Science Explains How First Impressions Work (And Ways To Improve If You Failed)

Science Explains How First Impressions Work (And Ways To Improve If You Failed)

Whether you look at it in the context of your career, personal life, or dating, first impressions are incredibly important. They set the stage for how people perceive you, which generally translates into how much leverage you’re able to obtain in a given situation. And while first impressions are certainly interesting, do you know what science says about these important social exchanges? Let’s take a look.

Experts Call It “Thin Slicing”

The human brain’s ability to reach conclusions based on just a momentary exposure to someone is known by experts as “thin slicing.”

“Thin-slicing is not an exotic gift. It is a central part of what it means to be human,” writes Malcolm Gladwell, author and journalist. “We thin-slice whenever we meet a new person or have to make sense of something quickly or encounter a novel situation.”


Thin slicing is not something that we consciously think about or choose to do. It’s something that’s built into the very fabric of being human.

“We thin-slice because we have to,” Gladwell continues, “and we come to rely on that ability because there are lots of situations where careful attention to the details of a very thin slice, even for no more than a second or two, can tell us an awful lot.”

Trustworthiness Is Determined In One-Tenth Of A Second

According to research, people judge your trustworthiness within a tenth of a second. This conclusion was reached by a group of Princeton researchers who gave a group of students 100 milliseconds to rate different factors – such as competence, attractiveness, and trustworthiness – based on images of actors’ faces.


After rating these factors, another group was given as much time as they needed to determine these traits. While other traits differed significantly, the time it took to determine trustworthiness essentially remained the same. In other words, at the very moment you meet someone – before you even open your mouth to speak or extend a hand to shake – people are making judgments about your trustworthiness.

The Handshake Says A Lot

A handshake goes a long way in establishing a positive first impression, especially in business settings. The reason is that a handshake makes you seem more approachable. There’s something about this safe display of human affection that allows you to connect with the other person.

“Many of our social interactions may go wrong for [one] reason or another, and a simple handshake preceding them can give us a boost and attenuate the negative impact of possible misunderstandings,” says Sanda Dolcos, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Illinois’ psychology department.


Changing A First Impression Is Hard, Yet Possible

Recent research suggests that while it’s very challenging to do so, it is possible to change or alter a first impression. Here’s how that works.

Let’s say you meet a woman named Sarah at a business event. When you meet Sarah, she seems cold, rude, and standoffish. The next time you see Sarah, your brain will actually register these initial conclusions. But what happens if this time Sarah is warm, kind, and engaging? Well, your brain will still register the first impression, but will instead lead you to the conclusion that, “Sarah is always rude, except when you run into her after work.”

In other words, your first impression of Sarah being rude will stick with you, but your brain will begin to add exceptions to this fact. Over time, it’s possible to add enough exceptions that the first impression is drowned out, but it takes a lot of work.


Fashion Influences View Of Success

According to multiple studies, what you wear directly impacts how people view your success, or lack thereof. A 2011 study shows that well-dressed men are perceived as making more money and climbing the corporate ladder quicker than those who lack proper style. Furthermore, a separate study shows that those who don tailored suits, as opposed to standard off-the-rack suits, are perceived as being smarter and more successful.

Make Your First Impression Count

As you can see, science has a lot to say about first impressions. The human brain is wired in such a way that judgments are made in just a fraction of a second. Keep these tips in mind and you may be able to influence how others see you.

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Schuyler Richardson

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Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.


     A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.


    The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

    “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

    In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

    The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence


      A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.


      Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

      “When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

      When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

      The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

      As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]


      “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

      Silence relieves stress and tension.


        It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

        A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

        “This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

        Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

        Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.


          The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

          Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

          But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]



          Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

          Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via


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