The science of first impressions is complicated, influenced by things outside of our control, neurological processes we don’t understand and inaccurate stereotypes. But if we can better understand what is going on, we might stand a chance of finding the one.
There is evidence that we are able to make an assessment of someone’s attractiveness in the blink of an eye, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that those assessments are accurate. By discounting some people in an instant we might also be missing out on far more suitable suitors.
Our environment, personalities and the emotions of the people we meet all contribute to the likelihood that we hit it off. So what is going on when we make a good romantic first impression? And how might apps have changed modern dating?
It takes less than 1/10th of a second to form an assessment of someone’s face. These first impressions predict all kinds of important characteristics, not just attractiveness. For example, people’s snap judgements of a politician’s competence, based solely on their appearance, can predict their success in an election – even when the audience has no knowledge of who the politician is. These impressions we make in a split second are not random; they tend to be shared by the majority of the people surveyed. But it doesn’t necessarily make them correct.
“A first impression could be misleading,” says professor Alexander Todorov, author of Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions and an academic at Princeton University. “Trying to figure out what a person is like from a simple exposure is basically ridiculous. We only make first impressions about strangers. So naturally they are superficial.”
Whether our predictions are accurate or not, we make them quickly and we stick to them. Even if we are given more time than 1/10th of a second to judge the attractiveness of a face, we are unlikely to arrive at a different conclusion.
And in this snapshot, we make an assessment of a lot of different characteristics. There are three universal qualities that people infer from a face: attractiveness, trustworthiness and dominance. Evolutionarily, this makes sense. Attractiveness is a mating cue, trustworthiness implies useful social characteristics, like being able to care for children, and assessing dominance is useful to avoid conflict.