David A. Kenny
June 2, 1998




Target accuracy is measured by the degree of association between how a perceiver sees a target with how the target really is. Within the Social Relations Model, there are three types of target accuracy: perceiver, generalized, dyadic target accuracy.
PERCEIVER ACCURACY: the correlation between how a person tends to see others in general with how others generally behave with the person.
GENERALIZED ACCURACY: the correlation between how a person is generally seen by others and how that person generally behaves.
DYADIC ACCURACY: the correlation between how the person is uniquely seen by someone with how that person uniquely behaves with that someone.
So for perceiver accuracy, if A sees others as friendly, is A a friendly person? So for generalized accuracy, if A is seen by others as friendly, is A a friendly person? So for dyadic accuracy, if person A sees B as especially friendly, is B especially friendly when interacting with A?


The major obstacle in target accuracy research is obtaining a measure of the target's actual standing on the trait: If John says that Mark is friendly how do we know whether Mark is friendly or not. Generally behavior measures should be used, but sometimes expert ratings can be used. If self-ratings are used, then the question becomes one of self-other agreement, not target accuracy.

Regardless of how the truth is measured, it can be argued that the truth itself is a rating. Even behavior measures are the ratings of an observer. So Kruglanski has argued that accuracy is special type of consensus; that is, accuracy represents the correspondence between two sets of ratings.


Beginning with a paper in 1955 by Lee Cronbach, accuracy researchers had to face the issue that ratings should be decomposed into components and that accuracy is the correspondence between those components. Cronbach proposed four types of accuracy of a perceiver who rates several targets on several traits:

ELEVATION: the correspondence between the average rating of the perceiver and the average score on the criterion measure (the truth).
DIFFERENTIAL ELEVATION: the correspondence between the differences of the average ratings across traits of two targets with the corresponding difference in criterion.
STEREOTYPE ACCURACY: the correspondence between the differences of the average ratings across targets of two traits with the corresponding difference in criterion.
DIFFERENTIAL ACCURACY: the correspondence between the rating of the perceiver and the criterion with means of target and trait removed.
If we assume that all measures are scaled where more means something good, then in essence, elevation assesses the degree to which the perceiver is overly positive or negative, differential elevation assesses whether the perceiver knows which targets are good and bad, stereotype accuracy assesses whether the perceiver know people in general vary on the traits, and differential accuracy assesses whether the perceiver knows how the targets differ from each other on the traits. Most analysts treat differential elevation and differential accuracy as "real" accuracy and the other two as artifactual. However, there are situations where stereotype accuracy and elevation are meaningful.

The Social Relations Model decomposition of variance is different from that of Cronbach. It looks at the ratings of perceivers and targets for each trait whereas the Cronbach decomposition is of the ratings of targets and traits for each perceiver. Using the Social Relations Model to study accuracy, the focus is not on who is more accurate, but rather what is the level of accuracy in person perception and when are people accurate.

The Cronbach critique of accuracy research had a devastating effect on the area. In essence, it killed accuracy research for a generation. Researchers felt either that accuracy was too complicated to measure (something that may have been true at the time but no longer is), that it was impossible to measure (which is not true), or that accuracy did not exist (which may or may not be true, but probably is not). The essence of the Cronbach critique is that accuracy is not global but it is the correspondence between components.


Perceiver accuracy usually cannot be measured because people do not seem to elicit the same behaviors from others. Generalized accuracy has been obtained at zero acquaintance. Consistent with work by Ambady and Rosenthal, judgments based on "thin slices" of behaviors has surprising validity. When the perceiver and target are well-acquainted, there is also generalized accuracy.

William Swann and others have argued that perceivers should be especially accurate at predicting how others would behave when interacting with the perceiver, something Swann calls circumscribed accuracy. Surprisingly, there is little or no evidence of dyadic target accuracy. More research is needed, but it might be the case, contrary to intuition, that dyadic accuracy is usually fairly weak.

Using the PERSON model, it appears that target accuracy increases with increasing acquaintance. However, most of the increase occurs very early in the process. That is, as we get to know more about someone, we do get to know them better, but acquaintance has little effect on accuracy after observing about 50 or so acts. When there is a kernel of truth in the stereotypes (that is, stereotypes are partially valid), the relationship between accuracy and acquaintance is relatively flat. Recent work by Lee et al. suggests that there is a kernel of truth to some stereotypes. Likely then acquaintance results in weak increase in accuracy.


Chapter 7 of Interpersonal Perception: A Social Relations Analysis

Cronbach, L. J. (1955). Processes affecting scores on "understanding others" and "assumed similarity." Psychological Bulletin, 52, 177-193.

Kenny, D. A., Kieffer, S., Smith, J., Ceplenski, P., & Kulo, J. (1996). Circumscribed accuracy among well-acquainted individuals. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 32, 1-12.

Kruglanski, A. W. (1989). The psychology of being "right": The problem of accuracy in social perception and cognition. Psychological Bulletin, 106, 395-409.

Lee, Y. T., Jussim, L. & McCauley, C. (Eds.). (1995). Stereotype accuracy: Toward appreciating group differences. Washington, DC: The American Psychological Association.

Levesque, M. J., & Kenny, D. A. (1993). Accuracy of behavioral predictions at zero acquaintance: A social relations analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 1178-1187.


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