The Beauty of First Impressions

Oscar Wilde once claimed, “It is better to be beautiful than good, but it is better to be good than ugly.” This may be most true when meeting new people. Researchers in British Columbia suggest that beautiful people make better first impressions.

In the study, people more accurately described and had a more positive impression of attractive people than those who were less attractive. Likely, people pay attention to other people whom they believe are more attractive. This previously reported “halo effect” is a phenomenon in which people who are physically attractive are also thought to be smarter, friendlier and more competent than less attractive peers.

The current study, published Psychological Science involved 75 men and women who were instructed to have three-minute one-on-one conversations with people they had never met before. Afterwards, the participants rated each other on their level of attractiveness, as well as five personality traits: openness, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and neuroticism. Each participant also rated him- or herself on the same characteristics.

Overall, participants reported a generally more favorable impression of people they ranked as more attractive; that is, attractive people were seen as having more desirable personality profiles than less attractive people. Additionally, participants more accurately described the personality characteristics of the more attractive subjects, compared to less attractive counterparts; specifically, attractive people were viewed more in line with their self-reported characteristics than less attractive people.

The authors believe that this tendency towards beautiful first impressions is owed to people paying closer attention to others they find attractive. Many factors, even gender and brain mechanisms, motivate first impressions, and people’s desire to bond with beautiful people influences the attention they pay to those they find attractive. This may be due to romantic interest, a wish to be friends, curiosity, or a desire to elevate one’s own social standing. And increased motivation leads to more accurate first impressions.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the study only evaluates the subjective reports of attractiveness and personality characteristics. By judging others’ perceptions compared to what beautiful people believed about themselves only means that beautiful people are better at conveying what they want others to believe about them. Attractiveness is a complex trait that cannot be accurately defined in three minutes. But, as the authors report, people do judge books by their covers, and books with attractive covers are read more closely than other books.


Biesanz JC, & Human LJ (2010). The cost of forming more accurate impressions: accuracy-motivated perceivers see the personality of others more distinctively but less normatively than perceivers without an explicit goal. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 21 (4), 589-94 PMID: 20424106

Chan, M., Rogers, K., Parisotto, K., & Biesanz, J. (2010). Forming first impressions: The role of gender and normative accuracy in personality perception Journal of Research in Personality DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2010.11.001

Lemay EP Jr, Clark MS, & Greenberg A (2010). What is beautiful is good because what is beautiful is desired: physical attractiveness stereotyping as projection of interpersonal goals. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 36 (3), 339-53 PMID: 20179314

Lorenzo GL, Biesanz JC, & Human LJ (2010). What is beautiful is good and more accurately understood: physical attractiveness and accuracy in first impressions of personality. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 21 (12), 1777-82 PMID: 21051521

Schiller D, Freeman JB, Mitchell JP, Uleman JS, & Phelps EA (2009). A neural mechanism of first impressions. Nature neuroscience, 12 (4), 508-14 PMID: 19270690

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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