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Warmth and Competence


Explanations > Emotions > Warmth and Competence

Warmth | Competent | Admiration | Pity | Envy | Contempt | So what


When we evaluate other people or groups, two dimensions we often use are warmth and competence. From this evaluation, we then adopt one of four emotions.


Warmth-Competence matrix

How competent I believe you are
Competent Incompetent

How warm I believe you are










A warm person is friendly towards other people, respecting them and caring for them. With such warmth they create a reciprocal liking, trust and bonding.

In contrast a cold person has a lot more difficulty in gaining sympathy from others, and perhaps does not care about this. By holding themselves separate it seems they consider themselves superior, leading others to limit their trust and care about them.

In stereotyping, groups are variously considered warm or cold. Business leaders, for example are often considered cold. Out-group people in general are often considered colder than in-group people.


Moderating warmth is the extent to which we see others as competent. If a person is seen as competent then this is some reason to admire them, perhaps grudgingly.

Competence is often used when assessing stereotypes and groups, for example where lower social classes are considered to be in their situation more because of incompetence than other factors.

Warm+Competent = Admiration

Both warmth and competence are both factors that we like, and so it is easy to admire people who have both.

Competence can be seen as something of a natural gift, but we feel that nice people are deserving of such abilities and so we do not begrudge them their talent.

Warm+Incompetent = Pity

We like warm people and so consider them deserving. When they show a lack of competence, we therefore do not feel bad about them. Rather, we feel a sense of pity that they do not have the ability that perhaps they deserve.

It is easy to feel superior to people who appear incompetent and sometimes we see them as such as much for the comfort it gives us as really understanding their competence. For those who find it difficult to admire others, pity is a more acceptable alternative.

Cold+Competent = Envy

When a person is cold and seems unfriendly, then it is easier to not like them, classifying them as bad in some way.

Yet when they are competent, they demand some kind of respect for this, which leads to a rather conflicted view of them. If we cannot frame them as incompetent, all that is left is seething envy.

Cold+Incompetent = Contempt

A person who is cold may be seen as bad or wrong in some way. If they are also incompetent, this may trigger secret delight that they can hence be classified as wholly inferior, allowing us to look down on them in contempt.

Contempt is one of the most socially unfriendly emotions as it rejects the other person outright.

So what?

If you want people to admire you, be both warm towards them and ensure you are truly competent in what you do, avoiding lies and bluster.

In evaluating others, be careful of the automatic conclusions around warmth and competence. Take time to truly understand them rather than quickly classifying and dismissing them.

See also

Relationships, Stereotypes


Cuddy, A. J. C., Fiske, S. T., & Glick, P. (2007). The BIAS map: Behaviors from intergroup affect and stereotypes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 631-648.

Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J., Glick, P. and Xu, J. (2002). A model of (often mixed) stereotype content: Competence and warmth respectively follow from perceived status and competition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 878-902


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