March 4, 2009

Trustworthiness is judged in less than a second

In this fascinating article from the BPS Research Digest, a study is described where university students were asked to rate several character traits of a person after seeing their photo for just 100 milliseconds.

"The ratings they gave the faces correlated strongly with ratings given by other students who were allowed as long as they wanted to rate the faces. The strongest correlation was for trustworthiness. 'Maybe as soon as a face is there, you know whether to trust it,' the researchers surmised."

"These findings suggest that minimal exposure to faces is sufficient for people to form trait impressions, and that additional exposure time can simply boost confidence in these impressions. That is, additional encounters with a person may only serve to justify quick, initial, on-line judgments," the researchers said.

What does this mean for you as a speaker? Just that the minute you walk into the room, your audience members are already forming judgments about you. It's important to remember that, from the moment you get out of your car or walk out of your hotel room, you are "on."

I can't tell you how to look more trustworthy. If you're not a trustworthy person, I guess the audience will determine that right away. But I can tell you to be aware that judgments are formed in an instant and that the more professional, approachable, positive and easy to work with you are, the better impression you're going to make on organizers and audiences.

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

Richard I. Garber said...


You can download the full article at Dr. Todorov’s web page via this link:

The other four traits were attractiveness, likeability, competence and aggressiveness. According to the abstract, for all five traits: “Judgments made after a 100-ms exposure correlated highly with judgments made in the absence of time constraints.”

What impressed me most was that, according to Science Daily, this article was actually a result from Janine Willis’s senior thesis.

What appalls me about our rapid judgments (less than a second) is how wrong they can be. Take a look at the following photos, which could well be captioned: “Would you buy a used car from these men?”{B92E54BE-554B-4CC7-BB17-74FC80D6E834}

Some will recognize the guy in the long coat as a young Albert Einstein. Just a few electrical engineers or historians will recognize the dwarf, Charles Proteus Steinmetz. Steinmetz was a pioneer in mathematical analysis of alternating current equipment. The cabin in which he wrote his books while working for GE is preserved at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan as is Edison’s famous Menlo Park laboratory.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

It's true that we don't know if the people behind the faces actually ARE trustworthy or not. We only know how they're perceived.

I imagine there's some biological or evolutionary benefit to judging a face so quickly, but of course it's best to actually give a person a chance before you make decisions about them!

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