David A. Kenny
May 10, 2016

Acquaintance has both quantitative and qualitative aspects.  Spending more time with a person reflects the quantitative aspect whereas feeling close to someone reflects the qualitative aspect.  The two aspects are highly correlated, but we know of instances in which we spend a great deal of time with someone yet we do not feel acquainted.  In my research, I have primarily studied quantitative acquaintance.

Perhaps the lowest level of acquaintance is what has been called zero acquaintance. It is the condition in which a perceiver observes a target, but the perceiver does not interact with the target.  Zero acquaintance provides a reasonable baseline to evaluate the effect of acquaintance on person perception. Several of the subsequent pages report on studies at zero acquaintance.  ( To learn about research on zero acquaintance.)

Research has also focused on what is called thin slices, which has nothing to do with pizza. The idea of a thin slice is that a perceiver views a little bit of the target's behavior. This slice research was pioneered by the late Nalani Ambady.

Interactions can be structured in one of two ways. Interactions are either one-on-one versus group and in a controlled versus uncontrolled setting. Interactions with others in the laboratory may be brief, lasting a few minutes to a few hours. However, most studies of interpersonal perception take place in relatively uncontrolled settings: classrooms and residential settings. Some studies of interpersonal perception vary on how long the perceivers have known the target.

Most of my past research has treated acquaintance in a quantitative way. The PERSON model (the successor to WAM) that I have developed view acquaintance in that way.  I am currently examining it in a more qualitative way.

Most research in interpersonal perception examines the perception of personality as opposed to the judgments that are made of moods, opinions, and beliefs, or the thoughts that others are having. When individuals are asked to describe others, a bulk of their description can be viewed as a trait judgments. So most studies of interpersonal perception focus on trait ratings: For example, how intelligent, on a seven-point scale, is Lady Gaga?

The Big Five is a convenient way for organizing personality traits.  The Big Five factors with examples are:

    Extroversion: sociable, energetic, active
    Agreeableness: warm, nice, pleasant
    Conscientiousness: helpful, hard-working, obedient
    Emotional Stability: stable, relaxed, independent
    Culture: intelligent, imaginative, polished

In some formulations of the Big Five (see especially the NEO of Costa and McCrae), the last factor is called Openness.  Although the Big Five provides a close approximation of personality in non-Western cultures, there is evidence that additional factors are needed.  (To learn more about the Big Five).  I have no strong commitment to the Big Five as the one and only way to organize personality.  I use it because it provides a way for sorting personality traits into a manageable number of categories.

As an example of the Big Five, how would you rate Homer Simpson?  On a 1-10 scale, here are my ratings:

    Extroversion: 9
    Agreeableness: 7
    Conscientiousness: 2
    Emotional Stability: 7
    Culture: intelligent, -55 (OK, 1)

Among applied psychologists, the Myers-Briggs scale is very popular.  Here is how the Myers-Briggs lines up in terms of the Big Five.

    Extroversion: Extroversion vs. Introversion
    Agreeableness: Feeling vs. Thinking
    Conscientiousness: Judging vs. Perceiving
    Emotional Stability: no scale
    Culture: Sensing vs. Intuition

Chapter 1 of Interpersonal Perception: A Social Relations Analysis

Go to the next Interpersonal Perception page.

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