Forget telling the truth: you're judged by your facial expression

First impressions do matter, it turns out.

Princeton University psychologist Alex Todorov has found that people respond intuitively to faces and come up with a snap judgment about a person's trustworthiness, likeability and character in a few milliseconds, far faster than our reasoning minds can come to a conclusion.

Since 2005, Todorov has conducted a number of studies on first impressions and found that individuals draw conclusions about another person's character within milliseconds. In one study, Todorov found that a politician's winning margin in an election correlated to how competent they tended to look.

In a recent study, 200 individuals were asked to look at 66 different faces for one of three time durations--100 milliseconds, 500 milliseconds or a full second--and then asked to judge the person's character. The study found that people didn't change their mind if given more time to observe. Instead, the longer viewing period just reconfirmed the snap judgment. Granted, first impressions can be overcome, but it takes work.

"The link between facial features and character may be tenuous at best, but that doesn't stop our minds from sizing other people up at a glance," said Todorov, an assistant professor of psychology in a prepared statement. "We decide very quickly whether a person possesses many of the traits we feel are important, such as likeability and competence, even though we have not exchanged a single word with them. It appears that we are hard-wired to draw these inferences in a fast, unreflective way."

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About the author

    Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.

     

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