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Candidates Who Perform Last
Finish First

March 1 2005 - It isn't surprising when singers who advance to the next round in competitions such as "American Idol" each week are those who performed at the end of the previous week's episode. Researcher Wändi Bruine De Bruin of Studies by Carnegie Mellon University has found that participants appearing towards the end of juried competitions seem to do better than those performing at the beginning - and this finding has implications for recruitment and selection.

Bruine De Bruin's latest paper, published in the journal Acta Psychologica, describes her studies on 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.) Bruine De Bruin found that participants appearing near the end of the contests received higher marks from judges than those who performed earlier. This phenomenon, known as the serial position effect, doesn't just affect would-be pop idols; it is possible that the effect may occur in other situations such as job interviews and student exams.

Bruine De Bruin found that the effect was progressive, with scores increasing throughout the competitions, not just when when judges evaluated all candidates at the end of each contest, but also when they were asked to rate each individual performance after it had 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.

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