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Personality, Intelligence, and Attractiveness Judgments: The Accuracy of First Impressions

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Lyndsay A. Nelson (Creator)
Appalachian State University (ASU )
Web Site:
Rose Mary Webb

Abstract: First impressions are prominent in our everyday interactions. The way that we perceive others, even if based only on physical appearance, can influence future interactions. The strength of first impressions has been demonstrated through interrater consensus of a target based on seconds of exposure (e.g., Albright, Kenny, & Malloy, 1988). However, we do not have sufficient evidence that trait inferences based on facial appearance are accurate. In the current study, we assessed the accuracy of these initial impressions about the personality and intelligence of others and the role appearance played in these impressions. Specifically, we examined overall attractiveness and three features of appearance that are often considered more attractive because they are thought to signal direct and indirect benefits (e.g., better genes, absence of disease): facial symmetry, averageness, and sexual dimorphism (femininity/masculinity). Targets self-reported their traits, but because self-reports are a less than ideal criterion for assessing the validity of personality judgments, friends of the targets were also asked to complete inventories rating the target. In addition, to control for prior acquaintance of the stranger and target, our study utilized a two-campus approach. We examined the convergence between the self-reported and stranger-reported ratings, and the convergence between the friend-reported and stranger-reported ratings. Results showed that targets’ self-reported measures correlated with those of knowledgeable others on all traits, but strangers’ ratings failed to converge with those of targets or friends for most traits. There were, however, associations between strangers’ ratings of the targets’ facial features and overall attractiveness and also strong associations between ratings of the targets’ attractiveness and ratings of targets’ traits. Targets whose faces were rated as more attractive were assumed to possess more desirable personality traits and higher intellect. We provide strong evidence that strangers use appearance to judge an individual’s psychological traits, although it remains unclear specifically which facial aspects are included in their assessment.

Additional Information

Nelson, L.A. (2011). Personality, Intelligence, and Attractiveness Judgments: The Accuracy of First Impressions. Unpublished master’s thesis. Appalachian State University, Boone, NC.
Language: English
Date: 2011
first impressions, personality judgments, intelligence judgments, attractiveness, accuracy