7 Remarkable Findings From the Science of First Impressions

I won’t get any prizes for originality when I say that first impressions are vitally important: much has been written on the subject. We’ve been told that interviewers take just four, five or six minutes to make a hiring decision. We’ve also been told that it takes only a quick glance, a couple of seconds perhaps, for someone to evaluate us when they first meet us. They will base their opinion about us on any number of cues: our body language, our demeanor, our handshake or our dress sense.

Psychologists have studied the ‘science’ of first impressions for decades, with some of the more interesting findings from the body of research shown here:

See also: How Your Handshake Can Make or Break an Interview

1. Our initial predictions are pretty accurate

We can instinctively tell whether someone is trustworthy in under a tenth of a second. We are also able to, with some accuracy, predict specific information such as their intelligence or sexual orientation.

2. Women with tattoos are judged to be promiscuous

In one study, reported on ResearchGate, researchers presented students with pictures of women in which the women showed different numbers of visible tattoos. Not only were women with tattoos judged as being more sexually promiscuous, but they were also perceived as being heavier drinkers and less attractive than women without tattoos, and the higher the number of tattoos, the worse the negative ratings. Another study found that men believed they would have more ‘luck’ with a woman if she sported a tattoo on her back.

3. People who make eye contact are seen as being intelligent

Researchers at Northeastern University invited study participants to watch short videos of strangers talking to one another and then to rank the intelligence of their conversation partners. The strangers in the video who made more eye contact with their conversational partner when talking were seen as having greater intelligence.

4. Females who don’t make eye contact are perceived as being "unconscientious"

Studies have found that females who avoid making eye contact are seen as being “unconscientious, disagreeable and unattractive”. However, people who overdo the eye-contact are perceived as psychopathic!

5. Men with brown eyes are seen as more dominant than men with blue eyes

Brown-eyed men are judged as being “more dominant” when compared with those with blue eyes, according to a 2010 study, reported in the British Psychological Society (BPS). But if you’re blue-eyed, I wouldn’t rush to your local opticians to buy some brown contact lenses just yet. This is because the researchers have put the perceived “dominance” of the brown-eyed down to another aspect of appearance that “triggers” in people the “perception of dominance”. According to the researchers, men with brown eyes tend to have “broader, bigger chins, bigger noses, eyes closer together, and larger eye-brows” compared with their blue-eyed counterparts. The researchers posit that any of these features may be the reason for the “perception of dominance”. The findings are an interesting addition to other research, also reported in the BPS, which shows that men with broader faces are judged as being aggressive.

6. ‘Dressing the part’ brings influence

One study published in the Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management showed that people who wear designer clothes are judged as being wealthier and having a higher status than those who don’t wear designer gear. Furthermore, in the study, the people in designer clothes were more successful at getting people to do things and were more likely to be hired. According to the study’s researchers, these effects were based on the assumption that the person wearing the clothes owned them. There is already a large body of research about the impact of dressing smartly and success such as this study which showed that men in bespoke suits were rated as being more confident than men in off-the-peg suits.

7. People who don’t speak fluently are seen as being a bit dim

According to one study, people who don’t speak fluently, who “um” and “ah” their way through conversations are assumed not to know very much.

See also: Why First Impressions Will Make or Break You

What’s your takeaway from these findings? Are you impressed that the human mind can make a judgment in just a tenth of a second? Or did you underestimate the size of the role that conditioning plays in our decision-making? Share your comments below.





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