Category: Job interviews

Mind where you sit – how being in the middle is associated with superior performance

If you’re going for a group interview, or if you want to make an impression in class, try to sit as centrally as you can – new research suggests observers tend to overestimate the performance of people located in the centre.

Priya Raghubir and Ana Valenzuela analysed the first 20 episodes of the quiz show The Weakest Link that appeared on American TV in 2001. The quiz involves eight contestants standing in a semi-circle with one player, ‘the weakest link’, voted off each round by the other players. Raghubir and Valenzuela found that players occupying the two central positions reached the final round 42.5 per cent of the time, and won the game 45 per cent of time, whereas players in the two most extreme positions reached the final round just 17.5 per cent of the time, and won just 10 per cent of the time.

In another study 22 students watched an episode of The Weakest Link and attempted to recall the performance of each player afterwards. This showed they tended to overestimate the performance of the central players but underestimate the performance of the peripheral players. When the participants were warned to pay special attention, their accuracy at recalling the central players’ performance improved whereas their memory for the peripheral players remained unaffected. This is consistent with the researchers’ theory that observers pay less attention to people in the centre, assuming their performance will be superior because of where they’re located.

In another experiment, 111 students were shown different versions of a group photo showing five candidates for a business internship arranged in different positions. The participants knew the candidates had similar abilities but still tended to choose the candidate in the middle of the photo they were shown. Afterwards the participants stated whether they agreed with the statement “Important people sit in the middle of the table”, and it became clear that it was only participants who agreed with that statement who tended to favour the internship candidate in the middle of the group photo they saw.

“We have identified a biasing cue in objective judgments: the target’s position”, the researchers concluded. “These results have implications for selection interviews and performance assessment tasks such as grading, auditions or any evaluation of individuals competing in groups”.
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Raghubir, P. & Valenzuela. (2006). Centre-of-inattention: Position biases in decision-making. Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 99, 66-80.

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

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'”.
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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.