First Impressions Surprisingly Accurate
Personality Traits Accurately Judged Based on Appearance
WebMD News Archive
Nov. 6, 2009 -- How many times did your mother tell you: Don’t judge a book
by its cover?
All our lives, we’ve been admonished not to jump to conclusions when we meet
people. However, a new study shows that those early conclusions are
More than 100 undergraduate students at the University of Texas participated
in a study -- either as subjects or as personality judges. The judges were able
to accurately guess subjects’ personalities based just on photos.
Here’s how it worked. Two pictures were taken of the subjects. In one, they
posed in a way that researchers told them -- staring at the camera, not
smiling, feet should-width apart, hands at sides. In the other, they were
photographed in natural, spontaneous poses. Their actual personalities were
evaluated based on a questionnaire they filled out themselves, as well as
questionnaires completed by people who knew them well.
Judges then evaluated the subjects based on the photographs for 10
personality traits. Even when just looking at the posed photographs, the judges
were able to accurately guess three traits: extroversion, self-esteem, and
religiosity. When looking at the more spontaneous photos, the judges were able
to accurately guess almost all the traits.
"We have long known that people jump to conclusions about others on the
basis of very little information," researcher Sam Gosling of the University of
Texas says in a written statement, "but what's striking about these findings is
how many of the impressions have a kernel of truth to them, even on the basis
of something as simple as a single photograph."
As examples, extroverts tend to smile more, stand in energetic and less
tense ways, and look healthy, neat, and stylish.
The researchers conclude that the results “suggest that personality is
manifested through both static and expressive channels of appearance, and
observers use this information to form accurate judgments for a variety of
In other words, your mother may have been wrong. Maybe you can judge
a book by its cover.