The Bias Roadmap: Warmth and Competence

Amy Cuddy, associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, Susan Fiske, professor of public affairs at Princeton University, and Peter Glick, professor of psychology at Lawrence University did a study in 2008 that looked at the dimensions of warmth and competence as sources of bias.

Their findings showed that people view others as either warm, which include traits like trustworthiness, tolerance, friendliness and sincerity, or competent with attributes like confidence, intelligence and capability. Here are some of their examples:

Low amounts of warmth and competence:
• Public assistance recipients.
• The homeless.
• Poverty stricken people.
• Muslims.

High levels of warmth but low levels of competence:
• Senior citizens.
• People with birth defects.
• The disabled.

High levels of competence but low levels of warmth:
• Asians.
• The affluent.
• Jews.

High levels of warmth and competence:
• Stay at home moms.
• The middle-class.
• Christians.

According to Cuddy and her research partners, warmth is the primary indicator as to how we respond to people. Once we emotionally process someone’s likeability, we move on to the next feature of their competence.

This road map of bias is consistent with my personal experience with bias as an American Indian/Alaska Native man. Most White males have trouble warming up to my long hair. When they find out I am American Indian/Alaska Native, I am not perceived as competent due to the long-standing disengagement levels of my community.

We judge people and things by their covers. What we have to realize is that some folks have had their covers torn off, other stories are sometimes written in a foreign language and some might contain ideas which we don’t agree with.

How do you accept people and things that are different? Hopefully, with the spirit of warmth. A very chilly often times biased world could use it as we heat up to the notion that while we represent different trees, we receive nourishment from the same root system and we reside in the same forest.

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Anastasia Schmoll

Interesting perspective, I would take that study from 7 years ago with a grain of salt. I do however believe it takes a generation to change a perception. If someone has no experience with cultural diversity they may be prone to stronger biases.