I’ve always been told not to judge a book by its cover and, in the same breath, told that my messy hair made me look like a “crazy person”. This pissed me off. Admittedly, I can be a bit crazy, but not because I don’t like tidying my hair- that’s laziness ><
People, including me, just can’t help judging based on first impressions. Wouldn’t it be nice if messy hair and crooked teeth didn’t affect job prospects? Wouldn’t it be nice if “ugly duckling” protagonists didn’t NEED to “transform” to succeed (or make falling in love a central plot line but that’s a discussion for another day)? What is the deal with first impressions?
For those who think “it’s just toxic culture”, sorry… Studies say otherwise.
There is strong evidence showing that people form lasting rapid impressions about others based on facial appearance and as little as a single sentence describing behaviour. These inferences are formed as fast as 100 miliseconds and last as long as a week (Todorov, Olivola, Dotsch & Mende-Siedlecki, 2015). Todorov and Olson (2008) demonstrated that even patients with basically NO WORKING MEMORY were able to form trait association. Moreover, people are so good at judging they judge others for looking similar to someone else (Bailenson, Iyengar, Yee & Collins, 2008; Little, Burris, Jones & Roberts, 2007; Suzuki & Suga, 2010; Tanner & Maeng, 2012; Todorov & Verosky, 2010).
Is all this judging useful?
Actually, sort of. (insert studies) find that spontaneous judgements of trustworthiness were quite significantly better than chance at predicting actual untrustworthiness. Not bad I guess. I guess it’s pretty important for our ancestor to quickly figure out who will kill them.
The bigger issue is the apparent difficulty in updating impressions. It took nearly 5x the amount of information counter to the impression for subjects to really revise impressions in (Cuddy, 2002-okay, this study is not quite rigorous, but it’s what we have). Not exactly consistent with rational updating. Perhaps, there’s some pluralistic ignorance going on. People THINK that others care more about appearances than they actually do? Who knows?
Why Does This Matter?
Aside from making mum a pain in the arse, first impressions actually matter. They have predictive value for executive compensation, hiring and election outcomes (Graham, Harvey & Puri, 2020; Olivola & Todorov, 2010; Phelan, Moss- Racusin & Rudman, 2008). I find it quite depressing that competence ratings from 10 seconds of looking at a candidate pictures predicted election results better than chance or that having crooked teeth could prevent a very qualified applicant from landing a job.
What Can Be Done?
I don’t know and honestly, I’ve given up. Time to order a new pair of dress pants I guess….