OUR FACTS-AND-FIGURES CULTURE loves to throw numbers around. Like deciding within seven seconds whether we might be interested in a guy or not. Actually, it turns out that taking seven seconds to make up our minds about someone is being generous; some research has discovered that we actually make a lot of judgments about people within the first 100 milliseconds of laying eyes on them. Damn, Judge Judy! What’s worse, it turns out that for some of our judgments, we don’t even need to see the faces we’re judging.
Researchers have been able to figure out the facial characteristics that we tend to have certain opinions about (although, when viewed as a whole, multiple characteristics can tell a different story). High cheekbones and cheeks are one example of characteristics that can make someone seem trustworthy, while big eyes generally increase our perception of attractiveness. But wait! When small eyes are paired with a big smile, we actually might not perceive them as less attractive.
Obviously, snap judgments aren’t necessarily accurate assessments of people. Especially since different factors like the lighting in a room and facial expressions can change the way someone’s face looks in dramatic ways. Try telling our brains that, though.
So at the same time that our inherent nature is trying to decide who’s worth hanging around or not, we’re making broadly exaggerated judgments about certain people based on things they can’t change about their face. Example: we assume youthful-looking faces match with a less mature person.
A separate study hooked up participants to brain scanners and monitored the activity in their brains by showing them a mixture of real faces and computer-generated faces. Part of the experiment even rigged the system so that participants would not consciously be able to process the faces on the screen, but their brains still would be able to. (Science!) Even though participants weren’t sure of what they saw, the parts of the amygdala in the brain that deal with trustworthiness still lit up, leading the researchers to believe that we’re constantly making those judgments whether we even notice what someone looks like or not.
So: are snap judgments keeping us safe or keeping us from meeting cool people all the time? Who knows? But maybe keep that in mind next time you’re scrolling through Tinder.