Last but definitely not least

Here’s a tip – if you’re applying for a new job or place at university, try to be the last one interviewed. Research suggests that when people judge successive performances, they tend to give progressively higher ratings to later performers.

Wandi Bruine de Bruin at the University of Technology in Holland checked back through scores given over 47 editions of the Eurovision Song Contest from 1957-2003. Over that time the scoring system has varied, sometimes each nation’s judges have scored every song at the end of the contest; other years they scored songs one-at-a-time, after each performance. Regardless of the scoring system, and controlling for known national biases and other confounds, the later a singer appeared in the contest, the higher the score they tended to receive. Don’t tell Terry.

de Bruin then analysed scores given during past European and World Figure Skating Championships. Again, despite skaters being scored one-at-a-time, those performing later tended to receive higher ratings. Moreover, judges tended to give later performers more extreme scores – perhaps because they gave early performers medium scores in the absence of anything to compare them by.

So why do judges give later performers higher scores? “Watching a sequence of performances, each new one may become more salient…positive features may have received more attention than shared ones, and made candidates seem better than earlier ones”, de Bruin suggested. Of course it’s possible that later performers were actually better – perhaps spurred on by the earlier performances. Either way, de Bruin, said, performers and candidates awaiting their turn should keep in mind “The Drifters’ 1961 hit song – ‘save the last dance for me'”.

de Bruin, W.B. (2005). Save the last dance for me: unwanted serial position effects in jury evaluations. Acta Psychologica, 118, 245-260.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.