Low, R.S.T. (2018). Expressive suppression tendencies, projection bias in memory of negative emotions and wellbeing. Emotion.

Overall, N.C., Fletcher, G.J.O., Simpson, J.A., & Filo, J. (2015). Attachment insecurity, biased perceptions of romantic partners’ negative emotions, and hostile relationship behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 108(5):730-749. DOI:10.1037/a0038987 [Download PDF]

Hammond, M.D., & Overall, N.C. (2013). Men’s hostile sexism and biased perceptions of intimate partners: Fostering dissatisfaction and negative behavior in close relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 1585-1599. DOI: 10.1177/0146167213499026  [Download PDF]

Overall, N.C. & Hammond, M.D. (2013). Biased and accurate: Depressive symptoms and daily perceptions within intimate relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 636-650. DOI: 10.1177/0146167213480188 [Download PDF]

Overall, N.C., Fletcher, G.J.O., & Kenny, D.A. (2012). When bias and insecurity promote accuracy: Mean-level bias and tracking accuracy in couples’ conflict discussions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 642-655. DOI: 10.1177/0146167211432764  [Download PDF]

Friesen, M.D., Fletcher, G.J.O., & Overall, N.C. (2005). A dyadic assessment of forgiveness in intimate relationships. Personal Relationships, 21, 61-77. DOI:10.1111/j.1350-4126.2005.00102.x [Download PDF]

Watch this space … we have many more studies that will soon be published examining the predictors and consequences of biased perceptions.

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