The Science of Making a First Impression

First impressions matter. Experts say we size up new people in somewhere between 30 seconds and two minutes. Elliot Abrams

From the first moment people lay eyes on you, the process of "sizing you up" begins.   Whether you're being considered for a new job or as a romantic possibility, even subtle facial cues can help form snap impressions about your personality, your level of intelligence, how attractive you are, etc.  And these impressionst often persists long after other people get to know you better.   Overcoming a bad first impression can be an overwhelming task and many people may not be willing to give you a chance to try.  So what is it that  happens during those first critical minutes?

Life is always fair unfortunately and physical attractiveness is often one of the first things people look for on meeting for the first time and intelligence is a close second.   Psychologist Edward Thorndike first identified what he referred to as a halo effect that can shape how we view others.  In a classic 1920 study, he found that commanding officers asked to evaluate soldiers on a number of different traits often produced extremely uniform ratings.   In other words, these soldiers who were rated as superior in terms of physique, bearing, or voice, also tended to be rated as superior in qualities such as leadership and loyalty.  This worked in the opposite direction as well with soldiers being seen as below average on one quality were often rated as below quality on all the others. 

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.










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