First Impressions: Go With Your Gut

From a glimpse of a stranger, you could tell if they’re trustworthy, down to their DNA!

| November 23rd, 2011
First Impressions: Go With Your Gut

Are you a good judge of character?

What about after mere seconds of seeing a stranger—should you still go with your gut?

A recent study out of U.C. Berkeley suggests it wouldn’t be a crazy idea. Subjects were astoundingly accurate at judging how kind, compassionate and trustworthy strangers were—after watching them for just 20 seconds. That may seem like a green light to go with your split-second instincts on your next blind date, but lead author Aleksandr Kogan, Ph.D., cautions it’s far from a no-fail method.

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“These are not very reliable judgments we are talking about; they will be accurate sometimes and highly inaccurate at other times. But on the whole, people are slightly more often accurate than inaccurate,” Dr. Kogan says.

Still beats a Magic 8 ball.

Here’s the nitty gritty of the study: First, researchers videotaped couples discussing “times that they suffered” (which tends to be an emotion-eliciting convo). During the discussion, one member of the couple was talking and the other was listening. 

Next, subjects who did not know the couples in the videos watched 20-second clips then rated each listener's kindness, compassion and trustworthiness. To asses these characteristics, the raters relied on body language (think: eye contact, smiles, open body posture, head nods). Again, only the silent partner (the listener) was evaluated.

And the findings? The listeners rated as empathetic displayed more of these “trustworthy behaviors,” and were in fact more empathetic...down to their DNA!

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