There’s often a lot riding on how you first present yourself to another person. Research suggests that good-looking and taller men often receive higher salaries than less-attractive, shorter men.
Other research has found that physically attractive people are expected to be more interesting, warm, outgoing, and socially skilled than people who are less attractive.
Strangers also seem more attracted to physically attractive people, according to researchers studying the science of dating and attraction. Scientists have also found that adults with round “baby-faces” are perceived as more naïve, kind, warm, and honest than people with sharper or more angular faces.
So, it seems that when it comes to first impressions, good looks pay off big. But is looking good really everything?
In one study, scientists found that first impressions are generally influenced most by nonverbal communication and body language. They found that clothing, hairstyles, accessories, and other aspects of a person’s outward appearance have a seemingly smaller influence on first impressions.
However, scientists acknowledge that it’s hard to scientifically measure or assess first impressions, because the factors that go into social desirability are highly subjective.
Other scientists’ research also supports the idea that facial cues and body language have the strongest effects on first impressions. They’ve determined that people who strongly express their emotions nonverbally — with their facial expression and body language, for example, are better liked than less expressive people.
So, it appears that simply being expressive — especially showing positive emotions like joy and happiness — can make a good first impression. These emotions can be expressed through body orientation, posture, eye contact, tone of voice, mouth position, and eyebrow shape.
According to scientists, a person starts to form impressions of a person after seeing their face for less than one-tenth of a second. In that time, we decide whether or not the person is attractive, trustworthy, competent, extroverted, or dominant.
So, first impressions are made very fast. Some scientists say they happen too fast to be very accurate. There are stereotypes that humans associate with certain physical characteristics, and these stereotypes can greatly affect a first impression.
For example: Politicians who are more attractive and put-together are often considered more competent. Soldiers who appear more serious and tough will be interpreted as more dominant and might be put into a higher rank based on nothing more than their looks.
When it comes to faces and first impressions, it’s important to recognize that faces are very complex. Humans have become very attentive to even the smallest changes or variances in facial appearances. A positive expression and rounder, more feminine characteristics make a face appear to be more trustworthy. On the other hand, a negative expression and a harder, masculine appearance tends to make a face appear less trustworthy.
Other facial characteristics are associated with other impressions, including dominance, extroversion, competence, and threat. And these characteristics instantly affect how we start treating another person.
How first impressions affect a person’s life depends on the situation in which their appearance is being appraised. For example, an army man would probably want to be seen as dominant while a preschool teacher probably would not.
Based on science, it’s no surprise that humans put so much weight into faces. When we are babies, the objects we look at most are the faces of the people around us. All this time looking at faces leads to the development of face recognition and facial-emotion recognition skills.
These skills were meant to help us read others’ minds, communicate with others, and coordinate our actions with others emotional states — not pass judgment about another person’s character.
So, first impressions based on faces and looks are inherently flawed, because they’re based on biases we develop over time. For example, a person may “look” mean, but they could be extremely nice. A first impression can’t see the niceness behind the mean look.
While science suggests passing judgment based on others’ expressions and looks is a rather inaccurate way to understand a person, first impressions aren’t going away any time soon. And making a good first impression can have big benefits: more friends, a good partner, better pay, and other plusses.
Based on the science of first impressions, here are some tips to putting your best foot forward:
- keep your facial expressions soft and warm
- smile and relax your facial muscles
- don’t squint your eyebrows to avoid looking angry
- keep your body posture relaxed and upright
- maintain eye contact when meeting or speaking to another person
- wear clean, appropriate, and properly fitting clothing
- make sure your hair, hands, and body are washed and well-kempt
- speak in a clear, warm voice
When meeting a new person, those first few seconds and minutes really do matter. So it’s worth thinking about how you might make a good first impression.