It used to be cliché to say that the first 60 seconds of a meeting results in an enduring judgment about a person’s character — a view reinforced by the aphorism attributed to Will Rogers that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
But new research published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that early estimate may be more than a 1,000 times too long.
The research suggests that the human brain develops an assessment about trustworthiness in a mere 50-millisecond exposure — indeed before even consciously perceiving a person’s face.
Indeed, the study found that inferences of trustworthiness were highly correlated among multiple perceivers, “indicating that facial cues provide reliable signals about another’s underlying disposition,” the study finds.
Perceptions about trust stem from a subcortal region of the brain called the amygdala, and while previous studies have shown the amygdala automatically codes trustworthiness when perceiving faces, what is new about the current study is that such automatic judgments are formed even in the absence of a full focus on the face — in other words, a mere glance is sufficient.
Simple visual cues, such as enlarged white eyes, may trigger a fearful response.
That trigger reaction may have evolved as a means of survival by motivating “appropriate behavioral responses” in reaction to an “evaluation of another’s likelihood to harm or help,” the study says.
Specifically, lower inner brows and shallower cheekbones may signal untrustworthiness, whereas higher inner brows and pronounced cheekbones are cues of trustworthiness, according to New York University professor Jonathan Freeman, one of the study’s authors, reached by ThinkAdvisor.
So what can financial advisors — who cannot do anything about the faces they were born with — do to enhance perceptions of trust among clients and prospective clients?
“Some research suggests faces appearing more trustworthy structurally resemble a happy expression and faces appearing more untrustworthy structurally resemble an angry expression,” Freeman says.
And while a face does not change dramatically over a lifespan, some evidence indicates it is malleable, he adds, indicating that a person can work on himself to trigger greater trust.
“For example, chronic displays of anger could, in theory, lead the face to become angrier at baseline, which in turn may influence automatic, initial responses to the trustworthiness of the face. In that case, the face may be seen as more untrustworthy,” Freeman says.