Masters Thesis

Examining the Speed and Automaticity of Formidability Assessment Mechanisms

Throughout vertebrate evolution, asymmetries in the ability to inflict costs and defend resources (i.e., formidability) likely impacted individual fitness and collecting information about formidability (e.g., size, strength, fighting ability) would have been crucial. Accordingly, the human mind should possess mechanisms that can efficiently and accurately track formidability. Previous research has demonstrated that men and women can accurately judge the formidability of others from minimal cues; however, the speed and automaticity of such assessments have not yet been documented. Thus, in the current study, participants underwent a battery of tasks designed to further examine formidability assessment mechanisms. Results suggest that assessments of formidability are automatic (i.e., do not need to be prompted) and fast (i.e., accurate with only 33 milliseconds of exposure). With a few interesting exceptions, theoretically–relevant characteristics of the raters ( N = 187) and targets (N = 64) did not influence these assessments. Additionally, eye–tracking data highlight the salience of upper–body musculature as a cue to strength. Taken together, these findings provide further evidence for the existence of formidability assessment mechanisms and demonstrate the importance of evolutionarily–relevant cues in person perception.

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