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Snap judgments decide a face's character, psychologist finds

We may be taught not to judge a book by its cover, but when we see a new face, our brains decide whether a person is attractive and trustworthy within a tenth of a second, according to recent Princeton research.

Princeton University psychologist Alex Todorov has found that people respond intuitively to faces so rapidly that our reasoning minds may not have time to influence the reaction -- and that our intuitions about attraction and trust are among those we form the fastest.

"The link between facial features and character may be tenuous at best, but that doesn't stop our minds from sizing other people up at a glance," said Todorov, an assistant professor of psychology. "We decide very quickly whether a person possesses many of the traits we feel are important, such as likeability and competence, even though we have not exchanged a single word with them. It appears that we are hard-wired to draw these inferences in a fast, unreflective way."

Todorov and co-author Janine Willis, a student researcher who graduated from Princeton in 2005, used timed experiments and found that snap judgments on character are often formed with insufficient time for rational thought. They published their research in the July issue of the journal Psychological Science.

The study formed part of Willis' senior thesis work, which was inspired by an earlier paper by Todorov investigating the outcome of a political campaign.

"I had done studies with my students that found there was a direct correlation between how competent a campaigning politician's face was and how great his margin of victory turned out in the final election," Todorov said of his earlier work, published in the journal Science last year. "We might assume that our judgments are founded on deliberate and rational thought processes, but observers had made their judgments about politicians based on a one-second look at their faces. I mentioned the findings to Janine, who sug
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Contact: Chad Boutin
cboutin@princeton.edu
609-258-5729
Princeton University
22-Aug-2006


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