How to Make a Good First Impression: The Scientific Way

Do you smile a lot? Do you wear a suit? Is your hair combed? Do you wear loud ties? We are judging you! Unfair, but true. The good news is that we can use the science of first impressions to subvert.

This study from the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin looks at everything from the neatness of your attire to where you place your hands and examines how important each is in the overall judgement people make of your personality. The study also looks at how accurate the first impressions were for the subjects’ personality traits, but what I’m interested in is how to manipulate other people’s judgement of me. Obviously.

The study looked at ten personality traits:

  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Emotional stability
  • Openness
  • Likability
  • Self-esteem
  • Loneliness
  • Religiosity
  • Political orientation (liberal)

I’m going to ignore the last three because, frankly, I’m not interested in coming across as a lonely, religious liberal. So that leaves seven personality traits.

The study measured the effect on first impressions of the following ten physical attributes:

  • Healthy vs. sickly appearance
  • Stylish vs. unstylish appearance
  • Distinctive vs. ordinary appearance
  • Neat vs. messy appearance
  • Smiling
  • Looking away from camera
  • Arms folded
  • Arms behind back
  • Energetic vs. tired stance
  • Tense vs. relaxed stance

So let’s get straight to the point. How can I make the absolute best first impression?

Smile and have an energetic stance. These correlate strongly with all seven traits. If you do nothing else, just smile: we can all do that, even if we’re tired.

Almost as effective as these two is having a relaxed stance. This correlates strongly with all of the seven traits, except for conscientiousness. So be energetic, but not frantic.

If you can’t manage these three, then a combination of dressing neatly and stylishly, holding your hands behind your back and looking generally healthy should make a favourable impression. Don’t bother folding your arms: it has a negligible impact on other people’s impression of you.

I’m actually quite heartened by the findings of this study. The key to a good first impression is not artificial social markers, like a fancy watch and £600 shoes. The best way of making a good first impression are things we can all afford: a smile and an energetic and relaxed manner.

Finally, a warning for those who dress ‘distinctively’: yes other people will think you are open, but they will also think you are lonely, liberal and irreligious!


This blog post is entirely based on the following paper, which I recommend you read:
Personality Judgments Based on Physical Appearance
Laura P. Naumann, Simine Vazire, Peter J. Rentfrow and Samuel D. Gosling
(Pers Soc Psychol Bull 2009; 35; 1661 originally published online September 17, 2009) http://www.simine.com/docs/Naumann_et_al_PSPB_2009.pdf

The Mundane and the Sublime: What library data says about the human condition

Today, I stumbled upon a list of the most common books stored in public libraries.

It strikes me, looking at the list, that these are our most precious books (in the Western tradition). These are the ones that have been chosen to be protected for eternity by our libraries.

As the list-makers say, these are “the intellectual works that have been judged to be worth owning by the ‘purchase vote’ of libraries around the globe.”

The data is from 2005, but I don’t think it will have changed much. Here’s the top ten:

  1. The Holy Bible [various]
  2. US Census [various]
  3. Mother Goose
  4. Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
  5. Odyssey by Homer
  6. Iliad by Homer
  7. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  8. Lord of the Rings [trilogy] by J. R. R. Tolkien
  9. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  10. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
####



Now, for comparison, here’s the top ten most loaned books from US libraries in 2009. 

  1. Run for Your Life by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge
  2. Cross Country by James Patterson
  3. Finger Lickin’ Fifteen by Janet Evanovich
  4. The 8th Confession by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro
  5. Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich
  6. Swimsuit by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro
  7. The Shack by William P. Young
  8. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
  9. First Family by David Baldacci
  10. The Associate by John Grisham
####



Now you might feel a certain depression looking down this list.

But I like it: the two lists represent the beautiful dichotomy of our humanity. 

They represent the two worlds we have to manage every day, the two worlds of the mundane and the sublime. Only monks can spend all their time contemplating sublimity, the rest of us have spreadsheets and nappies and traffic jams to worry about.

But it’s nice to know that, when we need them, our libraries guarantee the wonders of literature.

Like Mother Goose.


Lies, damned lies and real unemployment statistics

Unemployment is falling, the Office for National Statistics tells us. They say a lot of other things as well, but that’s all we hear from the government and in the press: unemployment is falling.

Unemployment, the ONS tells us, has fallen to 2.43 million, after the largest quarterly fall since August 2000. Or, as The Guardian put it last month: “UK unemployment falling at fastest pace in a decade”. Great news, you might think.

But the ONS also reports other figures. One of those is economic inactivity in the workforce, i.e. among 16 to 64 year-olds. That figure is up 0.1% to 23.3% of the workforce. That’s right: almost a quarter of the working population, don’t work. 9.37 million people.

Of these, 2.29 million are students inactive in the labour market. So they can be knocked off the total, assuming that they are at least doing something productive.

That leaves us with 7.08 million people not working, out of a workforce of about 40 million.

[Of these, incidentally, only 1.49 million are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. You can look at this figure in one of two ways: 

  • The Daily Mail way – “5.5 million can’t even be bothered to look for a job!”
  • The Independent way – “5.5 million are being failed by the welfare state.”]

But there are also 1.21 million people who are underemployed. In other words, 1.21 million people forced to work part-time because they can’t find full-time work. This is the highest figure since records began in 1992.

So, in total, there are 8.29 million people of working age in Britain who are either out of work or unable to find full-time work. That is 20.6% of the working population, a fifth.

In August 2010, this figure was 8.12 million people or 20.2% of the workforce*.

Now you can judge for yourself whether unemployment is falling or not. Don’t just listen to the headlines, look at the figures.


April 2011: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=12
August 2010: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/pdfdir/lmsuk0810.pdf

*This is made up of 9.35m economically inactive; 2.3m students and 1.07m underemployed. In August, the ONS changed the way the number of economic inactive people were calculated, by raising the working age threshold for women from 59 to 64. Figures before August 2010, therefore, are not comparable with current figures.

Not so bad after all: British sport on the world stage

I was listening to a comedy show on the radio last night and they were taking the piss out of British sporting success. Very funny, I’m sure. But it all sounded a little hackneyed. What about our golfers? What about our rugby players? What about Formula 1?

‘We British don’t like winning; it’s so common…’ they joked.

Tommy-rot, I thought, and so looked up a few things on Wikipedia.

Here’s a list of recent (last 10 years) major British sporting success:

  • Rugby Union: 2003 World Cup
  • Cricket: 2010 World Twenty20
  • Golf: US Open 2010 (McDowell), 2011 (McIlroy)
  • Formula 1: Champions 2008 (Hamilton), 2009 (Button)
  • Heavyweight Boxing: 2002 WBC, IBF (Lewis), 2011 WBA (Haye)
  • Olympics Medal Table: 4th place 2008

The only major sports that are perhaps letting us down are Tennis (no Grand Slams since 1936) and Football (only one major championship, in 1966). But even those have not exactly lacked success.

We’ve had a player in the ATP Men’s Tour Top 20 for fourteen of the last fifteen years, with Tim Henman and now Andy Murray.

In football, national success has been hard to come by, but Liverpool and Manchester United have both won the Champions League in the last ten years.

Not so bad after all.

David Charles: Vanity Project

I was sucked into doing this after accidentally searching for my own name, without quotation marks, on Google. I was astonished to see that I am on the first page.

I can think of no good reason for this, other than the fact that I’ve run a blog for a number of years and that it is hosted with Google themselves. I’ve done a few things here and there, but nothing to really imprint my (absurdly common) name on the collective consciousness of the world.

search: david charles

Fascinated, I looked on the other big search engines to see if this was indeed a case of Google favouritism. Here are the results:

Google (84% share of the search market):

10th result. Bottom of the 1st page.

Yahoo (6%):

91st result. Top of the 10th page. That’s more like the mediocrity I was expecting!

Baidu (Chinese language search engine. 4%):

Nowhere to be found in the first 25 pages, or 250 results. Why not? Have I been censored?

Bing (4%):

42nd result. 5th page. Solid mediocrity.

Ask (<1%):

9th result. 1st page. Suspiciously similar to the Google results. No complaints.

Aol (<1%):

10th result. 1st page. Have you been copying at the back there?

O Vanity, you spoil me!

Where it really gets interesting (for me) is when you start throwing in random words. Because I’ve written quite a lot over the years, on quite a number of diverse subjects, random words send me catapulting up the league table.

david charles travel

  • #1 and #2 on Google. 
  • #6 on Yahoo!

david charles supermarket

  • #1 – #3 on Google. 
  • #3 and #4 on Yahoo!

david charles cycling

  • #1 – #4 on Google. 
  • #3, #5 and #7 on Yahoo!

david charles palestine

  • #1 – #6 on Google. 
  • #1 on Yahoo!

david charles hitch hiking

  • 7 of the top 8 on Google. Only Larry David at #6 keeps me from a Beatles-esque domination of the charts.
  • #1, #2 and #9 on Yahoo!

Now those are not really that random. I have written quite extensively about those topics. You would expect me to score pretty highly on them. But what about these?

david charles lights

  • #3 – #5 on Google.

david charles massive

  • #2 on Google.

david charles teenager

  • #5 on Google.

Yahoo!, however, dismisses my name from it’s pages. It does seem to be better at picking up relevance, dare I say it.

And yes, that last one there was a random word from: http://watchout4snakes.com/creativitytools/RandomWord/RandomWordPlus.aspx