Thursday, July 14, 2005

Making Snap Judgements

Being able to quickly “size-up” a person is one of the toughest skills in business. The ability to quickly access the personality and intent of a person is a skill so important that almost every successful executive will tell you that reading body language and facial expressions is a critical skill.

The FBI teaches this all-important skill, and cameras are now used in airports, hooked to software that analyzes facial expressions of passengers:

“In an attempt to prevent terrorists from boarding commercial planes, scientists are developing a device that can detect and record facial expressions that show fear and other emotions.”

But it’s not just the F.B.I. and law enforcement who need to make snap jusgements. . .

Remember the scene in the Thomas Harris book “Silence of the Lambs” where Hannibal Lecter makes eerily accurate snap judgments about Clarice Starling? Hannibal the Cannibal has become one of the most frightening characterizations of evil, primarily because of his high intellect and his uncanny ability to quickly access the personality of strangers.

In one memorable scene, Hannibal (Anthony Hopkins) makes an eerie assessment of Clarice Starling (played in the movie by Jody Foster):

“You're so-o ambitious, aren't you? You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube. A well-scrubbed, hustling rube, with a little taste.

Good nutrition's given you some length of bone, but you're not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you, Agent Starling? And that accent you've tried so desperately to shed - pure West Virginia. What does your father do? Is he a coal miner? Does he stink of the lamp?
You know how quickly the boys found you. All those tedious, sticky fumblings in the back seats of cars, while you could only dream of getting out. Getting anywhere, getting all the way to the F...B...I.”

Personality Assessment Tests

Mental health professionals are trained at person assessment, and a well-trainer personality evaluator can often seem frightening and magical. The Minnesota Multiphasic personality Inventory MMPI test is a set of 500 true/false questions that accesses personality with remarkable validity, and it's results are accepted in all U.S. courts.

For example, your preference to take showers vs. baths is an extremely reliable measure of self-esteem, and other scales such as the "Mach" scale that measures how manipulative you are (based on the bestselling book "The Prince" by Machiavelli. Here is an excellent overview of the MMPI scales and how they access your personality with eerie accuracy.

Liar, Liar. . .

Formally, a snap judgment is call a “Cold Reading”, and you can infer amazing things about people with simple observation skills. Scientists have now taken-up and formalized this skill and confirmed that facial expressions can be reliably interpreted to tell when someone is lying, and noted that most people don’t have this skill:

“People don't seem to be very good at spotting deception signals. On average, over hundreds of laboratory studies, participants distinguish correctly between truths and lies only about 55 percent of the time.”

For more details, check-out my articles on these important topics: