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Is It Possible to Not Judge A Book by Its Cover?

It’s an age-old aphorism preached to us by our parents, teachers, and coaches – Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover. The lesson has manifested itself in a number of ways throughout history: Shakespeare said that all that glitters is not gold; MLK told us to judge a person not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character; and Jack Handy quipped that before we criticize someone we should walk a mile in their shoes, that way when criticize them we will be a mile away and have a new pair of shoes. An important lesson no doubt, and it rings true throughout a number of mediums. When it comes to judging people, information, and art it’s crucial that we leave our biases behind and assess things objectivity.

The question is: It this really possible?

We what to think so, but empirical data paints a different picture.

Consider two studies done by researcher Frederic Brochet. In one, Brochet gathered 57 expert wine tasters and asked them to judge a white wine and a red wine. Unbeknown to the tasters, the red wine was actually a dyed version of the exact same white wine. How did this affect their evaluations? Even though both wines were identical, except for the color, the tasters described the red wine as having “jamminess,” and being like “crushed red fruit.” No one noticed the red wine was actually a white wine.

The second study, which also involved a group of expert wine tasters, was worse. Brochet took an average Bordeaux wine and served it out of two different bottles, one with an expensive label and one with a cheap label. Again, the “experts” didn’t seem to catch on to the foolery. Even though they were tasting the same wine, they tended to rate the wine from the “expensive” bottle higher than the wine from the “cheap” bottle.

Similar tests have been carried out over the years with similar results (my favorite is one that shows how preschoolers prefer carrots twice as much when they come from a McDonalds bag as opposed to plain wrapping). And as many advertisers would tell you such findings are anything but novel. One look at how De Beers got an entire society to buy diamonds for engagement rings, or how Marlboro got millions to think that smoking was a good thing should convince you of this.

Sadly, we tend to judge people in the same ways we judge products – shallowly and with little information.

For example, back in the early 1980s psychologists John Darley and Paget Gross showed a video of a girl, ‘Hannah’ to two different groups, one who saw her in an affluent neighborhood and the other who saw her in a poor neighborhood. Then, Darley and Gross asked both groups to assess her academic ability as they watched a video of her taking a test in school. Darley and Gross found that the group that watched Hannah in an affluent neighborhood described her as having above average academic ability whereas the group that watched her in a poor neighborhood described her as having below average academic ability, even though both saw the same tape of her testing.

In a complementary study, researchers told elementary school teachers that a group of their students performed in the top 20% of a test meant to identify bright individuals. In reality though, the test was phony and the students were randomly selected. A year later, they found that the children who scored in the top 20% of the “test” outperformed their peers by 10 to 15 IQ points. They concluded that the teachers, who didn’t realize that the test was a fake, pushed these students more with the impression that they were harvesting unseen talent. This study reinforces the idea that we are easy swayed by unsubstantiated descriptions.

These examples are brief and cover a wide spectrum but the point remains: while we like to believe that we evaluate things like Mister Spock, the reality is that even the smallest elements manipulate our world views. Given how susceptible we are to fancy marketing and spurious labels placed on people it seems down right impossible to not judge a book by its cover. Sometimes this isn’t consequential, as was the case in the wine experiments, but other times, as the Hannah example demonstrates, this greatly dictates how we judge other people.


Darley, J., & Gross, P. (1983). A hypothesis-confirming bias in labeling effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44 (1), 20-33 DOI: 10.1037//0022-3514.44.1.20

Wansink, B., Payne, C., & North, J. (2007). Fine as North Dakota wine: Sensory expectations and the intake of companion foods Physiology & Behavior, 90 (5), 712-716 DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2006.12.010

Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom The Urban Review, 3 (1), 16-20 DOI: 10.1007/BF02322211

55 Comments Post a comment
  1. Yet the believe in free will is one of the deepest dogma of our times.

    September 5, 2011
  2. sammcnerney #

    Ah yes – good point, I didn’t think about that. I think these studies would be problematic for someone who is deeply committed to free will.

    September 5, 2011
  3. Being committed to free will assumes that we “evaluate things like Doctor Spock”.

    By the way I was thinking about Terror Management yesterday. The average bail a judge decides for prostitutes is $50. If the judge thinks about death before establishing the bail, the average goes up to $455.

    Rosenblatt, A., Greenberg, J., et al. (1989). “Evidence For Terror Management Theory: I. The Effects of Mortality Salience on Reactions to Those Who Violate or Uphold Cultural Values.” 57(4) Journal of personality and social psychology 681-690

    September 5, 2011
    • I couldn’t agree more about geairtrics. I miss sitting with some of the elderly individuals I used to help and they would tell me stories for hours about the things that they witness when they were younger, and the lives that they lived up to the point that they needed care. I have always felt that the elderly know how to live their lives better than anyone, and they for sure never take it for granted! Sometimes the people taking care of them are not good people though, and it always breaks my heart to see someone talking badly to an elderly man or woman.I like how you made a switch from little tiny babies that have no real experience with life, to elderly men and women who have lived life to its fullest and still have more life to share with others. Such opposites!

      September 4, 2013
    • This piece was a lifejacket that saved me from drowning.

      November 12, 2013
    • Now I feel stupid. That’s cleared it up for me

      February 18, 2014
    • With the auto insurance mess being what QuotesChimp is in many states, some people have begun to suggest that the simplest and fairest approach to the problem is to incorporate insurance premiums into the price drivers pay at the pump for gasoline. Thus, those who drive the most will pay the most, which is fair since the more you drive, the greater the likelihood is that you will have an accident. This concept would also eliminate issues such as territorial rating, insurance cancellations, and the other areas of controversy that currently rage in the field of auto insurance. While we are not ready to endorse this proposal, we believe it is certainly worth investigating.

      March 6, 2014
  4. sammcnerney #

    Not sure what you mean when you say that being committed to free will assumes that we evaluate things like Doctor Spock. Seems to me that you can be committed to free will and not assume that we evaluate things like Doctor Spock.

    And I appreciate that study. I know of another one (can’t think of the name) which showed that bail postings are greatly influenced by what time of the day it is.

    September 5, 2011
    • Thanks for that! It’s just the answer I needed.

      August 7, 2013
    • Son of a gun, this is so helpful!

      October 28, 2013
    • The grounds for Quotes Chimp superinflation fluctuate, depending on whose view is being expressed. Request the insurance industry and it will carry on about selfish lawyers bringing frivolous law suits that the underwriters have to spend millions to defend. It will rail against unethical body shops that charge unconscionable fees to mend about the exorbitant prices of medical attention and damaged automobiles.

      March 3, 2014
    • You mean I don’t have to pay for expert advice like this anymore?!

      March 13, 2015
  5. It seams to me that the expensive label makes the decision for you. Therefore you don’t have free will. Multiply that with all this kind of influences one is exposed to every moment. And if you drink the wine your brain already functions differently and your body transformed into a different person that thinks differently.

    September 5, 2011
  6. by the way, if you remember the research about the influence of the time of the day on the bail, please let me know.

    September 5, 2011
    • sammcnerney #

      With you on the Freewill point – indeed. And I will keep searching for that research.

      September 5, 2011
  7. Anonymous #

    What does Dr. Benjamin Spock have to do with anything? I assume you mean Mr. Spock from Star Trek.

    September 5, 2011
    • sammcnerney #

      Spock assess things perfectly objective. He is a sort of emotionless robot. If we were Spock, wine labels wouldn’t affect our judgment of wine.

      September 5, 2011
  8. Paul #

    Interesting article but I think you mean ‘Mister Spock’ from Star Trek.

    Doctor Spock was a paedatrician

    September 6, 2011
    • sammcnerney #

      Ha, I didn’t realize that. Thanks for pointing that out! Needless to say, I watched Star Wars.

      September 6, 2011
      • Do you ever notice how a raelly bad movie almost always has a gratuitous sex scene right in the middle of it to keep the viewers’ attention. And if I’m not mistaken, Wax Fever is the only episode in the bracket that has a gratuitous sex scene right in the middle of it. But serious, you’ve got to respect Gates McFadden. She knew that this episode was raelly gonna suck, that she agreed to go to town on herself on Nationwide Syndicated TV. Now that’s dedication you don’t see nowadays.

        August 11, 2013
      • I suppose that sounds and smells just about right.

        October 18, 2013
      • Edo #

        Cred c-ai observat ca pag. lui Ganser este si in elegnza. Ai vazut cartea lui despre nato? Draguti vesticii nu-i asa? Oricum totul se vede altfel cind ai informatiile lor. Marea nenorocire a romanilor este ca in mare parte nu stiu nimic dar au pareri care provin exclusiv din propaganda chioara si pe care le sustin in nebunie. Dupa cum am scris si ieri blogurile pomenite de tine sint zero. Doar aici am gasit chestii interesante de citit si pareri care au legatura cu realitatea.

        October 24, 2013
      • Enlightening the world, one helpful article at a time.

        October 25, 2013
  9. You could have used Data as example, who’s even more rational than Spock.

    September 6, 2011
    • Being someone who rides with mnirnog commuter traffic through downtown indy on occasion, my feeling is that I’m really not much slower than the occasional road work truck, or in a rural setting, the occasional tractor. And people generally don’t have a problem with those vehicles. I take the lane when I feel like someone’s going to kill me if I don’t, but generally I try to stay out of the way. Maybe it’s selfish to slow down traffic, but it’s no more selfish than someone who drives slow because they don’t know where they’re going. I just feel like if you really think the cyclist in your way is a major problem, there’s a good chance you’ve got more problems than the cyclist.

      August 14, 2013
    • dit :Je cherchais une de tes fics dans drvies , parce qu’avant, elle e9tait le0-bas, et j’avais pas vu que tu as maintenant ta propre rubrique !D’ailleurs, il y a pas mal de fics ici, je vais avoir de la lecture. Merci pour e7a, et bon courage pour la suite^^

      September 1, 2013
    • Ida #

      For me this is a relatively easy quotsien, but has a pretty complex answer. The specialty I have actually looked forward to working with is OB/GYN. I find that the ability of a woman’s body to produce a child, endure the amount of abuse it takes during a pregnancy, and the amount of pain endured during delivery is amazing. The joy of being able to be present as life enters the world is truly one of the greatest moments in life. To me that would be the best possible option. I also would love working in the operating room with a surgeon. I have experienced the OR quite a few times, and have been on both sides of the table. I have to say I would love to work with any surgeon in the OR except for Orthopedics. The reason behind that is the surgery’s are pretty brutal when it comes to the skeletal system. Having been in the OR with an Orthopedic surgeon and seeing the use of the saws, hammers and other heavy equipment in order to perform the surgery just sends chills up my spine. I know that type of surgery is not for me. I think my favorite surgeries have to be that of the abdominal cavity. The specialties that I would least like to work for are few, and for simple reasons. Pediatrics is not a specialty for me since I have four children of my own. My Aunt is a neonatal nurse practitioner and I followed her in high school and saw the good, the bad, and the ugly so I can honestly say I could not emotionally handle that type of position. Podiatry is also an area I could not see myself working. The reason behind this is pretty silly, but here goes, I very much dislike other peoples feet especially if they are not well kept. I know in the medical field you will encounter feet on a daily basis, but I could not mainly work with feet on an everyday basis. My last specialty is Orthopedics for the reasons I noted above about the barbaric nature of the surgeries and treatments for the musculoskeletal system. Its just not for me.

      October 25, 2013
    • sammcnerney #

      This is great! I feel stupid though, I remember reading that a few months back… I should’ve remembered. Thanks for the find. I may use that for a post in the future.

      September 15, 2011
      • I built a DG system in 1978 for a while I was the only kid in our high scoohl with a computer. Added phidecks after about a year of fun with audio cassettes. I learned a LOT from it (got CP/M running on it, using an Atari 800 floppy disk drive for storage, and got it hooked up to the Arpanet using a terminal emulator I wrote).I think it would still work, if I replaced the foam on the keyboard. I doubt there are any 300 baud BBS systems to dial into any more, though, much less an Arpanet TAC

        March 27, 2013
        • The type of physician I would like to work for is a Pediatrician. Pediatrician’s spacielty is to work with children. I have been working with children for a long time mainly because I work at a daycare facility. I’ve got to a point where I feel like I can handle anything that will come my way with them. It would also leave me feeling good at the end of the day to know that I have helped in some way to make a child feel better.The type of physician I would not care to work for is a Epidemiologist. Epidemiologist’s specialize in epidemics caused by infections agents and also work with sexually transmitted diseases. I feel if I were to work in this type of spacielty I would be putting my self at risk of exposure to these infectious agents. Also I would be focusing a lot of my time on trying to not get infected instead of having a steady mind on what I was actually supposed to be doing.

          September 4, 2013
        • centre timp Core2ci şi-a derulat pcuteriol een binecunoscutul stil smuls-stors-deturnat-pitit, după includerea een colectivul de management a celor două fiice ale sale şi a două perechi de naşi. Organismul Intermediar Regional (OIR) de Sud-Est al POSDRU, cu sediul een Brăila, a aprobat ca Cezar Core2ci să semneze un contract de finanţare een valoare de 15.801.256,77 RON şi eenregistrat sub nr. E8276/28.10.2010, deşi acesta nu mai deţinea nici o calitate de conducere een UGIR-1903, eencă din data de 20 martie 2010. Finanţarea este aprobată de Valentin Mocanu, eencă secretar de stat een Ministerul muncii, familiei şi protecţiei sociale, care şi-a luat şi el dreptul din contract.

          October 21, 2013
        • IJWTS wow! Why can’t I think of things like that?

          May 14, 2015
  10. I have written a piece on other influences on the verdict, such as age, gender, race, political orientation of the judge, of the appointing officials or of the reappointing officials. But it is in Dutch, some exotic language from Europe.

    September 15, 2011
      • They suppose that fatigue is the cause. But there might be other factor as well. The judge is more lenient after having a meal and during that time the blood get’s redirected from brain to the digestion. Thus the judge might fall for the fallacies of the defence attorney.

        September 15, 2011
      • Ali #

        February 2, 2012 at 4:40 pmfound in all body fluids and potrects against bacterial and viral infections. combination of iga, igg and igm tests. an immunoglobulin test measures the level of certain immunoglobulins, or antibodies, in the blood. antibodies are proteins made by the immune system to fight antigens, such Reply

        August 9, 2013
      • I’m impressed you should think of something like that

        October 18, 2013
      • For me, choosing a miadcel specialty is easy. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work as a Dermatologist Tech prior to moving to Alaska. What an amazing field! No two cases are the same and more than one type of procedure can be performed in a day. Working for a dermatologist provides the benefits of both a private office setting and hours along with the experience of surgeries and unique treatments. Cyst removals and cancer treatments became the most interesting procedures to me and I can not wait to get back into the field!There are not many positions or specialties I would turn down when it comes to the miadcel field. If I had to pick one, however, it would have to be gynecology. Why would this be the field I turn down? I am honestly not sure. I must be lacking the gene the would cause me to be interested in the subject! For whatever reason I would choose to work anywhere else before choosing gynecology. Specialty clinics are like sushi I guess. How do you know you don’t like it if you’ve never tried it?!

        November 7, 2013
  11. Unfortunately sad but true. it would be much kinder, gentler, more understanding world if we were capable of unbiased judgment of both things and people.

    September 18, 2011
  12. Remarkable things here. I am very glad to look your article. Thanks so much and I am taking a look ahead to contact you. Will you kindly drop me a mail?

    January 30, 2012
  13. Jan #

    Yes.
    If for a reason or multitude of reason the cover is unknown. Being blind for instance,

    January 31, 2012
  14. illusion@mailinator.com #

    “…white wine and a red wine…”

    Real world evidence of ‘Relativity’.

    It is impossible to separate ones beliefs from the reality one experiences. Ones beliefs about reality form it. Ones ideas about what is possible and what is impossible are reflected in all areas. It is however possible to alter the level of consciousness and thus altering beliefs and the reality which one experiences.

    As an example the ‘Twin Paradox’ – A. Einstein. By substituting the persons known as ‘The Twins’, with persons known as ‘Mother and her own child’. And having the mother being the person who travels with the rocket. Reality, at a certain point, which is mathematically calculable, will manifest, that the mother will be ‘younger than’ her own child and the child will ‘older than’ its own mother.

    Time and thus also history, is relative, as everything is relative. It is though, a common held belief; humans, for one, ‘grow older’. And as this belief is perceived as being true, that is the reality that is experienced.

    This experience though, is a possibility, not a necessity!

    February 5, 2012
  15. February 2, 2012 at 12:25 ama card, it is really worth tinryg out. however, it’s important to keep in mind that due to these giveaways’ popularity, chances are you will need to enter white if you in order to score some goodies.how do these giveaways work?for starts, the majority of these giveaways are Reply

    August 11, 2013
  16. It’s great to find someone so on the ball

    August 28, 2013
  17. Tip top stuff. I’ll expect more now.

    January 19, 2015

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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