A thin slice of science communication: Are people’s evaluations of TED talks predicted by superficial impressions of the speakers?

Ana I. Gheorghiu, Mitchell J. Callan, William J. Skylark

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First impressions based on physical characteristics and superficial information predict a wide variety of social judgments and outcomes. We build on recent work examining the effects of such impressions on the communication of scientific research and ideas to the general public. A large diverse sample viewed and evaluated scientific TED talks, while a separate group viewed short, silent excerpts of each video and judged the speakers on three core socio-cognitive traits: competence, morality, and sociability. Neither the perceived scientific quality nor the entertainment value of the talks was meaningfully predicted by the thin-slice judgments; likewise, they were independent of the speakers’ age, gender, ethnicity, and attractiveness. We propose that these null results arise because the influence of superficial visual cues was overwhelmed by the wealth of more diagnostic information, and by our participants’ attentiveness to this information. Our results suggest limits to the predictive power of superficial impressions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Early online date7 Feb 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Feb 2019



  • impression formation
  • science communication
  • social cognition
  • thin slices

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology

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