Within a few seconds of seeing someone whether on a date or at the grocery store we decide on numerous things about them, from how smart they are to how likely they are to commit a crime.
Surprisingly, our first impressions can be remarkably accurate in some instances. In others, they can be wildly off base.
Here are a few of the things we determine about people based on how they look.
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Thanks to a phenomenon thatsocial psychologists call “the halo effect,”we tend toassume thatgood-looking peoplepossess other positive qualities aside from their looks, such as intelligence and commitment.
Daniel Hamermesh, a University of Texas at Austin psychologist who studies beauty in the workplace,found that, among other things, this cognitive bias means good-looking people tendto get paid more.
Similarly, in a study of male undergradswho were asked toevaluate anessay written by an unnamed female peer, the participants judged the writer and her work more favorablywhen they were shown a photo of an attractive woman whom they believed to be the writer, as opposed to when they were shown a photo of an unattractive woman or no photo at all.
Courtesy of Max Schwartz
People can tell a surprising amount about your personality from your portrait.
In a2009study, researchers showed participants thephotos of 123 undergrads fromthe University of Texas at Austin in which the undergrads either were told to have aneutral expressionor were allowed topose however they wanted.
No matter whichposition the peopletook, the viewers were better than chance at judging the following: how extroverted they were, how high their self-esteem was, how religious they were, how agreeable they were, and howconscientious they were.
In 2013, a group of psychologists, neuroscientists, and computer scientists from Europe and the US had a small group of participants look at portraitsof 47 white men and 83 white women and evaluate them first on their height and next on their ability to lead.
The researchers found that people used factors in the photos likegender and face length to make guesses about people’s height and then used these samefactors when they judged their leadership qualities. Faces that appeared to belong to taller people were rated as belonging to better leaders.
A small2013 study by researchersat the Center for Behavior Change at the University College Londonsuggested that menwith higher testosterone levelswere (not surprisingly)more likely to havewider faces andlarger cheekbones. Men with these facial features also tendedto have more aggressive or status-driven personalities.
In a 2015study,scientistsshowed people photos of 10 different people with five different facial expressions and then asked them to rate how friendly, trustworthy, or strong the photographed person appeared.
Not surprisingly,viewers tended to rankpeople with a happy expression as more friendly and trustworthy than those with angry expressions. They also tended to rate people with broad faces as stronger.
US Government Photo
Regardless of where the photos had come from, people who were ratedless trustworthy and more dominant also tended to be seen as criminals.In the controlled photos, angry faces were seenas the most criminal.
For a 2015 study, a pair of University of Toronto psychologists collected photos of real inmates who were, at the time, incarcerated by the Florida Department of Corrections after having been sentenced for first-degree murder. Roughly half were serving life sentences; the other half were awaiting execution.
Then the researchers had a group of participants look at the photos and rate the trustworthiness of the faces pictured on a scale from 1 (not at all trustworthy) to 8 (very trustworthy). Those who were rated as less trustworthy were more likely to be sentenced to death than those who looked more trustworthy.
In the second part of that study, participants looked at photos of people previously convicted of murder but subsequently exonerated, usually on the basis of DNA evidence. In a disturbing twist, people who were rated less trustworthy were still more likely to have been sentenced to death, even though they were later found not guilty. “Facial appearance affects real-world criminal sentencing independently of actual guilt,” the researchers wrote in their paper.
Pruney skin can reveal more than just age it may also tell us something about how our hearts are doing. A 2012 study compared the numberof wrinkles on the faces and upper inner arms of a group of 261 people with long-lived parents to a random group of 253 people the same age. Women with the lowest risk of heart disease were described as looking more than two years younger thantheir age compared withthose with the highest risk of heart disease.
Doctors can diagnose numerous conditions just from looking atyour eyes. Red spots in the retina,the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye, can be a sign of diabetes. Whenblood-sugar levels get too high, thiscan block the blood vessels in the retina,causing them toswell and burst.
Scientists studied the finger lengths of 1,500 patients with prostate cancer and 3,000 healthy men over a period of 15 years by asking them to look at pictures of hands and choose one that resembled their own.
Men who said their index fingers were the same length or longer than their ring fingers were one-third aslikely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer over the course of the studyas men whose index fingers were relatively shorter, and the effect was even larger for men under the age of 60. Keep in mind that thestudy was based on the men’s reported finger length, not actual measurements, so further studies are probably needed to confirm the findings.
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Studies suggest that taller people have a lower risk of heartdisease, while shorter people may have lower rates of cancer. The effects are believed to do with the amount of growth hormone produced, which can protect against some diseases but increase the risk of others.The findings, however, do not necessarily mean that being tall or short will prevent you from getting either disease.
Tanya Lewis contributed reporting.