First Impressions

June 1, 2018

How quickly do you form an impression of someone’s personality simply by looking at their face?

Research by one of the world’s leading researchers on first impressions, Alexander Todorov, Professor of Psychology at Princeton University, and has found that it takes less than one second to form a first impression.

These judgements are unavoidable because we are hard-wired to classify people quickly and to have confidence in those judgements.  Whilst these self-assured first impression are part of being human, they can often be inaccurate.

In one study people were shown a face for 100 milliseconds, 500 milliseconds to a full second, and then asked to make various judgements.  Complex judgements such as trustworthiness, aggressiveness and attractiveness were all made in this narrow time-frame and longer exposure only served to increase confidence in those judgements.

Faces that look happy are perceived as more trustworthy and faces that look disgruntled and somewhat angry are perceived as untrustworthy.  We tend to trust and like feminine faces more than masculine faces, but feminine faces are perceived as less dominant.  Attractive people are judged as more competent than less attractive people and tall people are judged as more intelligent than shorter people.

All these biases have been replicated in studies many times and whilst they are consistent findings, it does not mean the actual judgements of people are accurate.  Of course, being tall or attractive does makes you more intelligent or competent, but these are power biases and judgements that affect all of us.

We often think we are impervious to these biases and they only apply to other people.  You often hear people say, “I’m a good judge of people”.  But, we are all good at making judgements, the issue is whether they are accurate.

Recruitment decisions can be improved by being aware of our tendency to make quick confident first impressions during the interview and introducing other steps, such as psychometric testing, into your recruitment methodology.

Be aware that there are many circumstances under which you will form an impression and that might be misleading, especially if it’s consequential, like the hiring of a potential employee.