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It may seem obvious that others can quickly tell whether you are more or less physically attractive, but what is not obvious is how quickly and reliably others can evaluate your physical attractiveness. It takes fewer than 100 milliseconds (one tenth of a second) to judge whether a person is physically attractive and observers with just a fraction of a second to evaluate physical attractiveness make similar judgments to those with an unlimited amount of time to make their judgments (Willis and Todorov, 2006). Physical attractiveness seems to be equally important to the first impressions of both men and women (for example, see Eastwick et al., 2011; Luo and Zhang, 2009) and perceived physical attractiveness also influences observers’ expectations about your other personal qualities. The tendency to expect positive qualities from attractive targets (and negative qualities from unattractive targets) is equally likely in undergraduate students from the United States and Taiwan and among Tsimané men living in an isolated area of Bolivia (Griffin and Langlois, 2006; Shaffer et al., 2000; Zebrowitz et al., 2012).
Personality characteristics can also be evaluated extremely quickly and accurately. In the research discussed above regarding physical attractiveness, personality characteristics such as likability, trustworthiness, competence, and aggressiveness were also accurately judged within only 100 milliseconds (Willis and Todorov, 2006). Surprisingly, you do not even need to be present for others to quickly and accurately assess your personality characteristics. Observers can accurately judge individuals’ personality characteristics based on their office workspaces and bedrooms (Gosling et al., 2002). Employees of real estate, advertising, and bank offices volunteered to have their personal workspaces judged. They also completed assessments of their own personalities as well as having peers rate their personalities. Observers who viewed these workspaces accurately guessed the employees’ levels of openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, and extroversion. Respondents also evaluated bedrooms in private homes, apartments, and dormitories. These observations led to accurate perceptions of openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, and emotional stability. Other research suggests that observers can accurately judge our personalities based on personal websites, Facebook profiles, and even emails (Vazire and Gosling, 2004; Back et al., 2010; Gill et al., 2006).
Others can accurately guess targets’ sexual orientation extremely quickly as well. Researchers have found that observers can reliably judge men’s sexual orientation within 50 milliseconds and women’s sexual orientation within 40 milliseconds (Rule and Ambady, 2008; Rule et al., 2009). These guesses were made based on still photographs. Sexual orientation can also be accurately discerned based on short video clips (Ambady et al., 1999). Of course some individuals may be easier or more difficult to classify when it comes to sexual orientation. Moreover, some perceivers are better at judging sexual orientation than others. Perceivers who were gay or lesbian themselves most accurately identified the sexual orientation of target people based on the shortest video clips and still photographs (Ambady et al., 1999). We can even identify the sexual orientation of individuals from other cultures based on ten second video clips, although we do seem to be slightly better at judging the sexual orientation of others from our own culture (Valentova et al., 2011).
Sociosexuality refers to an individual’s openness to unrestricted sex (casual sex, sex outside of a relationship) or restricted sex (sex only within a loving, committed relationship, Stillman and Maner, 2009). Researchers found that both men and women were able to accurately detect women’s levels of sociosexuality when viewing short silent video clips of women interacting with a male confederate. Behaviors such as eyebrow flashing and glances allowed observers to detect women’s comfort with casual sex (Stillman and Maner, 2009). Other research shows that men’s sociosexuality can be discerned through smiling, laughing, and flirtatious glances as well (Simpson et al., 1993). Interestingly, women may also be able to quickly evaluate whether men are likely to be faithful or unfaithful to their partners. Women can accurately deduce whether men have been unfaithful to their partners based on men’s facial photographs (men with more masculine features were more likely to admit to being unfaithful to their partners). However, although men believed that attractive women were more likely to be unfaithful to their partners, men could not accurately detect whether women had been faithful to their partners (Rhodes et al., 2012).
A wealth of information is accessible to observers within the first few moments of observation. Knowing about this research may make you more aware of what information others will know about you or what information you can quickly and accurately discern about others.