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First Impressions

February 21, 2014

First impressions, based on faces, can override factual information that we learn about people.



The power of first impressions. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

421px-Frank_Abagnale_Marcus JB Wikipedia cc 2.0

Frank Abagnale used the power of first impressions to con his way around the world. (Marcus JB/Wikipedia)

Our first impressions of people can be very influential, even after we’ve gotten to know them. Among the researchers who study this is University of Toronto social psychologist Nick Rule. He’s found, for example, that once people judge strangers’ faces as either trustworthy or untrustworthy, it’s hard for contradictory information to override that impression.

NICK RULE (University of Toronto):

So even though they might know that some person is a thief, and some person is a saint, so to speak, that will carry less weight in sort of how they process the person than how they look, based on their appearance.

He’s seen similar results when participants guessed a person’s sexual orientation, even from photos of just their eyes. Rule says when they’re under time pressure, people are especially prone to rely on their first impressions, and require more time and prompting to recall more objective information. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.