Business Acumen Didn’t Help The Missing Link

First caveat, this research was all done before the dawn of the reproducibility movement, so take all of this with a grain of salt. Some day hopefully all discussion of science requires considering this. Anyway, onto the show.

There seems to be this common finding in psychology literature: people make accurate snap judgments about certain social qualities of others.

The term thin slice comes from a frequently cited article by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal, in which subjects evaluated thirty-second silent video clips of instructors teaching a class.’ Subsequent analysis found that these brief evaluations predicted the instructors’ end-of-semester student ratings. Their work built on earlier research that found a similar predictive power in job interviews,’ where the first impressions were critical for the eventual hiring decision.

You know, trust your gut and all that. Here’s some more of the same theme:

Judgments made after a 100-ms exposure correlated highly with judgments made in the absence of time constraints, suggesting that this exposure time was sufficient for participants to form an impression.

Great. So here’s my question: why the hell is it so hard to figure out whether a job candidate will be any good? Consider the findings of employment-related thin-slice research: it can predict whether the person is hired or not. It cannot predict if the person will be any good on the job. Here’s a quote from this paper:

DeGroot and Motowidlo (1999) found that actual performance ratings of managers in a news-publishing company were associated with naive raters’ judgments. Ratings of 10-second clips of interviews of 22 managers on liking, trust, competence, dominance, persuasiveness, influence and willingness to help the manager, when combined into a composite, were significantly positively correlated with job performance ratings by their supervisors.

In contrast, a study on the vocal characteristics of direct salespeople found a relation between certain microtraits and actual sales performance, but no relation between thin-slice trait judgments and actual sales performance (Peterson, Cannito & Brown, 1995). Twenty-one direct salespeople gave audiotaped, scripted sales-pitch introductions, which were five sentences and 64 words long. Speaking rate, average pause duration, loudness, variability and fundamental frequency (the vibration rate of the vocal folds in the throat) were measured and a sample of housewives who were representative of the target audience, rated the salespeople on questions related to the salespeople’s personality characteristics and rated their own receptivity toward the salespeople. The housewives were able to detect difference in speaking rates, but this was not related to differences in their perceptions of the salespeople. In addition, the housewives judgments of attitude and receptivity were not correlated with sales performance.

What can we learn from all this? Why don’t we have a basic intuition for business ability? It seems that business skills are simply not something that mattered in the evolutionary crucible. Idle speculation here but maybe things like social status and dominance are good things to snap judge because they help avoid costly conflict.

Business, though? Cro-Mangon man says: “Meh”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s