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- People develop first impressions of you even before you open your mouth.
- Research suggests that your appearance affects how trustworthy, promiscuous, and powerful people think you are.
- You can change some people’s first impressions of you by changing your behavior and how you present yourself.
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A lot of first impressions come from things we can’t control at all – our natural scent, how “baby-like” our faces are, and whether or not we need to wear glasses or are bald.
For instance, men who have feminine facial features, like thinner eyebrows and a pointier chin, are more likely to seem trustworthy.
There’s not much that folks who want to give off a good first impression can do about their facial structure, though they can change their body language by enacting small changes like smiling more, making more eye contact, and nodding.
Keep reading below to find out what other judgments people make about you within seconds of meeting you:
If you’re high-status
A 2011 Dutch study found that people wearing name-brand clothes – Lacoste and Tommy Hilfiger, to be precise – were seen as higher status than folks wearing non-designer clothes.
“Perceptions did not differ on any of the other dimensions that might affect the outcome of social interactions,” the authors wrote. “There were no differences in perceived attractiveness, kindness, and trustworthiness.”
If you’re trustworthy
- Sebastiaan ter Burg/Flickr
People decide on your trustworthiness in a tenth of a second.
Princeton researchers found this out by giving one group of university students 100 milliseconds to rate the attractiveness, competence, likability, aggressiveness, and trustworthiness of actors’ faces.
Members of another group were able to take as long as they wanted. Their judgments were the same for most of the traits as the folks who had only a tenth of a second.
You can alter your body language to boost others’ trust in you. As Business Insider previously reported, try smiling more, leaning forward, looking people in the eye, and mimicking the other person’s body language.
If you’re charismatic
- Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock
A 2017 University of Toronto study found that observers decide in as little as five seconds whether a person is charismatic, while watching a silent recording of that person delivering a speech.
People who were attractive, white, and not wearing glasses, and who displayed more eye contact and gave stronger arguments were rated as more charismatic. In turn, those perceptions of charisma predicted whether the person appeared to be a leader, suggesting that gender and racial biases are at play when we determine leadership potential.
If you’re leadership material
For a 2012 study, researchers at the University of Miami and Duke University had people listen to recordings of men and women saying, “I urge you to vote for me this November.”
Results showed that participants were more likely to say they’d vote for females with lower-pitched voices. That was largely because the females with lower-pitched voices were seen as more competent and trustworthy.
Participants also preferred to vote for men with lower-pitched voices, though it wasn’t because they seemed more trustworthy.
The researchers say these findings could help explain why fewer women are in leadership positions across the globe. “At the very least,” they write, “voice pitch is a physical characteristic that does not counterbalance social norms that foster gender inequality.”
If you’re promiscuous
A 2007 British study found that women with visible tattoos were perceived by men and women as less attractive, heavier drinkers, and more promiscuous than females without any ink – which owes to stereotypes about women with tattoos.
“In Britain, at least, tattooing among women is often associated with ‘ladette’ culture, the female equivalent of ‘lad’ culture, which typically involves a proclivity for alcoholic beverages, sports, fast cars, and a plethora of men’s magazines,” the authors wrote.
A more recent study, conducted by Polish researchers, found that both men and women perceived tattooed men as more masculine, dominant, and aggressive. But some gender differences emerged.
Women viewed men with tattoos as healthier, while men viewed men with tattoos as more attractive. Women also rated the tattooed men as worse potential partners and parents, whereas men did not.
If you’re smart
- Portra Images/Getty Images
A 2007 study led by Loyola Marymount University professor Nora A. Murphy found that looking your conversation partner in the eye was huge for your perceived smartness.
“Looking while speaking was a key behavior,” Murphy wrote. “It significantly correlated with IQ, was successfully manipulated by impression-managing targets, and contributed to higher perceived intelligence ratings.”
If you’re dominant
- Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images
A 2012 University of Pennsylvania study found that “men with shaved heads were rated as more dominant than similar men with full heads of hair,” and that “men whose hair was digitally removed were perceived as more dominant, taller, and stronger than their authentic selves.”
If you’re successful
If you want to look successful, get your suit tailored.
In a 2013 British-Turkish study, participants looked at photos of men in tailored versus off-the-peg suits for just five seconds. The guys in tailored suits were rated as more successful.
“On the evidence of this study it appears men may be advised to purchase clothing that is well‐tailored, as it can positively enhance the image they communicate to others,” the authors wrote.
If you’re on your way to a promotion
- Tech Hub/Flickr
It’s not just status – it’s earnings potential, too.
In a 2011 Canadian study, university students were shown photos of male models dressed in either business or casual attire. They were then asked questions about how that guy would perform in a variety of jobs.
The results were stark: Not only were the crisply dressed dudes expected to make more money, they were expected to get promoted more rapidly.
If you’re adventurous
- Drew Angerer/Getty Images
People don’t just read into who you are from your appearance, but also from the way you move.
In a 2012 Durham University study, students were shown video clips of 26 other students walking – some with looser gaits, some tighter.
Just a few steps were needed to give a sense of personality. Students equated looser gaits with extroversion and adventurousness, while the more clipped walkers were seen as neurotic.
If you’re datable
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A recent study on online dating showed that users of dating sites quickly determine how datable you are just from your photo.
Appearing “more extroverted, open to new experiences, emotionally stable, and likable” boosted one’s success on the dating website. But seeming more ambitious and competent hurt women on the website, while it helped male users of the website find success.
Even after controlling for the text that folks provide in their dating profile, the researchers found that the impressions from the photo held true.
“These results suggest that photo-based first impressions may influence a decision to contact a potential mate, even after learning other relevant information about the person,” the researchers wrote.
If you could be a friend or foe
- Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Henri Bendel
It’s not just our eyes that help us form a first impression. Research from Italian psychologist Mariella Pazzaglia suggests how our sense of smell helps us decide if someone is a friend or foe.
According to the research, we determine if someone is in our family or social group by scent. If someone smells familiar, it’s a sign that they’re like us and could provide social support.
But if they smell too different, we think they might not have our best interests in mind.
Drake Baer contributed to a previous version of this article.