Eleven Things People Decide Within Seconds of Meeting You


By Rachel Premack

People develop first impressions of you even before you open your mouth.

Research demonstrates that your appearance changes how trustworthy, promiscuous, and powerful people think you are.


You can change some people's first impressions of you by changing your behavior and how you present yourself.

A lot of first impressions come from things we can't control at all — our natural scent, how "baby-like" our faces are, and whether or not we need to wear glasses or are bald.

For instance, men who have feminine facial features, like thinner eyebrows and a pointier chin, are more likely to seem trustworthy.

There's not much folks who want to give off a good first impression can do about their facial structure, but they can change their body language by enacting small changes like smiling more, making more eye contact, and nodding.

Keep reading below to find out what other judgements people make about you within seconds of meeting you:


If you're high-status

A Dutch study found that people wearing name-brand clothes — Lacoste and Tommy Hilfiger, to be precise — were seen as higher status than folks wearing non-designer clothes.

"Perceptions did not differ on any of the other dimensions that might affect the outcome of social interactions," the authors wrote. "There were no differences in perceived attractiveness, kindness, and trustworthiness."

Just status.


If you're trustworthy

People decide on your trustworthiness in a tenth of a second.

Princeton researchers found this out by giving one group of university students 100 milliseconds to rate the attractiveness, competence, likeability, aggressiveness, and trustworthiness of actors' faces.

Members of another group were able to take as long as they wanted. Their judgments were the same for most of the traits as the folks who had only a tenth of a second.

Much of that judgement is based on things you can't really change. For instance, research suggests that more feminine, baby-like, and happy faces are perceived to be more trustworthy.

You can alter your body language to boost others' trust in you. As Business Insider previously reported, try smiling more, leaning forward, looking people in the eye, and mimicking the other person's body language.


Your sexual orientation

People can read a man's sexual orientation in a twentieth of a second— the minimum amount of time it takes to consciously recognize a face.

"The rapid and accurate perception of male sexual orientation may be just another symptom of a fast and efficient cognitive mechanism for perceiving the characteristics of others," wrote study authors Nicholas O. Rule and Nalini Ambady.


If you're smart

A 2007 study led by Loyola Marymount University professor Nora A. Murphy found that looking your conversation partner in the eye was huge for your perceived smartness.

"Looking while speaking was a key behavior," Murphy wrote. "It significantly correlated with IQ, was successfully manipulated by impression-managing targets, and contributed to higher perceived intelligence ratings."

Wearing thick glasses and speaking expressively helps, too.


If you're promiscuous

A British study found that women with visible tattoos were perceived as less attractive, heavier drinkers, and more promiscuous than females without any ink — which owes to stereotypes about women with tattoos.

"In Britain, at least, tattooing among women is often associated with 'ladette' culture, the female equivalent of 'lad' culture, which typically involves a proclivity for alcoholic beverages, sports, fast cars, and a plethora of men's magazines," the authors wrote.


If you're dominant

A University of Pennsylvania study found that "men with shaved heads were rated as more dominant than similar men with full heads of hair," and that "men whose hair was digitally removed were perceived as more dominant, taller, and stronger than their authentic selves."


If you're successful

If you want to look successful, get your suit tailored.

In a British-Turkish study, participants looked at photos of men in tailored versus off-the-peg suits for just five seconds. The guys in tailored suits were rated as more successful.

"On the evidence of this study it appears men may be advised to purchase clothing that is well‐tailored, as it can positively enhance the image they communicate to others," the authors wrote.


If you're on your way to a promotion

It's not just status — it's earnings potential, too.

In a 2011 Canadian study, university students were shown photos of male models dressed in either business or casual attire. They were then asked questions about how that guy would perform in a variety of jobs.

The results were stark: Not only were the crisply dressed dudes expected to make more money, they were expected to get promoted more rapidly.


If you're adventurous

People don't just read into who you are from your appearance, but also from the way you move.

In a Durham University study, students were shown video clips of 26 other students walking — some with looser gaits, some tighter.

Just a few steps were needed to give a sense of personality. Students equated looser gaits with extroversion and adventurousness, while the more clipped walkers were seen as neurotic.


If you're dateable

A recent study on online dating showed that users of dating sites quickly determine how dateable you are just from your photo.

Appearing "more extroverted, open to new experiences, emotionally stable, and likeable" boosted one's success on the dating website. But seeming more ambitious and competent hurt women on the website, while it helped male users of the website find success.

Even after controlling for the text that folks provide in their dating profile, the researchers found that the impressions from the photo held true.

"These results suggest that photo-based first impressions may influence a decision to contact a potential mate, even after learning other relevant information about the person," the researchers wrote.


If you could be a friend or foe

It's not just our eyes that help us form a first impression. Research from Italian psychologist Mariella Pazzaglia suggests how our sense of smell helps us decide if someone is a friend or foe.

According to the research, we determine if someone is in our family or social group by scent. If someone smells familiar, it's a sign that they're like us and could provide social support.

But if they smell too different, we think they might not have our best interests in mind.


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