Study reveals just how quickly we form a first impression

We rapidly form judgements about a person’s character when looking at their face. A new study from researchers at the University of York reveals just how quickly we form these first impressions.

“Facial impressions are relevant given that these occur very briefly (in as little as 33 ms) and they are consequential, for instance, predicting government election results and influencing romantic preferences,” explained study author Jennifer K. South Palomares.

The researchers found evidence that a single glance of a person’s face for just 33 to 100 ms was sufficient to form a first impression. The study, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, was based on results from 126 university students.

“Participants rated faces on trustworthiness, status, and attractiveness following 33, 100, and 500 ms masked presentation. The face images used were naturalistic, highly variable images (similar to those people upload onto Facebook) and, also, youthful-looking averaged faces,” Palomares explained.

Previous research had found that people link specific facial traits to an individual’s personality traits.

“We found that people can evaluate faces on trustworthiness, status, and attractiveness following even just a brief glance at a face (e.g., 33 ms) and extra time (100 or 500 ms) only led to a small improvement in the correspondence of these time-constrained evaluations with an independent set of time-unconstrained judgments,” Palomares told PsyPost. “The increasing prevalence of online images and internet-based relationships make these findings timely and important.”

The findings are particularly relevant nowadays, thanks to dating apps like Tinder that rely on first impressions.

“We examined people’s first impressions of faces on three traits fundamental in the partner preference literature: trustworthiness, status, and attractiveness,” Palomares said. “An essential next step involves asking participants to evaluate faces based on their romantic partner preferences, so we can see which are the traits that are prioritised in participants’ facial romantic preferences.”

The study, “Facial First Impressions of Partner Preference Traits: Trustworthiness, Status, and Attractiveness“, was co-authored by Andrew W. Young.