Photographer - Kendrik Nass

Model - Charlie Wang

Makeup - Nastia Wolf

Is the first impression a good indicator of someone’s potential?

 You never have a second chance to make a good first impression. But is the first impression a good indicator of someone’s potential?


The sum up below is a series of extracts from the book « Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions » by Alexander Todorov.


Real life facts


As Alexander Todorov puts it:


“We, humans, form impressions after seeing a face for a fraction of a second and are ready to act on these impressions. 


We indeed automatically compute the mental and emotional states of the person as well as their possible intentions. We are so confident in our appearance-based impressions that these impressions can trump good information and can lead to suboptimal decisions.


These impressions are closer to perception than to thinking. We don’t need to think, we see.


The modern models of visualizing first impressions are mathematical maps of our appearance stereotypes, not of reality. The real map of the face is dynamic and constantly shifting, its interpretation rapidly changing.


What we see in the face are our own impressions. The science of first impressions is the study of our natural propensity to form impressions. 


Why is face perception key for human survival?


Our interest in and dependence on other people is what drives the development of our face perception skills. By 6 months, infants spontaneously allocate their attention to dynamic faces. By 7 months, they discriminate among different emotions. But these skills are not fully developed by the end of our first year. Recognition of other individuals continues to improve until our teenage


In addition, the emergence of chiefdoms consisting of thousands of individuals, about 7,500 years ago, and later of modern states, changed the dynamics of human interactions. People had to learn not only “how to encounter strangers regularly without attempting to kill them” but also how to live in large groups where it was no longer possible to have direct information about the character of most others in the group. They had to learn. 


From these findings, we can infer that when forming impressions of trustworthiness, we rely on the resemblance of neutral faces to positive or negative emotional expressions.  These expressions, among other things, signal behavioral intentions. An angry person can do many unpleasant things, and it is wise to avoid them. The one thing that is on our minds when we are about to interact with a stranger is figuring out their intentions. Do they have good or bad intentions? In most circumstances, we will approach a stranger with a happy face and avoid a stranger with an angry face.


First impressions are not only fast and easy but also consequential. Evaluating people—whether their abilities or moral character—is a difficult business. When the information is limited or the evidence is ambiguous, stereotypes and inferences from appearance can sway us one way or another. If the situation calls for figuring out the competence of others, our impressions of competence come in handy. If the situation calls for figuring out their dominance, our impressions of dominance come in hand.


When we need to make a decision, particularly when we have little knowledge, we rely on shortcuts: hunches, “gut” responses, stereotypes. We use shortcuts because it is easy. We are ready to leap to conclusions, especially when we are too lazy or busy to look for hard evidence.


We look at a person and immediately a certain impression of her/his character forms itself in us. A glance, a few spoken words are sufficient to tell us a story about a highly complex matter. We know that such impressions form with remarkable rapidity and with great ease. Subsequent observations may enrich or upset our view, but we can no more prevent its rapid growth than we can avoid perceiving a given visual object or hearing a melody.” Impressions simply register on our senses. At least, this is how it appears to us. “

Real life impact is strong


Sarah Verosky and Alexander Todorov have run multiple experiments in which participants trusted faces resembling those associated with positive facts and distrusted faces resembling those associated with negative facts. 


“The influence of face similarity extends to hiring decisions and consumer choices. Participants judged job applicants whose faces resembled former successful employees as more qualified than applicants whose faces resembled former unsuccessful employees, even though the applicants’ resumes contained plenty of relevant information.


We are more willing to invest money in people and to vote for politicians whose faces have been manipulated to resemble our own faces. There is evidence that we are more likely to marry people who look like us and even choose purebred dogs who “resemble” us for pets. We try to shape our environments.


In short, the influence of similarity is fairly automatic according to modern research. 



Source of each of us first impressions


First impressions are not a universal language, they are shaped up by culture, age and mostly by our own experiences with people through our life.


Idiosyncrasies result from living in specific cultures, belonging to specific groups, and having unique individual experiences with others.



But not all meaning is shared. In many Western cultures, people see smiling as indicating social bonding, but in other cultures, they see it as indicating superiority. As a result, while genuine smiles can signal good intentions in Western cultures, they may signal dominance rather than affiliation in other cultures. In some cultures, people see masculine faces as aggressive, but in others they don’t.



Expressing emotions is exercising facial muscle groups. Frequent exercising could leave its permanent traces on your face. All we can see are traces of our lives. These traces need not originate in our characters.



To fully understand first impressions, we need to account for all cues that shape these impressions: not only those cues with widely shared meaning but also those that are unique to each individual.


To build our models of impressions, we aggregate impressions across individuals. That is, we average the judgments of many individuals. Using these aggregated impressions, we can capture the shared meaning of facial cues. But aggregating across individuals masks individual differences—the unique contributions that each of us brings to our impressions.


Lichtenberg thought of this as “the law of our thinking that the moment we see someone, the most similar character we know immediately comes to mind, and commonly also immediately determines our judgment.”



Having said that, when you know that you are being observed, you could change your behaviour accordingly, jeopardising the validity of the observation and any inferences about the causes of your behaviour.


The non virtuous circle 

Because social interactions are contingent on the interactants’ behaviours, treating people with untrustworthy-looking faces unfairly is bound to generate “unfair” behaviours in response. And there are many demonstrations of this kind of reciprocal negativity in trust games. If the first move against you is unfair, you are likely to retaliate by returning the unfairness. We can evoke the behaviours that we predicted in others by simply acting on our inaccurate beliefs.

A bling game

It is easier to pigeonhole people than to see them as multifaceted human beings. But another part of the answer is that we rarely get unambiguous feedback about whether we are right or wrong. We may never find out whether the people we branded as unfriendly are actually unfriendly. Once we have decided that they are unfriendly, there is no need to approach them. There are so many other friendly people to talk to. Furthermore, we may be accurate in predicting the behavior of a person in a specific situation and be completely wrong about the person. “


Test yourself on implicit bias with the 14 Harvard implicit tests on age bias, skin tone bias, weight bias, sexuality etc…click on the button below to access the tests.