New research out of Columbia Business School suggests that you can predict someone’s trustworthiness just by looking at their face. This may seem shocking to some while to others they have read research like this for years, but the reason why we have such an ability will surprise many. According to the findings we act the way we are perceived. One of the researchers suggests that individuals have an awareness of how people will judge them, they then internalize these expectations and behave accordingly. In short, if you are perceived as trustworthy you will tend to act in a trustworthy manner. On the flip side, if you are perceived as untrustworthy, you will behave as untrustworthy.
Though the study focused on and only measured trustworthiness, I wonder how many other behaviors are affected by people’s perceptions. “Thin slicing”, as psychologists call it, is the process by which individuals rate people for numerous attributes within seconds of meeting them. In some instances the predictions are fairly accurate while in others, not so much, but the perception still persists. For instance men with shaved heads are perceived as dominant. This does not mean that all men or even the majority with shaved heads are indeed dominant just that most people believe they are.
My question is, if we become more trustworthy when perceived as such, might not we also internalize other perceptions and act accordingly? If someone perceives me as dominant for example might I not recognize this and behave in a similar fashion?
Following are a number of assumptions made about us within seconds.
- Economic status
- Sexual orientation
- Level of success
- If you are adventurous
- If you are aggressive
- If you are religious
- Your competence
- If you are conscientious
Surely a few of these like economic status and level of success can be faked with a nice suit and expensive watch or jewelry but many others cannot. Deion Sanders, the Hall of Fame NFL defensive player, was once asked why he wore such nice suits to the games. He replied, “If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. If you play good, they pay good!” His statement makes sense. If fancy clothes help us to feel better about ourselves so too would other people’s notions of us. If another considered me as successful, might I not take on an attitude that exudes success? Likewise with intelligence, competence and conscientiousness, these traits too could manifest themselves in an individual who is perceived to possess them. Conscientiousness is, as I have written before, the personality trait that best determines success.
With at least trustworthiness Columbia has provided data showing how our perceptions influence others. As an interviewer how then do you relate to your job candidates? Are we unwittingly influencing their behaviors for better or worse during job interviews? If we treat them good during the interview will they always feel good and play good on the job? Are we really seeing the true candidate or just the candidate we perceive them to be?