A Face in the Crowd: What Type of People Are Most Memorable?

Unforgettable You

When mingling with industry peers at a conference or Chamber of Commerce meeting, you don´t want to rely on a “Hello my Name is” sticker in order for people recognize you.  In the short amount of time before this notoriously elusive sticker ends up caught in someone else´s hair or on the bottom of your shoe, there are only a handful of people who will see it anyway.  Better to ensure you are remembered by making a memorable first impression.  Make people want to get your business card and follow up.

Easier said than done? Nope—easily done.  The challenge, however, is being remembered for all of the right reasons.

Distinct Advantage

Documented research on the link between memory and distinctiveness is corroborated with anecdotal evidence.  We can all relate to having met someone who is unforgettable.  Chances are, they struck you as unique in some way.  The woman in the red dress.  The man with the pocket watch.   A stranger who imparted a valuable piece of information, or gave you a compliment that made your day.    

We also remember someone who is unexpected and unusual—and not the best looking person in the room.  Some of the most memorable people are not beauty queens or dashing figures with chiseled model features, ready for the runway. They are regular looking people with unique characteristics, or warm, endearing personality traits that make the rest of us feel good about ourselves.

Less Attractive But Unique as More Memorable

Being less attractive is probably not the reason you want to be remembered. Yet let us start here, in order to debunk the myth that only beautiful people are worth remembering.  In a study by Wiese et al. (2014), researchers discovered that less attractive faces are more memorable than more attractive faces.[i] 

In arriving at their results, they controlled for distinctiveness, recognizing that distinctive faces are memorable.  This finding may explain why we remember some people so well and not others, regardless of level of attractiveness.

Other research reveals that more attractive people might be better understood. 

Understanding Beauty

Beautiful people are viewed more accurately. In a fascinating study by Lorenzo et al., entitled “What Is Beautiful Is Good and More Accurately Understood” (2010), the researchers discovered that we notice attractive people, which leads us to pay more attention to them, resulting in a greater understanding of their personality.[ii]

The study involved a “round-robin” routine where strangers participated in three-minute meetings.  The results corroborated the “beautiful is good” stereotype in the sense that more physically attractive individuals were considered to be more desirable.  There was, however, an additional finding. The more attractive targets were also viewed more consistently with their self-reported personality traits.

Eye of the Beholder

Further analysis of study results revealed the phenomenon of beauty being in the eye of the beholder.  Lorenzo et al. found that idiosyncratic impressions of attractiveness were positively linked with both positivity and impression accuracy.

They found that even people generally not viewed as attractive may benefit from the physical-attraction stereotype when the perceiver considers them to be attractive.  This finding is important because not everyone is lucky enough to be naturally dazzling. Fortunately, interpersonal attraction develops in a number of ways, including through personality characteristics and individual personal taste preferences.   

The researchers found that impression accuracy, however, emerged only among individuals perceived to be of at least average attractiveness.

Summing up their research, Lorenzo et al. explain that, “people do judge a book by its cover, but a beautiful cover prompts a closer reading, leading more physically attractive people to be seen both more positively and more accurately.”

Worth Remembering

Regardless of how you look, people remember how you made them feel.  This usually ends up being far more important than your level of objective attractiveness.  In the final analysis, making someone feel good about themselves is likely the best way to be remembered—and fondly. 

About the author:

Wendy Patrick, JD, PhD, is a career prosecutor and behavioral expert.  She is the author of Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House). 

She lectures around the world on interpersonal relationships, sexual assault prevention, and threat assessment, and is an Association of Threat Assessment Professionals Certified Threat Manager. The opinions expressed in this column are her own. 

Find her at wendypatrickphd.com or @WendyPatrickPhD

Find a full listing of Dr. Patrick´s Psychology Today posts at http://ift.tt/2jd9smD

[i] Holger Wiese, Carolin S.Altmann, and Stefan R.Schweinberger,  “Effects of attractiveness on face memory separated from distinctiveness: Evidence from event-related brain potentials,” Neuropsychologia  56, April 2014, 26-36.

[ii] Genevieve L. Lorenzo, Jeremy C. Biesanz, and Lauren J. Human, “What Is Beautiful Is Good and More Accurately Understood: Physical Attractiveness and Accuracy in First Impressions of Personality,” Psychological Science 21, iss. 12, (2010): 1777 – 1782.



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