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When First Impressions Count

Apparently first impressions are important when the intent is to communicate personality through appearance.

The finding, by University of Texas researchers is significant given the ubiquity of social media communication opportunities.

According to background information in the article, the role of physical appearance in creating first impressions has not been thoroughly investigated.

Psychologists Laura Naumann of Sonoma State University and Sam Gosling address this issue as the authors examined the accuracy of personality impressions based on appearance alone.

Their findings will be published in the December issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

“In an age dominated by social media where personal photographs are ubiquitous, it becomes important to understand the ways personality is communicated via our appearance,” says Naumann.

“The appearance one portrays in his or her photographs has important implications for their professional and social life.”

In the study, observers viewed full-body photographs of 123 people they had never met before. The targets were viewed either in a controlled pose with a neutral facial expression or in a naturally expressed pose.

The accuracy of the judgments was gauged by comparing them to the aggregate of self-ratings and that of three informants who knew the targets well, a criterion now widely regarded as the gold standard in personality research.

Even when viewing the targets in the controlled pose, the observers could accurately judge some major personality traits, including extraversion and self-esteem. But most traits were hard to detect under these conditions. When observers saw naturally expressive behavior (such as a smiling expression or energetic stance), their judgments were accurate for nine of the 10 personality traits.

The 10 traits were extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness, likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity and political orientation.

“We have long known that people jump to conclusions about others on the basis of very little information,” says Gosling, “but what’s striking about these findings is how many of the impressions have a kernel of truth to them, even on the basis of something as simple a single photograph.”

Gosling cautioned that observers still make plenty of mistakes, but noted that this latest work is important because it sheds new light on the sources of accuracy and inaccuracy of judgments.

With this kind of knowledge, individuals can choose to alter their appearance in specific ways, either to make identity claims or shape others’ impressions of them, Naumann says.

“If you want potential employers or romantic suitors to see you as a warm and friendly individual, you should post pictures where you smile or are standing in a relaxed pose,” suggests Naumann.

For example, whether you smile and how you stand (tense vs. relaxed, energetic vs. tired) are important cues to judge a variety of traits. Extraverts smile more, stand in energetic and less tense ways, and look healthy, neat and stylish.

People who are more open to experience are less likely to have a healthy, neat appearance, but are more likely to have a distinctive style of dress.

The researchers also found males who have a neat and healthy appearance are often seen as more conscientious.

However, defining personality in women was more difficult because they were more strongly influenced by cultural demands to look presentable.

Source: The University of Texas

When First Impressions Count

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). When First Impressions Count. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 19, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2009/11/04/when-first-impressions-count/9329.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.