Bias and Accuracy in Interpersonal Perceptions

shutterstock_151809131People’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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Relevant Publications:

Chang, V.T., & Overall, N.C. (in press). Biased memories contribute to the links between stress and depressive symptoms. Emotion.

Hockey, A., Donovan, C., Overall, N.C., & Barlow, F. K. (online advance). Body image projection bias in heterosexual romantic relationships: A dyadic investigation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. doi.org/10.1177/01461672211025202

Cross, E.J., Overall, N.C., Low, R.S.T., & Henderson, A.M.E. (2021). Relationship problems, agreement and bias in perceptions of partners’ parental responsiveness, and family functioning. Journal of Family Psychology, 35(4), 510–522. doi.org/10.1037/fam0000812

Hammond, M.D. & Overall, N.C. (2020). Men’s hostile sexism and biased perceptions of partners’ support: Underestimating dependability rather than overestimating challenges to dominance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 46, 1491-1506. doi.org/10.1177/0146167220907475

Overall, N.C., Clark, M.S., Fletcher, G.J.O., Peters, B.J., & Chang, V.T. (2020). Does expressing emotions enhance perceptual accuracy of negative emotions during relationship interactions? Emotion, 20, 353-367. doi.org/10.1037/emo0000653

Peters, B.J., & Overall, N.C. (2020). Perceptions of romantic partners’ emotional suppression are more biased than accurate. Emotion, 20, 1485-1489. doi.org/10.1037/emo0000679

Cross, E.J., Overall, N.C., Low, R.S.T., & McNulty, J.K. (2019). An interdependence account of sexism and power: Men’s hostile sexism, biased perceptions of low power, and relationship aggression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 117, 338-363. doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000167

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. doi.org/10.1037/emo0000405

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.org/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.org/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.org/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.org/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.org/10.1111/j.1350-4126.2005.00102.x Download PDF

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