We spend time picking out the right outfit and practicing our handshake, but it may be your physical attributes that most affect how you are perceived during a first impression.
A study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at how small changes to a person's face can make them seem more trustworthy, dominant or attractive. The idea is that results will be able to help film animators create more realistic animations, as well as the rest of us—first impressions are now key as a result of things LinkedIn and dating sites.
To make the calculations, each of 1,000 face photos from the internet was shown to at least six different people, who gave it a score for 16 different social traits, like trustworthiness or intelligence.
Overall, these scores boil down to three main characteristics: whether a face is (a) approachable, (b) dominant, and (c) attractive.
By measuring the physical attributes of all 1,000 faces and putting them together with those scores, Dr Hartley and his team built a mathematical model of how the dimensions of a face produce those three impressions.
BBC explains that researchers then used a computer to create cartoon versions of the range of approachable, dominant and attractive faces. When researches quizzed participants about their impressions of the cartoon faces, the ratings matched up. "People said that the computer's cartoon prediction of an approachable face was, indeed, approachable - and so on."
Dr. Tom Hartley, a neuroscientist at the University of York and the study's senior author notes that it can be difficult to figure out exactly which features result in which impressions.
"Lots of the features of the face tend to vary together," he explained. "So it's very difficult for us to pin down with certainty that a given feature of the face is contributing to a certain social impression."
There are some obvious trends however - including the tendency for masculine faces to be perceived as dominant, or for a broadly smiling face to seem more approachable and trustworthy.
This points to a potentially worrying implication: brief facial expressions can make a big difference to how we are received by strangers.
The findings could be helpful in figuring out how to take the best photo or which photo to choose when you're trying to exhibit a certain characteristic.
Image via Andreas Krone/Shutterstock.