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Summary and Analysis of The Effect of Looking Behavior on Perceptions of A Communicator’s Credibility

Summary and Analysis of The Effect of Looking Behavior on Perceptions of A Communicator’s Credibility


            A court simulation examined the various impacts of a communicator’s behavior in looking at observers’ point of view about credibility, as shown in “The Effect of Looking Behavior on Perceptions of a Communicator’s Credibility,” by Gordon D. Hemsley and Anthony N. Doob, in the Journal of Applied Social Psycholgy (1978). Of the subjects, half heard the testimony presented for the defendant by a witness, and this is one of three such testimonies. The person giving the testimony was looking directly towards the target of the communication, or they were looking slightly downward during the testimony. The results of this testimony showed that the witnesses who were averting their sights were being perceived as less credible, and this resulted in the perception of the person they were defending was likely to be more guilty than if the person testifying looked at the examiners straight in the eyes, and the same results were found in “The Trial Process: Law, Tactics and Ethics” (2002). The study investigates the results of the direction of the person’s vision. As the hypotheses of the study, the researchers state that the witnesses who are not looking directly at the target of the communication are seen as being less credible than the witnesses who actively looked directly at those watching.

            The study considers whether the information that is available about the interaction of the person testifying and the observers, and whether the subjects have enough confidence in the various inferences in order to apply the information to the decision making about whether to believe the testimony or not. The study looks at whether the information of a specific nature, specifically the information regarding credibility, would be inferred from the way the communicator is looking. The study also looks at whether the subjects had enough confidence In the credibility judgments in order to apply the information to subsequent decisions.  



            In order to test the hypothesis, there were six videotapes that were prepared where a defense witness looked at the target audience, and there were others where the person testifying didn’t look directly at the audience. The six conditions where only the audio portion of the videos was played. Those served to provide control checks about whether the verbal behaviors varied, and whether this was a function of the looking behavior manipulation.

Independent/Dependent Variables

            According to the research, the findings treat the visual behavior as being a dependent variable, and this has raised the question about whether the visual behavior is serving as a communication function in terms of being co-actors, or is it observers inferring the information from the variations in the looking behavior of the person giving the testimony. Other research investigates looking behavior as an independent variable, and the exploration of that question has resulted confirmed results. As an example, the article states research has discovered a person’s looking behavior has an influence of the subject’s evaluations of that person’s personality, as well as how attracted they are to the person, and the affective responses to the person’s verbal communications.


            There were separate analysis of the variance that were executed on the subject responses posed about the questions of the credibility of the witnesses, and of the guilt of the defendants. Significantly, there was a behavior X mode taken of the presentation interaction. (F(1,72) = 8.51, p < .005) were the results, though there were no other interactions that were seen as being significant. There were further analysis of the interactions, and this was done using a Newman-Keuls procedure. It showed that the witnesses in the GA audiovisual conditions were seen as being majorly less credible than the witnesses in the GM audiovisual, which was (q (3,72) = 1.38, p < .Ol). The GA audio only was only (q (1,72) = 1.13, p < .Ol), and the GM audio-only was (q (2,72) = 1.28, p < .01). There were non significant differences in the comparisons in the latter 3 conditions.


            The researchers say it is unclear about whether the subjects are inferring there is specific information in the person’s visual behavior, or whether they are just serving to provide more intensity to the relations that are occurring between the various participants of the interaction. The paper goes on to state that many other studies have indicated that the frequency and direction of the person who is looking, is often noticeably changed by various situational factors, such as the personal nature of the topic, the interaction proximity, the perceived status of the others who are participants, and the favourableness of the personal evaluations that are being received.

            The hypothesis looks to be correct, and this is corroborated by other sources, both cited in the research itself, and in “The Trial Process: Law, Tactics and Ethics,” (2002). The research could go on, however, to include various other variables that were not considered. For example, the believability of the person testifying could have been a determinant of the how good looking the person was. Not enough details about the other physical components of the person testifying were considered. Certainly, it should be noted that the research I was involved in cannot relate to this study since I did not see an eye-witness testimony.


            The number of variables in the study are vast, and it would require considerable research to limit the number of variables. The study could have some merit, but the research is far too limited to have significant inferences in the actual courtroom setting.


Hemsley, G, and Doob, A. (1978). The effect of looking behavior on perceptions of a

            communicator’s credibility. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Retrieved from


“The Trial Process: Law, Tactics and Ethics.” (2002). Indiana State University. Retrieved from

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By Hanna Robinson

Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.

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