How accurate are our first impressions?
The science of first impressions is complicated, influenced by things outside of our control, neurological processes we don’t understand and inaccurate stereotypes. But if we can better understand what is going on, we might stand a chance of finding the one.
Our environment, personalities and the emotions of the people we meet all contribute to the likelihood that we hit it off. So what is going on when we make a good romantic first impression? And how might apps have changed modern dating?
It takes less than 1/10th of a second to form an assessment of someone’s face. These first impressions predict all kinds of important characteristics, not just attractiveness. For example, people’s snap judgements of a politician’s competence, based solely on their appearance, can predict their success in an election – even when the audience has no knowledge of who the politician is. These impressions we make in a split second are not random; they tend to be shared by the majority of the people surveyed. But it doesn’t necessarily make them correct.
In a study of the language we use when speaking to potential dates online, researchers categorised all the conversational strategies we might use to assess which led to a second date. From the opening line all the way up to when they planned to meet for a first date, they gathered messages and then followed up with the couples to see if they would go for a second date.
We have made an assessment of someone’s attractiveness, and we have maintained a conversation long enough to arrive at a first date; what next? We need to make an assessment of some more complicated characteristics.
The desirability of the people whom we can contact through dating apps and our own interpretations of self-worth predict who we ask on dates. We tend to match with people whom we deem equal in self-worth, physical attractiveness and popularity. This is a common strategy for both men and women. People who value their self-worth highly might be more likely to choose other people with high self-worth because they are more optimistic about a successful outcome.
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