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First impressions made faster than eye blink

People are capable of making judgments faster than a blink of an eye — and researchers have found looks matter. This goes beyond physical attractiveness. People make judgments on nonvisual choices like picking a bottle of wine or a political candidate.

People make snap judgments about whether a person is competent, trustworthy, or fit for a job or second date. They aren’t trying to act like snobs, but people are hard-wired to interpret visual information at amazing speed. Dr. Mary Potter at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that research participants could see and interpret images in only 80 milliseconds, which is much faster than previously believed. People can see and make judgments roughly four times faster than a blink of an eye, which takes 300 to 400 milliseconds.

This makes the eye and brain connection especially effective at looking at something and almost instantly recognizing it. A longer look doesn’t seem to change people’s original impressions. Princeton researchers Janine Todorov and Alexander Willis asked participants to make quick judgments on 66 faces. They results published in Psychological Science found that when participants were allowed to take longer to make an evaluation, they didn’t change their minds. Instead, their confidence with the original impression increased.

What’s even more surprising is that people are judging things that shouldn’t be evaluated by the eye like appreciating a virtuoso violinist.

Chia-June Tsay conducted experiments that found novices could pick the winners of a classical music competition by looking a videotaped performance with the sound turned off. The study, published in 2012 in the journal PNAS, give unsettling evidence that the judges were influenced by the look of the performers rather than the music itself.

Undoing bad first impressions is difficult to do. The revelation of new information can cause someone to rethink the initial impression. The information would need to be incredibly positive as what researchers Thomas Mann and Melissa Ferguson did with a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The researchers presented a story of a man who was breaking into his neighbor’s homes and rummaged through the rooms. Then, the subjects were told the man was looking to rescue children in burning buildings.

Whether anyone has the time to change a hiring manager’s mind on a job interview is another question. For now, people can hope that first impression is good because it will likely stick.

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