Cardiac vagal flexibility and accurate personality impressions: Examining a physiological correlate of the good judge

J Pers. 2018 Dec;86(6):1065-1077. doi: 10.1111/jopy.12375. Epub 2018 Mar 24.


Objective: Research has long sought to identify which individuals are best at accurately perceiving others' personalities or are good judges, yet consistent predictors of this ability have been difficult to find. In the current studies, we revisit this question by examining a novel physiological correlate of social sensitivity, cardiac vagal flexibility, which reflects dynamic modulation of cardiac vagal control.

Method: We examined whether greater cardiac vagal flexibility was associated with forming more accurate personality impressions, defined as viewing targets more in line with their distinctive self-reported profile of traits, in two studies, including a thin-slice video perceptions study (N = 109) and a dyadic interaction study (N = 175).

Results: Across studies, we found that individuals higher in vagal flexibility formed significantly more accurate first impressions of others' more observable personality traits (e.g., extraversion, creativity, warmth). These associations held while including a range of relevant covariates, including cardiac vagal tone, sympathetic activation, and gender.

Conclusion: In sum, social sensitivity as indexed by cardiac vagal flexibility is linked to forming more accurate impressions of others' observable traits, shedding light on a characteristic that may help to identify the elusive good judge and providing insight into its neurobiological underpinnings.

Keywords: accuracy; cardiac vagal flexibility; personality impressions; social sensitivity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality / physiology*
  • Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia / physiology*
  • Social Perception*
  • Young Adult