Do people know how they behave? Self-reported act frequencies compared with on-line codings by observers

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1998 May;74(5):1337-49. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.74.5.1337.


Behavioral acts constitute the building blocks of interpersonal perception and the basis for inferences about personality traits. How reliably can observers code the acts individuals perform in a specific situation? How valid are retrospective self-reports of these acts? Participants interacted in a group-discussion task and then reported their act frequencies, which were later coded by observers from videotapes. For each act, observer-observer agreement, self-observer agreement, and self-enhancement bias were examined. Findings show that (a) agreement varied greatly across acts; (b) much of this variation was predictable from properties of the acts (observability, base rate, desirability, Big Five domain); (c) on average, self-reports were positively distorted; and (d) this was particularly true for narcissistic individuals. Discussion focuses on implications for research on acts, traits, social perception, and the act frequency approach.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude*
  • Female
  • Group Processes
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Narcissism
  • Observer Variation
  • Personality*
  • Prejudice
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Desirability
  • Videotape Recording