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For the biological method, see Ultramicrotomy.

Thin-slicing is a term used in psychology and philosophy to describe the ability to find patterns in events based only on "thin slices," or narrow windows, of experience.[1] The term means making very quick inferences about the state, characteristics or details of an individual or situation with minimal amounts of information. Brief judgments based on thin-slicing are similar to those judgments based on much more information. Still, judgments based on thin-slicing can be as accurate, or even more accurate than judgments based on much more information.

The first recorded use of the term was in 1992 by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal in a meta-analysis in the Psychological Bulletin.[2] Since then, thin-slicing has been applied to many domains, and has been used to make various types of judgments. An non-exhaustive list of domains includes interpersonal relationship, clinical studies, education, etc.


Thin-slicing refers to observing a small selection of an interaction, usually less than 5 minutes, and being able to accurately draw to conclusions in the emotions and attitudes of the people interacting.

Thin slices of the behavioral stream contain important diagnostic and predictive social psychological information. Because thin-slice perception and judgment is sufficiently effective, people's interpersonal perceptions can occur immediately, automatically, and to some extent validly before much can be communicated verbally or through actions and events. Given the limited conditions under which social inference and correction occur, these initial judgments may determine people's ultimate perceptions, evaluations, and theories about those with whom they interact face to face.[3]

Many studies have shown that brief observations can be used to assess outcomes, at levels higher than expected by chance. Once comparing these observations of less than five minutes to greater than five minutes, the data showed no significant change, thus implying that observations made within the first few minutes were unchanging. An example of this can be seen in an Ambady and Rosenthal experiment in which they were assessing the effect of thin slicing with 2, 5, and 10-second clips of non-verbal behaviors of teachers and the viewers' ratings of those teachers afterwards. They found that those who rated the teachers after being subjected to thin slicing produced ratings that were very similar to those who rated the teachers even after having substantial interactions with them.[4] Impressions formed after viewing thin slices of behavior are considered accurate if they match impressions formed after a more detailed observation of the subject and if they match the impressions formed by other raters.[5]

While people are often not able to report the factors that influence their judgments, researchers could identify types of information in brief slices of behavior that is responsible for accurate judgments. Types of information include visual and verbal information. More specifically, researchers look at how people make judgments based on their observations of others' minor traits such as eye contact, fidgeting, open-handed gestures, stiff posture, smiling, etc.


People would expect that thin slices of themselves only reveal socially valued characteristics. Otherwise, they would be more wiling to reveal minor imperfections about themselves before others make inferences based on their observations. Nonetheless, both desirable and undesirable characteristics are usually visible through the peephole of thin slices. Thin slices of individuals' behaviors could expose characteristics of their personality, internal states, sexuality, relationship, biases, etc. Even individuals' future behaviors could be predicted with reasonable accuracy through thin slicing. [6]

Interpersonal relationship[edit]

First impression[edit]

In the research paper published in 2007[7] by Dana R. Carney et al, it was discovered that increased exposure time, i.e. length of the slice, helped people to obtain more information, so that they could better judge social approach and positive affect. The same increased length of the slice was less related to judging threats and negative affect. The accuracy of the judgement based on a 5 second long slice is significantly lower than the accuracy of judgments based on longer exposures. Also, slices extracted from the later stage of the interaction potentially allowed people to make more accurate judgments. Dana R. Carney et al also drew the conclusion that women tended to make more accurate judgments using thin slicing than did men.

Speed dating[edit]

Marian L. Houser et al (2002) built on Deyo & Deyo's earlier work[8] and studied thin slicing in speed dating.[9] They found that a few moments of communication evaluation in speed dating indeed helped the participants to predict outcomes and make speculated assessments of his/her relationship with the potential mate. Female speed daters noted male negative characteristics rather quickly, and were generally more critical. This could mean that males were more open-minded or at least slower to identify the negative characteristics, meaning that they were less reactive in comparison to females when doing thin slicing. While both sexes were equally good in making positive evaluations about their partners, females made more specific descriptions than males, and males might engage in observing the superficial if they only noticed negative characteristics in the beginning of the date. Still, the overall result showed that speed dating did make the participants look more favorable in each other's eyes.

Social Media Online Profiles[edit]

Thin-slicing is a phenomenon that can occur through virtually as well through contact with an individual's online profile. Online profiles are essentially made up of several different condensed sections that reveal different aspects of a person's life and interests. Stecher and Counts investigated this domain of thin-slicing to determine exactly how much information was needed on the online profiles for viewers to form an accurate impression of the individual and which profile fields contribute most to the ability to form that impression. They focused on two forms of social media domains: general social networking sites such as Facebook and Friendster, and blogging sites. The predictiveness of an attribute was defined as its ability to contribute to a viewer's ability to form a predictive impression of the subject. For social media sites, information such as the individual's photo, name, status, high school and gender allowed raters to form predictive impressions while for blogging sites, this predictive information included the individual's photo, religious views, current town, employer and number of groups. Thus, while users can use thin slices of information gathered from these online profiles to form an impression of the subject, the impression is severely impacted by the type of attributes that are presented on the profile as well as the different ways they are processed based on user goals. [5]

Sexual preference[edit]

In 1999, Nalini Ambady et al studied the accuracy of judgments of sexual orientation from thin slices of behavior.[10] After taking variables such as the gender and sexual orientation of the judges and the gender of the targets into consideration, Ambady reached the conclusion that people could accurately perceive sexual orientation through thin slicing. Approximately 55% of the judgments based on still photo slices were accurate, and approximately 70% of the judgments based on 10 second silent video slices were accurate. Such perception and judgment would be more accurate if the materials provided were of dynamic nonverbal nature (e.g.: silent videos containing much gestural information) rather than of static information nature (e.g.: still photographs). Also in her studies, gay men and lesbians were generally more accurate than heterosexuals in making judgments.


Cognitive ability[edit]

An individual's mood has been known to distort cognitive abilities. Emotions cloud rational quick thoughts. The three most influential studies were conducted in 2002 by Nalini Ambady and Heather M. Gray.[11] In the first study, induced sadness led to reduced accuracy in judgments of teacher effectiveness from brief samples of nonverbal behavior. In the second study, sad participants showed reduced accuracy in judging relationship type from thin-slices as well as diminished judgmental efficiency. The third study showed the possibility that sadness impairs accuracy by promoting a more deliberative information-processing style. All of these studies have the basic principle that emotions do in fact affect judgement as seen through effects on thin-slicing.[12] They disprove conclusions from some previous studies that sadness would lead to more cautious processing strategy or would not have a strong effect in social perception,[13] and argue that short-term induced sadness would hinder individual's social interpretation skills.

Personality disorder[edit]

Jacqueline N.W. Friedman et al (2007) examined people's ability to detect personality disorder using a thin-slicing approach.[14] They found that people were capable of detecting pathological personality traits in 30 seconds of videotaped behavior. By looking at the "thin slices" of videos, research participants were able to accurately identify targets with personality pathology from the video. Also, when participants were exposed to an increased number of personality traits, i.e.: increasing spectrum instead of "thickness" of the slices, they performed better at identifying targets' negative traits. This correlation between "thin slices" with richer content and participants' better performance in detecting personality disorder is found to be stronger than correlations found in other studies using thin slice methodology.

Deception detection[edit]

Drs. Albrechsten, Meissner and Susa (2009) of the University of Texas at El Paso conducted two separate studies of processing style (intuitive vs. deliberative processing) in a deception detection task. In the first experiment, a thin-slicing manipulation was used to show that intuitive processing can lead to more accurate judgments of deception when compared with traditional forms of processing, i.e.: forms that take in much more information input. In the second experiment, participants who engaged in a second task performed more accurately in a deception task than participants who were asked to provide a verbal rationale for each decision. The results converged to suggest that intuitive processing can significantly improve deception detection performances.[15]



One of the first series conducted by James Bugental and his colleagues showed that parents' expectancies, identified from brief clips of their tone, are related to their children's behavior process. The tone of a mother with a normal child and one whose child has behavioral problems differed significantly. A quick observation of parents of normal children and parents of children with behavioral problem can easily help the observer to distinguish the two types. The conceptions above provide an underlying basis that there actually is an ability to judge from brief observations. Research in classrooms has shown that judges can distinguish biased teachers and their expectations for students from unbiased teachers and their expectations simply from brief clips of teachers' behaviors. Likewise, research in the courtroom has shown that in brief excerpts of judges' instructions to jurors in trials, raters could predict the judge's expectations for the trial.[16]

Examples in everyday life[edit]

Some people believe that the effects of the phenomenon known as déjà vu happen within the same time frame of thin-slicing and might also have a direct correlation. A narrow window of experience is enough for an individual to feel sure that he has already witnessed or experienced a current situation, even though the exact circumstances of the prior encounter are uncertain and were perhaps imagined.

Many other uses of thin-slicing are implied by media reports such as firemen making split-second decisions, or cops knowing something is wrong by simply a gut feeling. All these suggest anecdotally that thin-slicing occurs regularly.[17]

Ambiguity from Experimental Results[edit]

The relationship between exposure time of an individual to a thin slice of information and the accuracy of the individual to make judgment on the subject has not reached a proven or universal consensus. Due to differences in context, construct and circumstance of all the experiments that can be run, it is extremely difficult to compare the results from one to the other and thus nearly impossible to prove that increasing exposure time can improve accuracy. It is more likely that exposure time is more closely related to accuracy in some contexts and irrelevant in others.[7]

Popular culture[edit]



One of the most popular books on thin-slicing is Blink written by Malcolm Gladwell. In this book, the author describes interesting examples and research which exploit the idea of thin-slicing.

For example, Gladwell describes how a museum acquired an ancient sculpture, brought to the J. Paul Getty Museum in California, under the name Getty kouros. Some art experts observed the sculpture and decided there was something wrong with it, a gut feeling due to the artwork exhibiting all the wrong signs. However, under thorough investigation the sculpture was deemed real because of a lack of solid evidence to the contrary. The statue's authenticity was later thrown into question due to erroneous assumptions made by one of the researchers who had previously vouched for it.

Another example in this book explored the work of John Gottman, a well-known marital expert. Gottman describes how within an hour of observing a couple, he can gather with 95% accuracy if the couple will be together within 15 years. His accuracy goes down to 90% if he observes the couples for 15 minutes, supporting the phenomenon of thin-slicing.

1957 Movie Poster
12 angry men.jpg

12 Angry Men[edit]

The drama has a few adaptations, including the earliest 1954 teleplay, a 1957 movie and a 1997 remake movie. The movies themselves did not explicitly discuss thin-slicing, but depicted various types of group behaviors and group interactions. Those depictions made the movie a popular choice for teaching and illustrating group processes.[18]

There are now numerous websites[19] containing essays and articles that analyze aspects of group dynamics shown in the movie, using methods analogous to thin-slicing. Also, students learning group dynamics, social psychology and related topics are usually required to analyze the movie using the thin-slicing method. All these analyses strongly correlate the movie to the method of thin-slicing.


Thinking has always been described as a conscious effort. Artist Henri Cartier-Bresson called thinking a "decisive moment" of consciousness, but in reality thin-slicing is an unconscious behavior. Similarly, photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt referred to a direct connection between his eye and his shutter finger, bypassing his brain, which was critical for many of his most celebrated images.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gladwell, Malcolm (2007). Blink. Back Bay Books, Little, Brown and Company, first published 2005, p. 23.
  2. ^ Ambady, Nalini; Rosenthal, Robert (March 1992). "Thin slices of expressive behavior as predictors of interpersonal consequences: A meta-analysis". Psychological Bulletin 111 (2): 256–274. 
  3. ^ "Toward a histology of social behavior: Judgmental accuracy from thin slices of the behavioral stream.". APA PsycNET (in en-US). Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  4. ^ Ambady, Nalini; Rosenthal, Robert (1993). "Half a Minute: Predicting Teacher Evaluations From Thin Slices of Nonverbal Behavior and Physical Attractiveness" (PDF). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (American Psychological Association) (Vol. 64, No. 3, 431-441). 
  5. ^ a b Stecher, Kristin; Counts, Scott (2008). "Thin Slices of Online Profile Attributes" (PDF). The International Conference on Web and Social Media. 
  6. ^ The Science of Social Vision (1 edition ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2010-11-16. ISBN 9780195333176. 
  7. ^ a b Carney, Dana R; Colvin, C. Randall; Hall, Judith A. (30 Jan 2007). "A thin slice perspective on the accuracy of first impressions". Journal of Research in Personality. Retrieved 25 October 2015. 
  8. ^ Deyo, Yaacov; Deyo, Sue (2002-03-19). Speed Dating: The Smarter, Faster Way to Lasting Love. New York, N.Y.: William Morrow. ISBN 9780066212555. 
  9. ^ Houser, Marian L.; Horan, Sean M.; Furler, Lisa A. "Predicting Relational Outcomes: An Investigation of Thin Slice Judgments in Speed Dating" (PDF). Human Communication. A Publication of the Pacific and Asian Communication Association Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 69 – 81. Retrieved 25 October 2015. 
  10. ^ Ambady, N.; Hallahan, M.; Conner, B. (1999-09-01). "Accuracy of judgments of sexual orientation from thin slices of behavior". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77 (3): 538–547. ISSN 0022-3514. PMID 10510507. 
  11. ^ Ambady, Nalini, and Gray, Heather M. "On Being Sad and Mistaken: Mood Effects on the Accuracy of Thin-Slice Judgments." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 83.4 (2002): 947-61.
  12. ^ Ambady, Nalini, and Heather M. Gray. "On Being Sad and Mistaken: Mood Effects on the Accuracy of Thin-Slice Judgments." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 83.4 (2002): 947-61.
  13. ^ Bodenhausen, Galen V; Sheppard, Lori A.; Kramer, Geoffrey P (1994-01-01). "Negative affect and social judgment: The differential impact of anger and sadness". European Journal of Social Psychology 24 (1): 45–62. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2420240104. ISSN 1099-0992. 
  14. ^ Friedman, Jacqueline N. W.; Oltmanns, Thomas F.; Turkheimer, Eric (2007-06-01). "Interpersonal perception and personality disorders: Utilization of a thin slice approach". Journal of Research in Personality 41 (3): 667–688. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2006.07.004. 
  15. ^ Meissner, Christian; Justin S. Albrechtsen; Kyle J. Susa (2009). "Can intuition improve deception detection performance?". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (45): 1052–1055. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2009.05.017. 
  16. ^ "Child versus adult perception of evaluative messages in verbal, vocal, and visual channels.". APA PsycNET (in en-US). Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  17. ^ Klein, Gary (2004-06-01). The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work. New York, NY: Crown Business. ISBN 9780385502894. 
  18. ^ Waller, Mary J.; Sohrab, Golchehreh; Ma, Bernard W. (2013-08-01). "Beyond 12 Angry Men Thin-Slicing Film to Illustrate Group Dynamics". Small Group Research 44 (4): 446–465. doi:10.1177/1046496413487409. ISSN 1046-4964. 
  19. ^ "12 Angry Men | Summary".