9 things about your appearance people immediately judge, according to psychology

Ryan Frawley by Ryan Frawley | March 28, 2024, 4:09 pm

I’m probably not going to shock you if I tell you the world isn’t always fair.

And that applies to the people in it, too.

We all know we shouldn’t judge people by their appearance. We’re all told not to judge a book by its cover.

Then we turn around and do it anyway.

It’s not completely our fault.

After all, millions of years of evolution have conditioned us to make quick judgments about others.

That’s because, for our hairy ancestors, it was important to make quick decisions about people in a dangerous world.

Unfortunately, it’s a tendency that’s hard to let go of.

The way you look determines how people feel about you.

And here are some things science suggests people immediately judge about your appearance.

1) Facial features

A person’s face is often the first thing others notice about them.

After all, there’s a reason most of us go around with our faces uncovered while we wear clothes on the rest of our bodies.

And as we all discovered during the Covid 19 pandemic, not being able to see someone’s face can make a lot of us feel uncomfortable.

Psychologist Alexander Todorov made a major study of the first impressions people form of each other based on their faces.

This study ended up forming the basis for Todorov’s book, Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions.

“We form first impressions of people all the time, and we should be mindful of this. It matters,” Todorov says. “We are overconfident in these impressions, although most of the time they are inaccurate as stable predictors of what you will do across time and situations.”

Todorov’s study found that many of us believe that we can tell something about a person’s character from their face.

His team found that subjects in a study made judgments about which politician was more trustworthy in less than a second, based solely on the way they looked.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do about your face.

Barring plastic surgery, you’re more or less stuck with it.

So if you look untrustworthy or incompetent, even if you’re not, people may tend to make assumptions about you based on only a momentary glance.

2) Posture and body language

There is a popular science statistic that suggests that most of the ways we communicate with one another are nonverbal.

Whether the figures are true or not, there’s no denying that body language is an important part of communication.

We all speak body language, but we don’t always realize we’re doing it.

That means the way a person carries himself, the way they stand or sit, and other aspects of their body language can have a powerful effect on what we think of them.

Body language experts Barbara and Allan Pease have identified more than 1 million nonverbal cues we use to communicate without words. These include:

  •       facial expressions and micro expressions
  •       hand gestures
  •       eye contact
  •       posture (slouching, slumping, standing up straight, etc.)

All of these things can tell people something about you before you ever open your mouth.

Fortunately, body language is something that you can learn and improve on.

Standing up straight, for example, conveys confidence and authority and generally gives people a much better first impression of you than they get when you slump.

3) Clothing

Clothing, at its most basic, is supposed to protect us from the elements.

But humans being the way we are, it’s so much more than that.

Even the briefest look at the fashion industry will show you that there is a whole world of communication going on with the clothes we wear.

And the choices you make about your clothing tell people a lot about you – whether you want it to or not.

Maybe you’re not a fashionista. Maybe you don’t put any thought into what you wear and reject the idea that your clothing says anything about you.

But there’s no way not to play this game.

Just doing that, dressing carelessly, tells people something about you, just as wearing the latest fashions does.

Check out this study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, which took two groups of men and dressed one in suits, and the other in sweatpants and T-shirts.

Then they had the groups participate in a mock negotiation.

The guys in suits negotiated their way to $2 million in profits, while the guys in sweatpants lost $1.2 million.

The clothes we wear change how people feel about us. But they can also change the way we feel about ourselves.

Maybe wearing a suit helped the guys in one group feel more confident and assertive, or maybe it made the people they were negotiating with defer to them.

But whatever the case, there’s no denying that what you wear changes how people perceive you.

4) Physical fitness

As a confirmed couch potato, I’d rather believe this isn’t true.

But there’s no denying the evidence.

Physical fitness is complex, and you can’t always tell a person’s level of fitness by looking at them.

But part of us believes we can.

That means, when we see someone who looks slender or muscular, we assume that they are physically fit.

Likewise, when we see someone carrying a little extra weight, we tend to assume that they are unfit.

However, it’s perfectly possible to be packing a few extra pounds and still be in good shape.

Likewise, some people with impressive muscles are actually in terrible shape.

Unfortunately, these days, physical fitness also comes with a lot of moral judgment.

People often assume that those they perceive to be in bad shape are lazy and lacking discipline.

5) Attractiveness

This is probably the ultimate first impression that people make.

Not only do people make snap judgments about the attractiveness of others, but they then change their behavior based on the perceived attractiveness of the people they meet.

“Throughout the world, attractive people show greater acquisition of resources and greater reproductive success than others,” claims this study.

Another study suggests that people find those they deem attractive to also be more trustworthy.

It’s not hard to believe that beautiful people have an easier path through life.

With that said, there is a downside to being attractive.

It’s often harder to be taken seriously when you’re seriously beautiful.

I guess I’m lucky that’s not a problem I have to deal with.

6) Height

You can’t do much about your height.

Unfortunately, it’s another thing people use to decide how they feel about you.

Height is important for both men and women, but it seems to be particularly important for men.

Not only are taller men generally considered more attractive by women, but they are also more financially successful.

In fact, one study found that every inch above average can add $789 per year to a man’s paycheck.

That means a six foot tall man could make $166,000 more over a 30-year career than a guy who is 5’5” – even when they have the exact same experience, education, and other attributes.

If you don’t believe that, ask yourself why the vast majority of presidents of the United States have been above average height for their time.

And why is it that usually, the taller candidate wins the election?

7) Grooming and hygiene

Luckily, personal grooming can go a long way to contribute to a positive first impression.

And unlike your height or face, it’s something that you can change.

Attending to your grooming and hygiene demonstrates that you take care of yourself.

Having fresh breath, clear skin, and neat hair goes a long way to showing people that you are a responsible and mature person.

Plus, this study shows that attending to your personal hygiene can make you feel more confident, which can in turn leave a better first impression.

8) Belongings

If belongings didn’t say something about you, most advertising would be pointless.

We are encouraged to judge each other by the car we drive, the watch we wear, and the house we live in.

In fact, the whole idea of luxury brands is based on this status-driven behavior.

However, it’s important to be aware that this can backfire.

While going around dripping in the latest brands and fashions will impress some people, it will leave a bad impression on others, to whom you may appear shallow and materialistic.

When it comes to first impressions, sometimes it’s important to judge your audience.

9) Facial expressions

Finally, let’s return to the face.

The whole point of facial expressions is to convey information without words.

And yet, even though we all know the importance of expressions in how we feel about others, we are not always in control of the expressions we make.

“Often, words do not match emotions, and the face betrays what a person is actually feeling,” writes psychologist Arlin Cuncic.

So it’s important to be aware of what your face is telling people.

A friendly smile can go a long way to leaving a great first impression.

On the other hand, a scowl is likely to make people think less of you.

First impressions

You can’t control everything about the impression you leave when you first meet people.

However, some of the things people judge you for – fairly or not – are within your control.

So focus on the things you can change, and you’ll be on your way to leaving the best kind of first impression on everyone you meet.