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?