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Quick Encounters, Lasting Impressions

Quick Encounters, Lasting ImpressionsResearch by a Tufts psychologist indicates that humans can form a lasting impression of another person after just a few-second glimpse. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [02.17.04] Political candidates, job seekers and public figures take note: first impressions count - and they may be made a lot faster than most people think, according to a Tufts psychologist's research. In an interview with ABC News, Tufts' Nalini Ambady said humans can make a lasting judgment about someone after seeing their face for just a few seconds.

"Human brains, says professor Ambady, can decide a lot in [just a few] seconds," reported ABC News. "So quick impressions matter."

Ambady proved the point in a unique experiment she designed to test the power of brief encounters.

"She asked students to come to a classroom where she showed them short videos [10 seconds long, without sound] of teachers they'd never met," reported ABC. "Then the students were asked to rate the teachers in a variety of categories."

Ambady compared the results with course evaluations submitted by students who took a course from the professors over a full semester.

The results, Ambady told ABC News, were startling.

"Students who saw professors for 10 seconds gave the exact same ratings as students who knew them for months," reported the news report.

Ambady shortened the clip from 10 seconds to just two seconds in a similar experiment and achieved the same result.

"There was very little difference [in their evaluations]," the associate professor told ABC News. "It was amazing."

During just a brief encounter ("It passes by fast," Ambady jokes), humans can make what appear to be quick, but lasting, judgments. The roots of the phenomena may date back to earlier, more primitive times.

"From pre-historic times, we have evolved to look at faces and make snap judgments - is he going to hurt me? Is he going to help me?" reported ABC News. "Even the briefest glimpse makes an impression - a bigger impression than you know."

 

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