make me a grill

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How long do you have to make a decent first impression?  1 minute? 30 seconds? The famous 7 seconds?  If only.  Princeton University researchers Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov believe we judge strangers within 1/10 of a second.

Better not trip walking in the door.

The experiment by Willis and Todorov studied how quickly we assess the likeability, competence, trustworthiness, attractiveness, and aggressiveness of strangers.  Participants were able to judge all traits within 1/10 of a second, and trustworthiness and attractiveness were assessed more quickly than the other traits.

But how can that be possible?  Can you truly know if someone is trustworthy after 1/10 of a second?

The answer is a resounding no.

In 2010, at the University of Cologne in Germany, researchers Detlef Fetchenhauer and David Dunning created an economic game that required people to accurately judge the trustworthiness of strangers in order to win. They found that participants considered 52% of strangers trustworthy, even though a whopping 80% of strangers were actually deserving of their trust.  Participants made an incorrect assessment nearly 30% of the time.

If we’re unable to accurately ‘snap-judge’ the trustworthiness of a stranger, then what makes us think we’re able to ‘snap-judge’ their other traits?

Would instating ‘stranger best practices’ prevent us from making erroneous snap judgments?  Maybe we should have at least 3 meetings with each new person we meet?  Or, perhaps  we should wear a blindfold when we meet someone new? The first rule would allow time to rectify a first impression with more enduring traits, and the second rule would ensure that non-physical characteristics got due weight in the assessment of a stranger.

The rules might not work: I imagine people endlessly meeting up with strangers while wearing blindfolds.  Say goodbye to free-time and hello to collisions.

So how do we break free of snap judgments?

11 thoughts on “make me a grill

  1. i think i would actually instantly like someone who tripped in the door! i know i have been guilty of making snap judgements, but i have also been known to change my mind after actually meeting someone! i like the blindfold idea!

  2. I honestly don’t think we can.. It’s a genetic predisposition where it was a matter of survival that you had to make snap judgments. I think it helps to just accept that fact that you are going to make judgments. That it is natural to do so but like you mention that it is not fair to do so and not allow it to dictate your ability to connect with another person.. I personally enjoy when I prove myself wrong. It further validates for me that these first impressions that we are instinctively inclined to produce have no purpose in today’s world

  3. This was insightful and hilarious at the same time 🙂 I immediately had a mental vision of people walking around bumping into each other blindfolded (before I read your comment on the same thing).

    I have an interesting twist on your assessment. Let’s see what you think 😉 Looking up information on average human reaction time to an external stimuli, it ranges from an average of 150 to 300 milliseconds. Which is longer than the study which shows the 1/10 of a second to make a first impression.

    What if our snap judgments are a reflection of how we view ourselves? What if our snap judgments pertaining to strangers correlates to snap judgments we make about ourselves? What if we all viewed ourselves as “beautiful” regardless of the physical reflection (both positive and negative) that we see in the mirror? Would we be better prepared mentally to do the same with every other person we meet? Get to know them more deeply before our hasty mind interjects to pass judgement?

    Of course this is all hypothetical, but I must say that your post had me furiously typing away to make sure my thoughts made it to the page before they escaped me 😉 Thank you for a truly thought-provoking post, I haven’t felt so much energy about a discussion in quite some time!

  4. Haha, I trip when I come in the door all the time!

    I think snap judgements can useful in to a degree. Do people change my first impression of them? All the time, whether it be for good or bad. Do I use my initial impression as a basis for how I treat someone? Yes and no. I use it to prepare and protect myself, but am more than willing to allow the person to change my mind. I don’t know how well I explained myself there, but hopefully better than I think I did… 🙂

  5. Hehe–Great blog! I think it’s almost impossible not to make snap judgments, but also simple enough to make a conscious effort to make immediate better/more correct judgments after the snap one. If that makes any sense. 😛

  6. i love this! i think there used to be a blind date show where the couple dated a few times blindfolded or in the dark before actually seeing each other – it was interesting, can’t remember the name of it. Anyway, this kind of goes along with the quote “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting their own battle.” we just don’t know a person and their story until we strive to get to know them!

  7. This is very true! It’s not even conscious, all the time, but we definitely make certain judgments the instant we meet someone. Sometimes they may be true but really, there’s no way to know if what we believe is accurate or not unless we give people a chance and get to know them!
    On that note, Angel thought I was a nerd the first time he saw me. Perhaps that’s an example of a true snap judgment….

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