I remember reading decades ago about how quickly we judge people when we first meet them. Yes or no, stay or move on?
This 1986 book said the judgments all happen within four minutes, but my impression is that it’s usually much much sooner than that. We are instantaneously and constantly evaluating almost countless bits of information being received, not just about superficial looks (although there’s that, too) but about body language (gesture, posture, movement, tension), expression, scent, intelligence, humor, health, and much more.
I’ve always been one to have strong and quick reactions to people (both pro and con), so strong and so quick it can be almost dizzying. For me, one puzzling aspect has been that my impressions have been nearly as strong even when only meeting someone for the first time over the phone. And those first impressions have almost never (or maybe even never ever) been wrong, on the occasions when I’ve had a chance to check them out in person later.
I first noticed this two decades ago, when I was in graduate school. I worked in a clinic where the staff fielded the initial phone calls from clients and did a short intake, then passed the clients on to the therapist, who had to make a contact call. At the point of making that first call I already knew a bit about the clients—most often a couple or family—but really not all that much. I’d have in front of me a sheet of paper with the names in the family, their ages, and a sentence or two about the presenting problem as the family member who had made the initial agency contact defined it.
But as soon as the person answered the phone and said “hello” I would get a feeling so powerful that it couldn’t be denied. I either knew it would be relatively easy to work with this person or family, or felt an ominous “oh-oh” that would make the hair on the back of my neck stand up, telling me that something was very, very wrong and I was in for a rough ride. These impressions always panned out when I worked with people.
Now, you could say it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. But I don’t think so. It’s a bit like another thing I’ve noticed, which is that when I’ve gotten massages, I can tell the moment the person first touches me whether this will be a good massage or a bad one. And that perception is independent of whether I’ve liked them or not during those first four minutes of meeting face to face. Sometimes I like them very much, but when the first touch happens I think “Oh no, that won’t do.” Sometimes I’m not all that keen on them, but it’s clear the moment the massage starts that this is going to work out very well. In other words, there seems to be no correlation.
Which brings us to this article:
Remember that famous line in the movie Jerry Maguire where Renee Zellweger says to Tom Cruise, “You had me at ‘hello’ “? Well it turns out there is some scientific evidence to back this up. People use voices to instantly judge people, researchers say.
McAleer recorded 64 people, men and women, from Glasgow, reading a paragraph that included the word “hello.” He then extracted all the hellos and got 320 participants to listen to the different voices and rate them on 10 different personality traits, such as trustworthiness, aggressiveness, confidence, dominance and warmth.
What he found was that the participants largely agreed on which voice matched which personality trait. One male voice was overwhelmingly voted the least trustworthy, “the sort of guy you’d want to avoid,” McAleer says. The pitch of the untrustworthy voice was much lower than the male deemed most trustworthy. McAleer says this is probably because a higher pitched male voice is closer to the natural pitch of a female, making the men sound less aggressive and friendlier than the lower male voices.
What makes females sound more trustworthy is whether their voices rise or fall at the end of the word, says McAleer. “Probably the trustworthy female, when she drops her voice at the end, is showing a degree of certainty and so can be trusted.”
So, you gals—and guys, as you’ll see from this video—who constantly uptalk, beware!