Study Reveals How Quickly We Make First Impressions

First Impressions matter.  For love. For business. For life. How quickly do these impressions occur? Faster than you might think.

Previous research has shown that romantic partner preferences look for three characteristics: trustworthiness, status, and attractiveness. These three traits are good approximations of key characteristics that are sought out in both romantic and non-romantic contexts.With more and more dating (and life) moving online, the picture you use in your profile is your new first impression. We also know that people swipe (Tinder and Grindr) through profiles extremely quickly so it’s important to understand what information they get from a quick glance.

Previous research has documented that face evaluations are fast and automatic, but in a new study Jennifer K. South Palomares set out to explore trait evaluations (trustworthiness, status, and attractiveness) following extremely quick presentation of faces.  As the lead author writes, “The current research examined the relative salience of traits deemed important in verbal models of partner preferences using the minimal exposure paradigm”

To test whether or not someone can make a judgement about another in milliseconds, the researchers created baseline data on photos using judgments with unlimited viewing time on the three dimensions. This independent standard was then tested against time constrained viewing (33-500 ms). As the author notes, “The reliability of first impressions of trustworthiness, status, and attractiveness following 33, 100, and 500 ms presentation was examined by correlating these with time-unlimited evaluations of the same faces on the same traits by a different group of participants.”

The results show that a single glance of 100 ms (1/10 of a second) is enough to form a first impression that approximates the impression of those who were given unlimited viewing time. This demonstrates that time constrained judgments are no less reliable than judgments given unlimited time.

As the researchers conclude, “many relationships begin in contexts where facial impressions form an important source of information (e.g., online dating). Our findings revealed that a single glance of 100 ms is sufficient to form a reliable, consensual first impression and that additional time (500 ms presentation) did not result in better correspondence with an independent set of time- unconstrained judgments. The pervasiveness of online images and internet-based romantic (and professional) relationships—in which individuals may approach another based on a rapid glance at a profile image—make these findings timely and relevant to contexts within and beyond the romantic domain.”

The study, Facial First Impressions of Partner Preference Traits: Trustworthiness, Status, and Attractiveness, was co-authored by Andrew W. Young.


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