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Researchers Crack the Code of First Impressions

Mathematics identifies the subtle facial features that influence how we judge others

(Photo: Hero Images/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Within moments of meeting someone new, we've make both conscious and subconscious judgments about them—even if we're just looking at a picture of them. First impressions largely hinge on a person's facial features, which we judge on three major axes: dominance, approachability and attractiveness. Now, researchers publishing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences have revealed the underpinnings of our snap judgments. 

To create a model that could predict first impressions, the team first asked volunteers to record their first impression of more than 1,000 photos of people's faces, taken from the internet, the BBC reports. Then, the researchers built a model based on careful measurements of the faces combined with the respondents' first impressions.

To test how accurate their program was, the researchers used it to generate cartoon faces representing different first impressions of dominance, approachability and attractiveness, the BBC continues. They asked volunteers to make judgments about both the cartoons and the real-life faces they represented and found that the impressions matched.  

Computer-generated faces representing a spectrum of first impressions. Photo: Vernon et al., PNAS

The team thinks their findings could help animators create more convincing characters, as well as aid those looking to make a good first impression through an application photo or social network profile picture, the BBC adds. 

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