Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Snap Judgments Decide A Face's Character, Psychologist Finds

Date:
August 23, 2006
Source:
Princeton University
Summary:
People decide whether a person is attractive and trustworthy within a tenth of a second, responding intuitively to faces so rapidly that our reasoning minds may not have time to influence the reaction.

We may be taught not to judge a book by its cover, but when we see a new face, our brains decide whether a person is attractive and trustworthy within a tenth of a second, according to recent Princeton research.

Princeton University psychologist Alex Todorov has found that people respond intuitively to faces so rapidly that our reasoning minds may not have time to influence the reaction -- and that our intuitions about attraction and trust are among those we form the fastest.

"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. "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."

Todorov and co-author Janine Willis, a student researcher who graduated from Princeton in 2005, used timed experiments and found that snap judgments on character are often formed with insufficient time for rational thought. They published their research in the July issue of the journal Psychological Science.

The study formed part of Willis' senior thesis work, which was inspired by an earlier paper by Todorov investigating the outcome of a political campaign.

"I had done studies with my students that found there was a direct correlation between how competent a campaigning politician's face was and how great his margin of victory turned out in the final election," Todorov said of his earlier work, published in the journal Science last year. "We might assume that our judgments are founded on deliberate and rational thought processes, but observers had made their judgments about politicians based on a one-second look at their faces. I mentioned the findings to Janine, who suggested we look into just how fast we form these (judgments about) character traits."

For the current study, the two researchers conducted several experiments on about 200 people. For one experiment, the researchers asked observers to look at 66 different faces for one of three time durations: either 100 milliseconds, 500 milliseconds or a full second. After each face flashed on the screen and vanished, the observers marked whether they found the face to be trustworthy or not, and also how confident they were in their analysis. Other experiments conducted in similar fashion tested for different specific traits, such as likeability and competence.

"What we found was that, if given more time, people's fundamental judgment about faces did not change," Todorov said. "Observers simply became more confident in their judgments as the duration lengthened."

Why the brain makes such snap judgments is not yet entirely clear, Todorov said. However, he often works with a sophisticated technological tool for probing brain activity called a functional magnetic resonance imager (fMRI), and Todorov said some of his general research suggests that the part of the brain that responds directly to fear may be involved in judgments of trustworthiness.

"The fear response involves the amygdala, a part of the brain that existed in animals for millions of years before the development of the prefrontal cortex, where rational thoughts come from," he said. "We imagine trust to be a rather sophisticated response, but our observations indicate that trust might be a case of a high-level judgment being made by a low-level brain structure. Perhaps the signal bypasses the cortex altogether."

The research, Todorov said, explores some of the same topics addressed in "Blink," the recent best-selling book by New York journalist Malcolm Gladwell about the rapid cognition our minds experience when making decisions quickly, especially those based on first impressions made in the "blink" of an eye. Gladwell, who is often described as a type of popular sociologist, has said the impetus for his book was the rapid judgments people made about him because of his long hair.

"This paper's results concern specific mechanisms in the mind, while 'Blink' makes broader generalizations," Todorov said. "Gladwell's basic message is not essentially different from ours, though he views snap judgments to be primarily rational in nature. Our research finds that this is often the case, but not always."

Todorov cautioned that his findings do not imply, however, that quick first impressions cannot be overcome by the rational mind.

"As time passes and you get to know people, you, of course, develop a more rounded conception of them," he said. "But because we make these judgments without conscious thought, we should be aware of what is happening when we look at a person's face."

What aspects of a face inspire such judgments remain undetermined, Todorov said.

"We still don't know the physical features of a face that lead to a particular trait inference," he said. "We know generally what makes a face attractive, such as its symmetry, the proportions of its parts and the like. But what is it about a face that makes you think its owner is an essentially competent person? That's the subject of another study, one that needs to be done."

This research was sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Princeton University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Princeton University. "Snap Judgments Decide A Face's Character, Psychologist Finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 August 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/08/060822170919.htm>.
Princeton University. (2006, August 23). Snap Judgments Decide A Face's Character, Psychologist Finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/08/060822170919.htm
Princeton University. "Snap Judgments Decide A Face's Character, Psychologist Finds." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/08/060822170919.htm (accessed August 28, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) It’s an unusual condition with a colorful name. Kids with “Alice in Wonderland” syndrome see sudden distortions in objects they’re looking at or their own bodies appear to change size, a lot like the main character in the Lewis Carroll story. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stopping Schizophrenia Before Birth

Stopping Schizophrenia Before Birth

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) Scientists have long called choline a “brain booster” essential for human development. Not only does it aid in memory and learning, researchers now believe choline could help prevent mental illness. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Personalized Brain Vaccine for Glioblastoma

Personalized Brain Vaccine for Glioblastoma

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) Glioblastoma is the most common and aggressive brain cancer in humans. Now a new treatment using the patient’s own tumor could help slow down its progression and help patients live longer. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Brain Surgery in 3-D

Brain Surgery in 3-D

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) Neurosurgeons now have a new approach to brain surgery using the same 3D glasses you’d put on at an IMAX movie theater. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins