The Good Informant

One of the oldest questions in research on interpersonal perception pertains to the characteristics of the good informant and is concerned with whether consistent individual differences can be found in the ability to accurately judge the traits and behaviors of others (Colvin & Bundick, 2001). In an early empirical review, Taft (1955) arrived at the somewhat unsurprising conclusion that the good judge tends to be intelligent, socially skilled, and psychologically well-adjusted. In general, however, the ability to accurately judge others seems well developed in humans, which is why individual differences across judges are not supposed to be very large (Funder, 1999). It is also likely that informant accuracy does not reflect a general ability but instead is highly domain-specific and may depend, for instance, on the level of acquaintanceship with targets and kinds of traits (Bernieri, Gillis, Davis, & Grahe, 1996; Marangoni, Garcia, Ickes, & Teng, 1995). Moreover, individual differences in judgmental ability may vary across traits, for instance, perceivers who are apt at rating another's intelligence tend to reach greater consensus than others (Park & Judd, 1989).

The current state of research on the good judge is still tentative and has led to fairly inconsistent results. A recent meta-analysis by Davis and Kraus (1997), for instance, included very different kinds of accuracy (e.g., trait accuracy, empathic accuracy, nonverbal decoding, and lie detection), each of which taps different underlying constructs. The results indicated that judgmental accuracy is positively (albeit weakly) related to intellectual functioning—cognitive style characterized by cognitive complexity and field independence, social sensitivity, and interpersonal orientation. Thus the good judge certainly appears to have the average psychologically well-adjusted personality. This does not necessarily imply, however, that people are generally accurate about their own ability to judge others, because self-assessments of judgmental ability are mostly uncorrelated with actual levels of achieved accuracy (Ickes, 1993; Marangoni et al., 1995). Because of the inconsistent state of research, theoretical assumptions on the nature of individual differences therefore remain vague. Whereas the WAM and the SRM conceive individual differences in accuracy as negligible (Kenny, 1994), the RAM suggests that at least three variables influence individual differences in informants' accuracy (i.e., knowledge, ability, and motivation, Funder, 1999).

The informant's knowledge may be either explicit or implicit. Explicit knowledge refers to the use of cues that are deemed as valid for inferring underlying personality traits. It is not likely, however, that this kind of knowledge is teachable because personality judgments are fast, complex, and intuitive. It is nearly impossible, for instance, to teach people to accurately detect lies in others. Still, it seems possible to improve the knowledge by feedback and practice (Hammond, 1996; Marangoni et al., 1995). Percep tual and cognitive abilities may also increase informants' accuracy. In general, individual differences in cognitive abilities are more pronounced than individual differences in social perceptiveness, which is why it seems reasonable to expect that IQ, as well as more specific cognitive abilities, are positively associated with accuracy (Funder, 1999). Motivational factors that may affect accuracy are related to the personality and the situation. John and Robins (1994), for instance, showed that a narcissistic view of oneself is associated with low accuracy, whereas Ambady, Hal-lahan, and Rosenthal (1995) speculated that psychologically vulnerable individuals, low in expressiveness, sociability, and self-esteem, might be better judges than others. Researchers have also shown a relationship between basic personality traits of informants (e.g., conscientiousness and agreeable-ness) and rating leniency (Bernardin, Cooke, & Villanova, 2000). Finally, motivational factors may interfere with accuracy when the informant-target relationship is very close. Thus romantic and marital relationships may be interactions where accuracy is not always easy to achieve. In fact, Simpson, Ickes, and Blackstone (1995) observed that dating couples in insecure relationships could be motivated t'o avoid accurately perceiving their partner's attraction to another person.

Three general characteristics may help paint a portrait of the good informant, using mixed empirical evidence on individual differences in accuracy. First, the good informant needs a strong sensitivity to what is happening in his or her social environment. Second, the good informant can make a connection between the observed behaviors and the personality traits underlying them. Finally, the good informant needs to be objective, rational, and unconcerned with the opinions of others when making judgments. The three characteristics of the good informant may be improved by informants' training and adequate instructions.

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