Interpersonal Perception: Meta-accuracy (David A. Kenny) David A. Kenny
May 12, 2002




Meta-perception, a term coined by R. D. Laing, is the perception that people have of another person's perception of someone. Here the concern is with the perceptions of the target's perception of the perceiver. We can decompose meta-perceptions using the Social Relations Model:
Perceiver: how the perceiver thinks others generally see him or her
Target: how people think a target generally sees others
Relationship: how a perceiver thinks a target uniquely views the perceiver
Meta-accuracy reflects the degree to which persons know how other see him or her. So meta-accuracy reflects a correlations between ordinary person perceptions and meta-perceptions. Using the Social Relations Model, there are three types of meta-accuracy: perceiver, generalized, and dyadic meta-accuracy.
Perceiver meta-accuracy: a correlation between how a person sees others and the person thinks that others think the person sees others.
Generalized meta-accuracy: a correlation between how the person is generally seen by others and how the person thinks others see him or her.
Dyadic meta-accuracy: a correlation between relationship effects.
So perceiver meta-accuracy asks the question: If A sees others as friendly, is A seen by others as friendly? So generalized meta-accuracy asks the question: If A is seen as friendly by others, does A know that others see him or her that way? So dyadic meta-accuracy asks the question: If A sees B as especially friendly, does B know that A sees him or her that way?

One can also define triadic meta-accuracy: Does A know what B thinks of C? Most of the work on meta-accuracy has concentrated on dyadic meta-accuracy or a person's ability to know what others think of him or her. (Learn about triadic perceptions.)


The dominant component in meta-perception is the perceiver effect, usually accounting for over 50 percent of the total variance. People think that others see them in the same way. (Perhaps this is more true of western perceivers?) There is usually little evidence of target effects in meta-perception (typically accounting for less than 5 percent of the total variance); that is people do not agree on who is a harsh or lenient judge of others. Relationship variance in meta-perceptions is usually found (between about 5 to 15 percent of the total variance), but there is usually much more perceiver than relationship variance.

There is evidence for generalized meta-accuracy, but not much for dyadic meta-accuracy. Perceiver meta-accuracy is difficult to measure because perceivers do not agree that some people are harsh judges of others and others are lenient. The strongest correlate of meta-perception is self-perception (i.e, the correlation between how we see ourselves and how we think that others see us): Perceivers think that others see them as they see themselves. In meta-accuracy, the perceiver wonders what the target is thinking about the person or others. In empathic accuracy (see William Ickes), the perceiver wonders what the target is thinking about at a particular time.

Kenny and DePaulo consider four different models of how meta-perceptions are formed. They are:

Naive Model: Meta-perceptions arise from the perceiver's perception of how others view him or her.
Self-judgment Model: The perceiver evaluates his or her own behavior and assumes that others make the same evaluation.
Direct Observation: The perceiver observes his or her own behavior and then directly assumes that others judge that behavior as he or she does.
Self-theory Model: The perceiver assumes that others see him or her as he or she generally sees him or herself.
The evidence is most consistent with a blend on the last three models. There is little support for the naive model.

Future research needs to determine when dyadic meta-accuracy occurs. Possible factors leading to it might be status differences and uncertainty about how to evaluate the behavior. The naive model, which is part of symbolic interactionism, may be more true for young children when the self-concept is developing.


Chapter 8 of Interpersonal Perception: A Social Relations Analysis

Kenny, D. A., Bond, C. F., Jr., Mohr, C. D., & Horn, E. M. (1996). Do we know how much people like one another? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 928-936.

Kenny, D. A., & DePaulo, B. M. (1993). Do people know how others view them?: An empirical and theoretical account. Psychological Bulletin, 114, 145-161.


I want to thank Bella DePaulo who worked with me extensively on the topic of meta-perception and developed many of these ideas.


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