How long does it take to form a first impression?
Eleven, seven, one, a millisecond?
Are you wondering, “How LONG does it really take to form a first impression? Researched by WHAT group?”?
Well, so did Tracy, who is one of my subscribers, and she submitted this question. And that’s why in this article, I’ll share with Tracy and YOU how long you have EXACTLY to make an impactful first impression—and WHO provided scientific proof for this number.
For those who have watched any of my other videos or speeches, you may have heard me count to seven at the very beginning. This is mainly to drive home the point that we form first impressions of one another extremely quickly. But I really want you to realize that it doesn’t matter if it is seven seconds, five seconds, or one second; the important thing to remember is how QUICKLY we make our minds up about people!
Tenth of a second
There are a variety of studies that look at how quickly we make first impressions, some say it only takes milli-seconds while others suggest longer. Two psychologists out of Princeton, for example, concluded that it only takes a TENTH of a second to form a first impression! These two psychologists conducted separate tests to study the judgments participants made about facial appearance. They found that the fastest decision participants made was about attractiveness, followed by trustworthiness.
While another study that commissioned more than 2000 Americans concluded you have 27 seconds. This study also found that
- 69% of participants made a first impression of someone before they even had a chance to speak and that
- 83% of their participants felt more positive about someone who seemed confident in themselves.
33 to 100 milliseconds
A third study done by the University of York suggests that a single glance of a person’s face for just 33 to 100 milliseconds is enough for them to form a first impression. This study was based on 126 university students and found only slight additions to their first impressions in the time between 100 and 500 milliseconds. Meaning that they had mostly made their mind up about the person in front of them prior to 100 milliseconds.
Personally, I often refer to a study conducted by NYU that showcases up to eleven assumptions that might be made by someone within seven seconds – obviously, depending on the occasion. However, as I had the great pleasure to meet Dr. Solomon once in person, he shared with me how this study has been misused by many — making it a point that it takes EXACTLY this amount of time and that it’s EXACTLY those eleven assumptions. However, according to him, there is just no research that specifically quantifies it to be these 11 decisions in only 7 seconds. It’s a great example of how subject matter experts misuse studies to prove their own points.
Also, while many of these studies will test by showing people photos of strangers and seeing how long they take to rate certain characteristics, results are different by population. Age, gender, and race, among other personal factors, play HUGE roles in how somebody passes assumptions about others. That is the main reason we see differing results, simply because all of us are different in how quickly we process information. Simply said, all of these studies operate with different test groups and different methods of testing, and each one is impossible to recreate in a real-life situation.
HOWEVER, what all of the differing studies DO HAVE in common is the knowledge that we do form first impressions fairly quickly, and often before we even have a chance to shake hands or speak with the person we are encountering! Regardless of the exact number of seconds it takes, we all evaluate and jump to conclusions about people in a very short amount of time. We base these impressions on people’s appearance, behavior, and communication, and nowadays also on the digital footprint they leave behind. Although we do not go into an encounter intentionally judging another, we do this subconsciously and quite effortlessly.
Think about the hundreds or even thousands of social encounters you have every single day, both in-person and online. Think about how quickly you assess somebody and make a decision about them. You often do not pay attention to how quickly this process happens in your own head but remember that this same process is happening to everybody else as well!
Don’t take out of context
So, it is important not to take any studies out of context. There are several studies that have been miscommunicated in the business world to take advantage of what people want science to say. This is also true for any study related to first impressions. Be sure you are not basing your actions and first impression planning off of a study that’s being taken out of context and therefore is irrelevant in the real world. Instead of focusing on a specific AMOUNT of time, put thought into HOW you are going to make the most of each encounter.
The most helpful thing to remember going into a social situation is that there are eyes on you before you even have the chance to, for example, shake somebody’s hand. Be prepared, and you will show those around you WHY you deserve their respect. Your confidence will soar as long as you practice and prepare for your social encounters to make sure you are representing yourself in the way you want to be seen, from the very first milli-second!
Want to know what to do if you leave a bad first impression? Here are some tips for you.