A new study says that first impression certainly matters, especially when it comes to making personality judgments.
Psychologists Laura Naumann of Sonoma State University and Sam Gosling of The University of Texas at Austin, came to the conclusion after observing full-body photographs of 123 people they had never met before.
"In an age dominated by social media where personal photographs are ubiquitous, it becomes important to understand the ways personality is communicated via our appearance. The appearance one portrays in his or her photographs has important implications for their professional and social life," said Naumann.
While viewing the photographs, the targets were seen either in a controlled pose with a neutral facial expression or in a naturally expressed pose.
The accuracy of the judgments was gauged by comparing them to the aggregate of self-ratings and that of three informants who knew the targets well, a criterion now widely regarded as the gold standard in personality research.
Even when viewing the targets in the controlled pose, the observers could accurately judge some major personality traits, including extraversion and self-esteem. But most traits were hard to detect under these conditions.
When observers saw naturally expressive behaviour (such as a smiling expression or energetic stance), their judgments were accurate for nine of the 10 personality traits.
The 10 traits were extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness, likeability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity and political orientation.
"We have long known that people jump to conclusions about others on the basis of very little information. But what's striking about these findings is how many of the impressions have a kernel of truth to them, even on the basis of something as simple a single photograph," said Gosling.
Gosling noted that this latest work is important because it sheds new light on the sources of accuracy and inaccuracy of judgments.
With this kind of knowledge, individuals can choose to alter their appearance in specific ways, either to make identity claims or shape others impressions of them, said Naumann.
"If you want potential employers or romantic suitors to see you as a warm and friendly individual, you should post pictures where you smile or are standing in a relaxed pose," suggests Naumann.
The findings will be published in the December issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.