5 ways you can make a good first impression, according to science

Monday 24 July 2017 09:45

Alexander Todorov is a professor of psychology at Princeton University.

His research on how we're influenced by people's faces is world-leading, and he says it happens quicker than you think.

He says that he expected in a study that it would take people a substantial amount of time to make complex judgments about people, like as to whether they seem trustworthy or aggressive:

now we know that essentially you don't need more than a 200 millisecond exposure to a facial image. So literally these are single-glance impressions.

It turns out it's only a fraction of a second that you have to make a good first impression.

Here's how you make that time work for you:

1. Trim your eyebrows

Todorov explains that eyebrows play a huge role in how we perceive emotion:

It turns out that for recognising emotional expressions, the eyebrows are much more important than the eyes, simply because they move to a much larger extent than the eyes.

And in fact even for recognition of individuals, familiar individuals, the eyebrows are more important than the eyes.

Imagine Nixon without his eyebrows, he becomes virtually unrecognisable, and if you just remove the eyes but you leave the eyebrows, he is perfectly recognisable.

And that doesn't work only for people like Nixon with prominent eyebrows, it works with lots of familiar faces.

2. Get a good night's sleep

Generally when we appear to be happy and rested, we will be perceived more positively.

There are interesting studies of taking pictures of people after they have a good night sleep and after they have been sleep deprived.

And you can immediately tell the difference.

3. If you want to be trustworthy, try to 'feminise' your face

Todorov explains that faces that appear more feminine tends to be ranked as more trustworthy in studies:

So, one, it's obviously the shape of the face, for example the chin, the eyebrows change, and they are different for men and women. But the other thing is the darkness of the skin. Within every culture that have been studied so far, if you compare men and women, generally the male skin tends to be darker than female skin, so that's a good signal for gender.

And then with very few slight alterations you can make the face look either like a male or a female. And in fact all of the alterations have to do with increasing the contrast between the eyebrows, between the eyes and the mouth and the rest of the face. And this explains why makeup is so popular, because makeup increases this contrast and makes faces look more feminine.

This will, according to Todorov, make you appear more trustworthy but also less dominant. So if you're interviewing for a leadership role, it may be an idea to draw into focus your more masculine features.

It's gendered, yes, it's buying into biased and sexist psychological impulses, yes. It also could make a small difference.

4. Wear clothes you're comfortable in

There was another interesting study where women were asked to wear either something that they really love or something that they hated.

And then while they were wearing these clothes, their pictures were taken, just of the head, head shots, nothing else.

And guess what?

When they were wearing what they liked, people perceived them as more attractive.

5. Don't make snap judgements

As Todorov acknowledges, these snap judgements both ways and you should be conscious to work against a negative first impression if you've made a quick decision about someone on a first impression.

We often think that we are impervious to all kinds of effects and they only apply to other humans but not to us.

So I think the first step is really to be aware that there are many circumstances under which you will form an impression and that might be misleading.

So think more carefully, especially if it's consequential, like the hiring of a potential employee, or making a judgement about the person with whom you are going to live for a long time, like if you decide that your neighbour is an untrustworthy looking guy because they just look this way.


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