Science Explains: First impressions
When first arriving at Warwick, nothing terrified me more than the prospect of meeting my flatmates. Would these people become my best friends or worst enemies? While my over-active (and over-anxious) imagination tried to persuade me otherwise, the chances of an inevitably awkward conversation during Welcome Weekend derailing my entire university experience were pretty low. However, come Freshers Week, we all secretly, or not-so-secretly, want to make a decent enough first impression for that encounter to at least lead to an acquaintance, or at best, a friend for life.
A lot of making a good first impression comes down to the snap judgements we make on each other’s appearances, and the assumptions of character that we make based on them. According to a 2006 study published in Psychological Science, by processing information about a person’s face we make conclusions about their various qualities. In just one-tenth of a second we assume their honesty, competency, morality and trustworthiness, to name but a few characteristics. For example, we might think someone with babyish features is harmless, and angrier faces as more dishonest. While a lot of these judgements seem superficial, Vivian Zayas of Cornell University explains that this practice dates back to evolutionary times where such conclusions we made of strangers were needed as a matter of survival, and not just to decide whether your new flatmate will be a worthy wing-man in POP!.
We all secretly, or not-so-secretly, want to make a decent enough first impression for that encounter to at least lead to an acquaintance, or at best, a friend for life
Research from New York University (NYU) suggests that we base our snap judgements upon meeting a new person on their facial features by using our beliefs of how other people’s personalities work. Jonathan Freeman, associate professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science, said: “Our findings suggest that face impressions are shaped not only by a face’s specific features but also by our own beliefs about personality – for instance, the cues that make a face look competent and make a face look friendly are physically more similar to those who believe competence and friendliness co-occur in other people’s personalities.”
The NYU researchers discovered that those who believed competent people are also friendly had mental images of faces they deemed to be friendly and those they deemed to be competent, and these faces were similar. This not only highlights the preconceptions we hold over various appearances but also goes some way to explain how we can glean so many assumptions from only a handful of facial features.
So are our chances of making a good impression down to our facial features alone? Luckily, (especially so for those of us with a naturally ‘unfriendly’ face) experts seem to think there are some foolproof ways you can increase your chances of making a good first impression that aren’t just based on looks. Methods include adopting a happy and positive persona, even if you’re stressed or a little nervous, smiling, and searching for a common ground with the person you’re meeting for the first time. If all else fails, you can try shifting the focus of the conversation from yourself to them, chances are you’ll make them feel more valued, and give yourself a few minutes to relax at the same time!
Experts seem to think there are some foolproof ways you can increase your chances of making a good first impression that aren’t just based on looks
One last tip from ‘the experts’ is to get a decent night’s sleep, as apparently, a tired face accessorised with eye-bags and a permanent yawn isn’t the most approachable of looks. In keeping with the facial assumptions we covered earlier, this could cause your new flatmates to think of you as less smart, less healthy and less attractive. Not a great prospect. As shut eye probably isn’t the easiest thing to achieve during Freshers, at least try and get an early night before you arrive at Warwick. Either way, a couple of nights into Welcome Week and you’ll all be as sleep-deprived and accepting as each other.