First Impressions


How long do you have to make a good first impression on someone you have just met?  Psychologists have debated the answer to this question for a long time but new research has begun to solve the issue.  The answer is quite interesting.

Two Princeton psychologists, Alexander Todorov and Janine Willis, wanted to measure the time that it takes for a person to make a judgment about someone they had never seen before.  They conducted an experiment where subjects were shown photographs of peoples’ faces for different lengths of time and then were asked questions about the person in the photo.  The photos were shown to the subjects for 100 milliseconds (1/10th of a second), 500 milliseconds (1/2 a second) and 1,000 milliseconds (1 second).  Another set of people, called a control group, was shown the same photographs of the same people but they could look at the photos for as long as they wanted with no time constraints.

Afterwards, each subject in the experiment had to rate the person in the photo based on attractiveness, likeability, competence, and trustworthiness.  Todorov and Willis found in their results that the subjects who looked at the photos for only 1/10th of a second made very similar judgments about the people in the photos as the control group made.  This was very surprising and shows that first impressions are quickly made and usually lasting.  Perhaps this ability to quickly judge whether another person is a threat or a friend helped humans survive a long time ago.

Malcolm Gladwell, a famous American author, has also written a book about how people make extremely quick decisions, also known as “snap judgments”.  In his book, “Blink:  The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”, he examines how experts often make more accurate decisions without having much time to think about them.  In daily life, snap judgments are also used in situations like gambling, speed dating, and predicting divorce.  In his studies, he found that having too much information can actually interfere with the ability to judge.  However, he also warns that there are times when snap judgments can lead to horrible mistakes or prejudices.