Smile! People might like you more

New research suggests that we can dupe people into having better first impressions by changing specific features

Published July 29, 2014 3:21PM (EDT)

George W. Bush    (Reuters/Chris Keane)
George W. Bush (Reuters/Chris Keane)

For the record: First impressions matter. A lot. Research has shown that people automatically size up one another in milliseconds, determining whether a stranger should be trusted or whether a blind date could be a sexual fling or a great love. And, as more and more first impressions are made online instead of in the flesh, our judgments of others are becoming rooted in people's static physical portrayals of themselves, not their quick changes of expression or the way they interact in real time.

So, naturally, a group of scientists has figured out how to help people dupe others into liking them right away by altering their appearance in photos or in life.

A study published in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that certain facial expressions are more conducive to making a good first impression, and in targeting those modes of appearance has created a road map for presenting oneself most appealingly. According to Live Science, the findings might provide fewer insights for the people making judgments -- since immediate responses are automatic, not controlled -- and more information for those being judged:

The model found that mouth shape and area were linked to approachability — unsurprisingly, a smiling expression is a key component of an impression of approachability. When it came to youthful-attractiveness, eye shape and area were important, in line with views linking relatively large eyes to a youthful appearance. Dominance was linked with features indicating a masculine face shape, such as eyebrow height, cheekbones, as well as color and texture differences that may relate to either masculinity or a healthy or tanned overall appearance.

"Our results suggest that some of the features that are associated with first impressions are linked to changeable properties of the face or setting that are specific to a given image," [study co-author Tom] Hartley said. "So, things like expression, pose, camera position, lighting can all, in principle, contribute alongside the structure of our faces themselves."

The study focuses more on how these first impressions can affect people's job chances, but they can no doubt also be applied to interpersonal relationships. Many of the characteristics Hartley and his colleagues focused on -- approachability, youthful attractiveness and dominance -- play a role in picking a romantic partner. The findings don't yet tell us just how we can manipulate potential mates into seeing us through rose-colored glasses at first glimpse, but additional research could teach us how to influence other people's social decisions with a single look.

By Jenny Kutner

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Attraction First Impressions Judgements Live Science Physical Appearance Research Study