Don’t be surprised if the singers who advance to the next round of “American Idol” each week are those who perform at the end of the previous week’s episode. Studies by Carnegie Mellon University researcher Wändi Bruine De Bruin have found that participants who appear toward the end of juried competitions do better than those who perform at the beginning.
In her latest paper, which is being published this month in the journal Acta Psychologica, Bruine De Bruin studied European figure-skating competitions and the Eurovision Song Contest, a pop song competition that has taken place in Europe since 1956. (And which, like “American Idol,” includes voting by fans watching at home.) She found that participants who appeared near the end of the contests earned higher marks from judges than those who performed earlier. This phenomenon, known as the serial position effect, doesn’t just affect would-be Kelly Clarksons; it is possible that the effect can be found in everyday evaluations such as job interviews and student exams.
Bruine De Bruin found that scores increased as the competitions progressed, not only when judges are asked to evaluate all candidates at the end of the contest, but also when they are asked to judge each individual performance after it has been completed. Bruine De Bruin conducted some of her research at Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands.
“A friend of mine asked to go last in a series of job interviews, after hearing about my research. She got the job. I like to think that she got the job because she has great skills, but order effects may have tipped the balance for her,” Bruine De Bruin said.
Bruine De Bruin is a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences, an interdisciplinary department emphasizing connections between psychology, economics, risk analysis and decision-making. SDS resides in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. The college is the second-largest academic unit at Carnegie Mellon and offers more than 60 majors and minors. The college emphasizes interdisciplinary study in a technologically rich environment with an open and forward-thinking stance toward the arts and sciences.