People Evaluate You Differently Than You Think They Do

You probably tell people too much about yourself when you want impress them.

Posted Jan 05, 2018

Basimmiller CC0 Commons via Pixabay
Source: Basimmiller CC0 Commons via Pixabay

There are many situations in which you have to decide how to present information about yourself that other people will evaluate.  When you apply for jobs, for example, your resume is your best snapshot of who you are and why you should be hired for a position. 

Ideally, you would have a good sense of how other people are going to evaluate information about you and then tailor what you present to make yourself look best (without lying, of course).  How good are you at predicting the way other people evaluate information about you?

Insight into this question comes from a paper by Kimberlee Weaver, Stephen Garcia, and Norbert Schwarz in a 2012 paper in the Journal of Consumer Research

They point out that there are two ways to evaluate anything—a person, an object, or an experience.  The description of any thing is made up of some set of qualities or attributes that are combined in some way to create an overall evaluation. 

One strategy is additive in which the goodness or badness of each attribute is added together to create an evaluation.  If you use the additive strategy, then each positive characteristic you add about yourself on your resume makes your resume better.

A second strategy involves averaging.  With this strategy, adding any new attribute that is below average drags down the overall evaluation.  So, it is possible to add something mildly positive about yourself to a resume and bring down the average.

The authors of this paper suggest that there is a presenter’s paradox, in which people constructing descriptions use an additive strategy, but evaluators use an averaging strategy.  That is, when you construct a description, you add anything that is positive.  But, evaluators will actually downgrade descriptions that have some attributes that are only mildly positive.

The studies in this paper focus on products of different kinds. 

For example, in one study, one group (the presenters) were asked to develop the packaging text for an mp3 player.  They could choose between showing the memory size of the mp3 player or the mp3 player plus a coupon for one free download of a song.  The memory size of the mp3 player was very attractive.  One free download is not so attractive, though it is positive.  Over 90% of the participants chose the description that included the free download.

A second group (the evaluators) were shown either the description that had just the memory size or both the memory size and the free download and were asked how much they would be willing to pay for the player. Participants shown the description that only had the memory size were willing to pay more (suggesting that the mp3 player was more attractive) than those who were shown the description that also included the free download.

So, presenters were adding information to the description that they felt would make the product more attractive, but that actually decreased its perceived value.

The researchers obtained a similar finding with other products and even judgments of the severity of punishments rather than the attractiveness of products.

This presenter’s paradox can be eliminated.  In a second batch of studies, all participants (both presenters and evaluators) were either encouraged to evaluate each option attribute-by-attribute or to form a holistic impression.  The attribute-by-attribute evaluation encouraged an additive strategy.  The holistic evaluation encouraged an averaging strategy. In these studies, when participants were encouraged to use similar strategies, they evaluated the products similarly. 

This set of studies suggests that when you are presenting yourself to others, you will be inclined to include any positive characteristic of yourself that you can think of.  Instead, remember that people are forming an overall impression of you.  As a result, they are not adding together the sum total of goodness of what you do.  Instead, they are averaging together your strengths.  So, focus your presentation on the best of what you have to offer.

References

Weaver, K., Garcia, S.M., & Schwarz, N. (2012). The presenter's paradox. Journal of Consumer Research, 39, 445-460.