New research suggests that first impressions are so powerful that they are more important than fact.
A new study found that even when told whether a person was gay or straight, people identified a person’s sexual orientation based on how they looked — even if it contradicted the facts presented to them.
“We judge books by their covers, and we can’t help but do it,” said Nicholas Rule, Ph.D., of the University of Toronto. “With effort, we can overcome this to some extent, but we are continually tasked with needing to correct ourselves.”
“Furthermore, the less time we have to make our judgments, the more likely we are to go with our gut, even over fact,” he added.
“As soon as one sees another person, an impression is formed,” Rule said. “This happens so quickly — just a small fraction of a second — that what we see can sometimes dominate what we know.”
A series of recent studies, presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) annual conference in Austin, Texas, shows that appearance affects everything from whether we end up liking someone to our assessment of their sexual orientation or trustworthiness.
Researchers also note that a first impression formed online — say from a Facebook photo — is often more negative than a first impression formed face to face.
Study on Sexual Orientation and Trustworthiness
In a study on first impressions of sexual orientation, Rule and his colleagues showed 100 people photos of 20 men, identifying them either as gay or straight. The researchers then tested the participants’ recall of the men’s sexual orientations several times to ensure perfect memorization.
After this learning phase, the researchers then showed the participants the faces again, varying the amount of time they had to categorize the men’s sexual orientations.
The researchers found that the less time the participants had to categorize the faces, the more likely they were to categorize the men according to whether they looked gay or straight, rather than what they had been told about their sexuality. With more time, however, the participants reverted to what they had learned about the men’s sexuality.
“They seemed to judge by appearance when they were forced to make their judgments quickly,” Rule said. “When they were allowed more time, though, they judged according to what they knew about the individuals.”
The researchers noted that they labeled half the faces with their actual sexual orientation and half with their opposite orientation. They did this to “teach the participants to learn information that was opposite to their perceptions,” Rule said.
“It was important for us to establish a conflict between perception — how the face looked — and memory — what they knew about the man’s sexual orientation,” he said.
Rule points to the singer Ricky Martin, who for years denied he was gay before finally coming out.
“In the 1990s, people might see Martin and think ‘oh, that’s a gay guy,’ but then you’d recognize that it was Ricky Martin and think ‘oh, wait, that’s Ricky Martin — he told Barbara Walters that he was straight.’ So there’s a corrective process there: First impressions continue to assert themselves long after you know relevant information about a person,” he said.
Rule presented another study at the conference, which looked at how people categorized faces as trustworthy or not. In this study, facial appearance was a stronger predictor of whether people viewed someone as trustworthy than descriptive information provided, again, even if it conflicted.
“Together, these studies help to illustrate the often inescapable nature of how we form impressions of other people based on their appearance,” Rule said.
“Not only should people not assume that others will be able to overcome aspects of their appearance when evaluating them, but also those of us on the other end should be actively working to consider that our impressions of others are biased.”
First Impressions in Person versus Online
Other research presented at the conference looked at the differences in how we form impressions in person versus online, through a video or by just watching people.
“If you want to make a good impression, it is critical that it is done in person,” said Jeremy Biesanz, Ph.D., of the University of British Columbia, who conducted three studies comparing the accuracy and bias of first impressions when formed under different circumstances.
The first study analyzed a series of experiments involving more than 1,000 participants who met each other through either a three-minute speed-dating style interview, or by watching a video of the person.
“What we observe here is that the accuracy of impressions is the same when you meet someone face to face or simply watch a video of them,” Biesanz said. “However, impressions are much more negative when you form impressions more passively through watching videotapes.”
While people could accurately attribute certain personality traits, such as extroverted, arrogant, or sociable, to others in person or by video, the magnitude of the positive attributes was lower via video, while the negatives attributes were higher.
The researchers found similar results in two other studies, including one that compared in-person impressions to those obtained through looking at Facebook photos. The other study compared in-person meetings to simply watching someone as a passive observer. In all cases, the passive means of making impressions were as accurate as the active ones, according to the researchers.
“However, there is an extremely large difference in the positivity of impressions,” he said. “More passive impressions are substantially more negative.”
First Impressions of a Romantic Partner
How we create first impressions is also important when looking for a romantic partner. And new research in this field suggests that whether you meet someone online or in person dramatically changes the judging process.
“People are more likely to use abstract information to make their evaluations in hypothetical than in live impression formation contexts,” said Paul Eastwick, Ph.D., of the University of Texas, Austin, who presented results of his studies on gender differences in different romantic contexts at the conference.
What he found was that when men and women evaluate potential partners in person versus online, typical “ideal” gender preferences disappear.
For example, men generally say they care about attractiveness in a partner more than women, while women say they care about earning prospects in a partner more than men.
“But our meta-analysis reveals that men and women do not show these sex differences when they evaluate others in a face-to-face context,” Eastwick said. “That is, attractiveness inspires men’s and women’s romantic evaluations to the same extent, and earning prospects inspires men’s and women’s romantic evaluations to the same extent.”
The research suggests that in face-to-face settings, people rely more on their gut-level evaluations of another person, according to the researcher.
“They focus on how that person makes them feel,” Eastwick said. “It is very hard to get a sense of this information when simply viewing a profile. This disconnect can cause confusion and distress in the online dating realm, as potential partners that seem terrific ‘on paper’ prove to be disappointing after a face-to-face interaction.”
Photographs Predict Judgement
In another study, psychological researchers Drs. Vivian Zayas of Cornell University and Gül Günaydin of Middle East Technical University found that viewing a photograph can be a good predictor of how you will judge someone in person.
“Despite the well-known idiom to ‘not judge a book by its cover,’ the present research shows that such judgments about the cover are good proxies for judgments about the book — even after reading it,” said Zayas.
Her new research shows that initial impressions based on viewing a single photograph accurately predict how a person will feel about the other person in a live interaction that takes place more than a month later.
“Moreover, participants’ initial judgments based on the photograph colored personality judgments following the interaction,” Zayas said. “The results showed that initial liking judgments based on a photograph remained unchanged even after obtaining more information about a person via an actual live interaction.”
Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology
Young man and older man meeting photo by shutterstock.
In psychology, a first impression is the event when one person first encounters another person and forms a mental image of that person. Impression accuracy varies depending on the observer and the target (person, object, scene, etc.) being observed.[unreliable medical source?] First impressions are based on a wide range of characteristics: age, race, culture, language, gender, physical appearance, accent, posture, voice, number of people present, and time allowed to process.[unreliable medical source?]The first impressions individuals give to others could greatly influence how they are treated and viewed in many contexts of everyday life.
Speed and accuracy
It takes just one-tenth of a second for us to judge someone and make a first impression. Research finds that the more time participants are afforded to form the impression, the more confidence in impressions they report. Not only are people quick to form first impressions, they are also fairly accurate when the target presents him or herself genuinely. People are generally not good at perceiving feigned emotions or detecting lies.[medical citation needed] Research participants who reported forming accurate impressions of specific targets did tend to have more accurate perceptions of specific targets that aligned with others' reports of the target. Individuals are also fairly reliable at understanding the first impression that he/she will project to others.
The rate at which different qualities are detected in first impressions may be linked to what has been important to survival from an evolutionary perspective. For example, trustworthiness and attractiveness were the two traits most quickly detected and evaluated in a study of human faces. People are fairly good at assessing personality traits of others in general, but there appears to be a difference in first impression judgments between older and younger adults. Older adults judged young adult target photos as healthier, more trustworthy, and less hostile, but more aggressive, than younger adults did of the same photos. Older adults could have a lower response to negative cues due to a slower processing speed, causing them to see facial features on young adults as more positive than younger adults do.
Number of observers
One's first impressions are affected by whether he or she is alone or with any number of people. Joint experiences are more globally processed (see global precedence for more on processing), as in collectivist cultures. Global processing emphasizes first impressions more because the collective first impression tends to remain stable over time. Solo experiences tend to facilitate local processing, causing the viewer to take a more critical look at the target. Thus, individuals are more likely to have negative first impressions than groups of two or more viewers of the same target. At the same time, individuals are more likely to experience an upward trend over the course of a series of impressions, e.g. individual viewers will like the final episode of a TV season more than the first even if it is really the same quality.
When viewing pieces of art in an experiment, participants in a solo context rated art in an improving sequence significantly higher than when the targets are presented in a declining sequence. When viewing the art in a joint context, participants evaluated the first and last pieces similarly in both kinds of sequence. Simply priming viewers to feel like they were in solo or joint contexts or to process analytically or holistically was enough to produce the same viewing effects.
Individualism versus collectivism
Similar to the number of viewers present, collectivism versus individualism can influence impression formation. Collectivists are at ease as long as their impressions are largely in alignment with the larger group's impressions. When a collectivist wants to change his/her impression, he/she may be compelled to change the views of all group members. However, this could be challenging for collectivists, who tend to be less confrontational than individualists. Individualists are willing to change their own views at will and are generally more comfortable with uncertainty, which makes them naturally more willing to change their impressions.
Influence of media richness
Research is mixed on whether national culture mediates the relationship between media richness and bias in impression formation. Some studies that manipulated media richness have found that information presented in text form yields similar impressions (measured by reported appraisal scores) among cultures, while other studies found that richer forms of information such as videos reduce cross-cultural bias more effectively. The latter findings support Media Richness Theory.
Accents and speech
Accents and unique speech patterns can influence how people are perceived by those to whom they are speaking. For example, when hypothetically interviewing an applicant with a Midwestern U.S. accent, Colombian accent, or French accent, Midwestern U.S. participants evaluated the U.S. accent as significantly more positive than the applicant with the French accent due to perceived similarity to themselves. The evaluation of the applicant with the Colombian accent did not, however, differ significantly from the other two. First impressions can be heavily influenced by a similarity-attraction hypothesis where others are immediately put into “similar" or “dissimilar” categories from the viewer and judged accordingly.
Physical characteristics and personality
Although populations from different cultures can be quick to view others as dissimilar, there are several first impression characteristics that are universal across cultures. When comparing trait impressions of faces among U.S. and the culturally isolated Tsimane' people of Bolivia, there was between-culture agreement when ascribing certain physical features to descriptive traits such as attractiveness, intelligence, health, and warmth. Both cultures also show a strong attractiveness halo when forming impressions, meaning that those seen as attractive were also rated as more competent, sociable, intelligent, and healthy.
Faces and features
Physical appearance gives us clear clues as to a person's personality without him/her ever having to speak or move. Women tend to be better than men at judging nonverbal behavior. After viewing pictures of people in a neutral position and in a self-chosen posed position, observers were accurate at judging the target's levels of extraversion, emotional stability, openness, self-esteem, and religiosity. The combined impression of physical characteristics, body posture, facial expression, and clothing choices lets observers form accurate images of a target's personality, so long as the person observed is presenting themselves genuinely. However, there is some conflicting data in this field. Other evidence suggests that people sometimes rely too much on appearance cues over actual information. When provided with descriptive information about a target, participants still rely on physical appearance cues when making judgments about others' personalities and capabilities. Participants struggle to look past physical appearance cues even when they know information contrary to their initial judgment. Physical cues are also used to make judgments about political candidates based on extremely brief exposures to their pictures. Perceived competence level of a candidate measured from first impressions of facial features can directly predict voting results.
The “beautiful is good” effect is a very present phenomenon when dealing with first impressions of others. Targets who are attractive are rated more positively and as possessing more unique characteristics than those who are unattractive. Beauty is also found to be somewhat subjective so that even targets who are not universally attractive can receive the benefit of this effect if the observer is attracted to them.
In a 2014 study, a group at the University of York reported that impressions of the traits of approachability, youthfulness/attractiveness and dominance can be formed from measurable characteristics such as the shape of and the spacing around the eyes, nose and mouth. it was found that first impressions of social traits, such as trustworthiness or dominance, are reliably perceived in faces. Physical facial features were objectively measured from feature positions and colours. A neural network was used to model the dimensions of approachability, youthful-attractiveness and dominance. 58% of the variance in raters’ impressions was accounted for by this linear model.
Apparel and cosmetics
Cosmetic use is also an important cue for forming impressions, particularly of women. Those wearing heavy makeup are seen as significantly more feminine than those wearing moderate makeup or no makeup and those wearing heavy or moderate makeup are seen as more attractive than those wearing no makeup. While a woman wearing no makeup is perceived as being more moral than the other two conditions, there is no difference between experimental conditions when judging personality or personal temperament.
First impression formation can be influenced by the use of cognitive short hands such as stereotypes and representative heuristics. When asked to rate the socioeconomic status (SES) and degree of interest in friendship with African American and Caucasian female models wearing either a K-Mart, Abercrombie & Fitch, or non-logoed sweatshirt, Caucasian models were rated more favorably than the African American models. Abercrombie & Fitch wearers were rated as higher SES than the other sweatshirts. Interestingly, participants wanted to be friends with the Caucasian model most when she was wearing a plain sweatshirt and the African American model most when she was wearing either the plain or K-Mart sweatshirt. It is unclear why the plain sweatshirt was most associated with friendship, but the general results suggest that mismatching class and race reduced the model's friendship appeal.
Online profiles and communication channels such as email provide fewer cues than in-person interactions, which makes targets more difficult to understand. When research participants were asked to evaluate a person's facial attractiveness and perceived ambition based on an online dating profile, amount of time permitted for processing and reporting an evaluation of the target produced a difference in impression formation. Spontaneous evaluations relied on physical attractiveness almost exclusively, whereas deliberate evaluations weighed both types of information. Although deliberate evaluations used the information provided on both physical attractiveness and ambition of each target, the particular impact of each kind of information appeared to depend on the consistency between the two. A significant effect of attractiveness on deliberate evaluations was found only when perceived ambition was consistent with the perceived level of attractiveness. The consistency found in profiles seemed to particularly influence deliberate evaluations.
In a study of online impressions, participants who were socially expressive and disclosed a lot about themselves both on their webpages and in person were better liked than those who were less open. Social expressivity includes liveliness in voice, smiling, etc.
Dating and sexuality
Upon seeing photographs of straight, gay, and bisexual people, participants correctly identified gay versus straight males and females at above-chance levels based solely on seeing a picture of their face, however, bisexual targets were only identified at chance. The findings suggest a straight-non straight dichotomy in the categorization of sexual orientation.
The more time participants are allowed to make some judgment about a person, the more they will weigh information beyond physical appearance. Specific manipulations include identifying men as gay versus straight and people as trustworthy or not. In a study of the interaction between ratings of people in speed dating and the form of media used to present them, impression accuracy in a speed dating task was not significantly different when a potential date was presented in person versus in a video. However, impressions of dates made via video were to be much more negative than those made in person. An additional study that looked at characterization of a romantic partner suggested that people are more likely to rely on “gut reactions” when meeting in person, but there isn't sufficient information for this kind of evaluation when viewing someone online.
Non-verbal behaviors are particularly important to forming first impressions when meeting a business acquaintance. Specifically, components of social expressivity, such as smiling, eyebrow position, emotional expression, and eye contact are emphasized. Straightening one's posture, leaning in slightly, and giving a firm handshake promotes favorable impression formation in the American business context. Other impression management tactics in the business world include researching the organization and interviewers beforehand, preparing specific questions for the interviewer, showing confidence, and dressing appropriately.
A qualitative review of previous literature looking at self-report data suggests that men and women use impression management tactics in the corporate world that are consistent with stereotypical gender roles when presenting themselves to others. This research proposes that women are put in a double bind where those who portray themselves as more communal and submissive are overlooked for leadership positions and women who try to utilize male tactics (such as being more aggressive) receive negative consequences for violating normative gender roles. To change this dynamic the authors suggest that managerial positions should be re-advertised to highlight the feminine qualities needed for a position and staff training should involve a segment accentuating gender issues in the office to make everyone aware of possible discrimination.
Data collected from interviews with physicians distinguishes between first impressions and intuition and contributes to understanding the occurrence of gut feelings in the medical field. Gut feelings go beyond first impressions: Physicians expressed feeling doubtful about their initial impressions as they gathered more data from their patients. More experienced physicians reported more instances of gut feelings than those less experienced, but the quality of the intuition was related to the quality of feedback received during the data collection process in general. Emotional engagement enhanced learning just as it does in first impressions.
An instantaneous evaluation about intentions of an approaching person or subject based upon visual clues might have very strong connection with initial stages of biological evolution. The reason why it happens so quickly inside our brains has to do with both risks and benefits subjected with any person or subject that is being encountered at very first time. The latency time of an entire evaluation process suggests a crucial adaption done by pre-historic creatures based upon their earlier experiences of encounters with strangers. Lesser time the process of identification takes, better are the chances of survival.
According to one hypothesis presented by Mr. Sachchidanand Swami (an independent Human Behavior and Nonverbal Communication Researcher from India), an instantaneous evaluation based upon visual clues obtained from any person or subject might have begun with evolution of vision itself. Our remote ancestors living inside pre-historic oceans with their primordial eyesight and small sized brains might have evolved this process. This 'seeing is believing' neurological reflex might have primarily evolved to identify predatory and non-predatory creatures as quickly as possible.
According to him, evaluating intentions of any person or subject based upon its visuals or an external appearance might ultimately have enforced trustworthiness, which is a crucial factor for an interpersonal relationship. Draft of this hypothesis was conveyed by him through an email to more than 100 scientists and researchers from many renowned universities, research laboratories and institutions. This hypothesis is still to be testified by scientific community.
First impressions are formed within milliseconds of seeing a target. When intentionally forming a first impression, encoding relies on the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC). Readings from fMRIs of research participants show that processing of diagnostic information (e.g. distinguishing features) engaged the dmPFC more than processing neutral information.
Participants generally formed more negative impressions of the faces that showed a negative emotion compared to neutral faces. Results suggest that the dmPFC and amygdala together play a large role in negative impression formation. When forming immediate impressions based on emotion, the stimulus can bypass the neo-cortex by way of the “amygdala hijack.”
Research indicates that people are efficient evaluators when forming impressions based on existing biases. The posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), amygdala, and the thalamus sort relevant versus irrelevant information according to these biases. The dmPFC is also involved in the impression formation process, especially with person-descriptive information.
FMRI results show activation of the fusiform cortex, posterior cingulate gyrus, and amygdala when individuals are asked to identify previously seen faces that were encoded as either “friends” or “foes.” Additionally, the caudate and anterior cingulate cortex are more activated when looking at faces of “foes” versus “friends." This research suggests that quick first impressions of hostility or support from unknown people can lead to long-term effects on memory that will later be associated with that person.
Alcohol and impressions
Alcohol consumption and belief of consumption influenced emotion detection in ten second clips. Participants who thought they had consumed an alcoholic beverage rated one facial expression (approximately 3% of the facial expressions they saw) more in each clip as happy compared to the control group. Thus, impression formation may be affected by even the perception of alcohol consumption.
There appears to be cross-cultural similarities in brain responses to first impression formations. In a mock election both American and Japanese individuals voted for the candidate that elicited a stronger response in their bilateral amygdala than those who did not, regardless of the candidate's culture. Individuals also showed a stronger response to cultural outgroup faces than cultural ingroup faces because the amygdala is presumably more sensitive to novel stimuli. However, this finding was unrelated to actual voting decisions.
Once formed, first impressions tend to be stable. A review of the literature on the accuracy and impact of first impressions on rater-based assessments found that raters' first impressions are highly correlated with later scores, but it is unclear exactly why. One study tested stability by asking participants to form impressions people based purely on photographs. Participants' opinions of the people in photographs did not significantly differ after interacting with that person a month later. One potential reason for this stability is that one's first impressions could serve as a guide for his/her next steps, such as what questions are asked and how raters go about scoring. More research needs to be done on the stability of first impressions to fully understand how first impressions guide subsequent treatment, self-fulfilling prophecies, and the halo effect. Assessment tools can influence impressions too, for example if a question provides only a dichotomous "yes" or "no" response or if a rater uses a scale (ratio). Although this study was conducted with the intention of improving rating methods in medical education, the literature review was sufficiently broad enough to generalize.
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