Mind & Body

According to a Harvard Psychologist, People Judge You Based on Two Criteria

Judging people is less a conscious choice and more an instinct. No shame: We all do it. But when you're being judged, or you're the one doing the judging, the stain on your shirt isn't the deal maker or breaker. (Relax, no one even notices the tiny things you freak out over, anyway.) According to a Harvard psychologist, people judge you based on two criteria. Are you making your best impression?

In Warmth We Trust

Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy is an expert in first impressions, having researched that split-second interaction with fellow psychologists Susan Fiske and Peter Glick for more than 15 years. In her best-selling book "Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges," Cuddy spells out two questions you'll immediately ask yourself — and answer — upon meeting someone new:

  1. Can I trust this person?
  2. Can I respect this person?

In psychologist speak, asking yourself those questions is a way to gauge a person's warmth and competence, respectively. The goal is for someone to answer two resounding yeses to those inquiries. But, according to Cuddy, people usually think competence is the more important factor, especially in a workplace setting. Not so fast — it's better to nail the warmth before business acumen. "From an evolutionary perspective," Cuddy writes, "it is more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust."

Consider a coworker who is great at his job but cold as ice around the office. That's off-putting, right? "If someone you're trying to influence doesn't trust you, you're not going to get very far; in fact, you might even elicit suspicion because you come across as manipulative," writes Cuddy. "A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong elicits admiration, but only after you've established trust does your strength become a gift rather than a threat."

Is There Something on My Face?

Then there's the physical judgment, the "judging a book by its cover" bit. Unless you're Morgan Freeman, nothing about your physical appearance can really compel someone to inherently trust or respect you. (People sure like to try, though.)

According to a 2017 study by psychologist Leslie Zebrowitz of Brandeis University, people judge your face by analyzing four facial cues. They are babyfacedness, familiarity, fitness, and emotional resemblance. Some of these factors you can't help, but you can boost your "emotional resemblance" score by at least turning up the edges of your mouth a little bit. And whaddya know, a little warmth in your expression could cross over into your projection of trustworthiness.

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Read more about making a good first impression in Amy Cuddy's book "Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges." The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto December 6, 2017

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