When you first meet someone, how quickly do you think you form that all important first impression of them?
A minute maybe?
A little longer?
Turns out we form an impression of a stranger from their face alone in a tenth of a second.
Psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov carried out a series of experiments which found that we form these impressions of people in a staggeringly short amount of time, and that looking at a person’s face for longer doesn’t significantly alter those first impressions.
Part of the reason why we often stick to our first impressions is confirmation bias. Generally speaking, we like to be right about things. So once we’ve formed an opinion of someone or something we look for, and pay more attention to, evidence that backs it up. So if we decide in the first second of meeting someone that they are stuck up, for example, then we’ll pay attention to other details about them and their actions that seems to support that idea.
There have been quite a few studies carried out that have looked at first impressions, and they’ve produced some fascinating results.
Apparently men with brown eyes tend to be perceived as more dominant. What’s interesting though is that it’s not just because their eyes are brown. A study by study by Karel Kleisner et al found that men with brown eyes also seem to have other facial features that cause others to perceive them as more dominant. So, a blue-eyed man wearing brown coloured contact lenses wouldn’t be seen in the same way.
What you wear can also influence what people think of you, right down to your shoes. A study by Omri Gillatha et al. found that people judge those wearing practical and affordable shoes to be more agreeable, while people who wear shoes that look brand new and in good repair are perceived to be more concerned about making a good impression and avoiding rejection.
Makes me wonder a bit what people think of me when they look at my pink shoes!
There’s more to it than just the way we look though.
Psychologists at Northeastern University carried out a study which found that people who make more eye contact when they’re chatting are perceived as more intelligent. Just be careful not to overdo it, too much constant eye contact can easily make people feel uncomfortable.
Picking up the pace when you talk can also change how people perceive you. Research carried out in the 70s found that people assume that those who talk faster are more competent. Those who talk more slowly, on the other hand, were perceived as being less truthful and less persuasive. Maybe that’s why Lorelai did so well for herself in the end in Gilmore Girls, she talked so fast that people believed she was capable of anything!
We do the same with places.
A study commissioned by Airwick found that it takes us around 26 seconds to form an opinion of someone’s house when we go and visit them for the first time. So, a little longer than it takes us to form an impression of a person, but still pretty quick!
As you might expect, the things we that give us a positive impression of a person and their home is a pleasant smell when you walk in, a clear and clean entrance way and a general ‘homely’ vibe. For me, I think that vibe or gut feeling about a place is really important. You know how some places just feel right to you, as soon as you walk through the door.I know when I was trying to decide what school to send Rhys to, one of the things that swayed me towards the school we chose was the atmosphere there when we went for a visit.
Businesses too know that this first impression that people form is incredibly important. Shops spend ages putting together their window displays to entice people in, and all sorts of businesses make a real effort to make sure their reception area looks good and gives a positive impression of the company.
The company I used to work for have revamped their reception area, with lovely colourful furniture and it looks really inviting now. Those first impressions really do count, especially when we make them as quickly as we do!