Branding isn’t just for companies. Professionals each have their own story to tell and goals, skills, and expertise to share. In today’s increasingly digital world, a personal brand is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s expected.
Jan 11, 2023
Social Media Marketing
Although most marketers recognize the significance of first impressions, many are unaware of the brief window of opportunity they have to make a favorable impression. Studies suggest that individuals form a solid impression of another person within the first seven seconds of meeting, and research shows that a mere tenth of a second is all that is required to start determining essential traits, such as trustworthiness. A series of experiments by Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov reveal that all it takes is a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face, and that longer exposures don’t significantly alter those impressions (although they might boost your confidence in your judgments). Their research is presented in their article “First Impressions,” in the July issue of Psychological Science.
New Research on First Impressions
Alexander Todorov sheds light on the incredible speed at which humans form impressions of others based solely on facial appearance. According to their study, which was published in the July issue of the journal Psychological Science under the title "First Impressions" a number of years ago, it takes merely a tenth of a second for someone to form a judgment about a stranger based on their facial features. Remarkably, the study indicates that spending additional time observing the person does not substantially alter these initial impressions, although it may enhance one's confidence in the judgment made.
Willis and Todorov conducted separate experiments to study judgments from facial appearance, each focusing on a different trait: attractiveness, likeability, competence, trustworthiness, and aggressiveness. Participants were shown photographs of unfamiliar faces for 100 milliseconds (1/10 of a second), 500 milliseconds (half a second), or 1,000 milliseconds (a full second), and were immediately asked to judge the faces for the trait in question (e.g., “Is this person competent?”). Response time was measured. Participants were then asked to rate their confidence in making their judgments.
The research involved a series of carefully designed experiments aimed at understanding the rapidity and resilience of first impressions. Participants were shown images of strangers' faces for varying lengths of time and were asked to form opinions about them. The data collected revealed that these snap judgments made within a fraction of a second remained largely unchanged, even after extended periods of observation. This has significant implications for a variety of social interactions, from job interviews to first dates, emphasizing the outsized role that immediate perceptions play in human relationships.
Interpreting the Research
The study found that people can make accurate judgments about a person's attractiveness, likeability, trustworthiness, competence, and aggressiveness after only a 100-ms exposure to their face. The researchers also found that increased exposure time did not significantly improve the accuracy of these judgments, but it did increase confidence in the judgments.
Like it or not, judgments based on facial appearance play a powerful role in how we treat others, and how we get treated. Psychologists have long known that attractive people get better outcomes in practically all walks of life. People with “mature” faces receive more severe judicial outcomes than “baby-faced” people. And having a face that looks competent (as opposed to trustworthy or likeable) may matter a lot in whether a person gets elected to public office.
The study is important because it shows that people make snap judgments about others based on their facial appearance, and that these judgments can be accurate. This has implications for how we interact with others, as well as for how we are perceived by others. Being open to different viewpoints and showing respect for diversity can leave a lasting impression, especially in multicultural and diverse settings. These qualities are increasingly valued in today's globalized world.
Improving First Impressions
Your profile picture matters. So does the short caption on your Instagram or Twitter profile. Anything about your social media profile a person can process in a few seconds or less, can matter. While existing research shows specific behaviors related to first impressions, the same strategies used for improving your personal brand in general are likely to help you improve your first impressions. First impressions are quick to form but can be lasting. It's never too late to improve. Seek feedback from trusted colleagues or friends to know where you stand and how you can improve. Good manners and polite behavior are universal indicators of good character. Simple acts like saying "please" and "thank you," holding the door open, or waiting your turn to speak can significantly improve how you are perceived. While it's important to put your best foot forward, authenticity should never be compromised. People can often detect insincerity, which can turn a first impression sour. Be yourself, while being respectful and considerate of others' perspectives.