Four principles in the study of bias and accuracy in close relationships

Date of Completion

January 2008


Psychology, Social




The processes of bias and accuracy of perceptions in close relationships are theoretically and methodologically complex. To date, there is no single framework that can be used to understand bias and accuracy, and the interdependence between them. Four principles are proposed to understand the processes of bias and accuracy in close relationships. Principle one is that parallel forces, which are often correlated, give rise to accuracy and bias. These two forces are the truth, and the desires of the perceiver. Principle two is that different processes may lead to the “same” bias. Principle three is that to understand the processes of accuracy and bias, moderators need to be examined. Principle four is that the person-situation match may lead to biases being accurate. ^ Three studies examine bias and accuracy in relationships. In Study 1, romantic partners made metaperceptions of how attractive they believed their partners perceived others in the study. Threat and pragmatism of accuracy was experimentally manipulated using a 2 (threat, no threat) X 2 (pragmatic, not pragmatic) design. Perceivers in the threat-not pragmatic condition were reliably less accurate than those in the threat-pragmatic condition. In Study 2, college roommates made twice-weekly perceptions of one another's friendliness, anxiety, and hurt feelings, for six weeks. Assumed similarity and accuracy were examined over time, and intimacy of the respondent and the respondent's roommate were examined as moderators of accuracy and bias. Perceivers assumed more similarity for daily feelings the more intimate they felt, and the more intimate their roommates' reported feeling. In Study 3, students stated how often they engaged in 9 undesirable behaviors over the past month. Their parents estimated how often their children engaged in the behaviors, and how threatening they found the behaviors to be. Accuracy and bias of parents' perceptions were examined, and parents' perceptions of their children's disclosure and children's self-reported disclosure were examined as moderators. Parents were both biased and accurate; moreover, the more parents perceived their children to be disclosing, the more biased and less accurate they were for perceptions of certain behaviors. Understanding the processes of bias and accuracy across relationship types is discussed. ^