December 01, 2015
First impressions count. Within tenths of a second, our brain passes judgement on a person we meet for the first time. But what creates this first impression? Elena Tsankova and Arvid Kappas from the Jacobs University Bremen demonstrate how single features in our looks determine our judgement of our vis-à-vis.
Tsankova and Kappas investigated how little blemishes of the skin - such as freckles, spots or moles – influence our personal appearance. They revealed: Skin smoothness has a major impact on the first impression. It determines whether we appear not only healthy and attractive but also trustworthy and competent. According to these results, smooth skin gives an air of reliability.
Why is it that smooth skin leaves such a positive impression? “There’s a direct and an indirect effect”, Elena Tsankova explains. “On the one hand, skin smoothness directly influences our perception, as smooth skin looks more healthy than blemished skin.” On the other hand, there is also a more indirect route: Smooth skin signals maturity and competence as, in turn, impure skin can indicate immaturity (for example through acne in puberty) or poverty (for example by the inability to afford cosmetic products).
“In view of these results, we probably pull out our concealer or powder once more before the next job interview or important date”, says Tsankova. However, we can also use this knowledge to keep a close eye on our own judgements. “If we are aware of how important skin smoothness is for our perception of people”, the psychologist continues, “we can scrutinize our own verdict on strangers.” It is very important not to misconstrue these results to create even more pressure on people with skin conditions, the scientists emphasize.
In this study, Tsankova and Kappas presented a group of 130 people with photographs of faces that either had normal skin, which sometimes included blemishes and freckles, or digitally improved skin, where all the little skin imperfections were removed. Subsequently, the test persons rated the trustworthiness, competence, attractiveness, and health of the faces depicted.
“Previous experiments have shown that skin properties affect the way one’s personality or one’s health are judged”, Tsankova explains. “However, these previous studies have typically studied facial texture as a composite factor comprising several individual properties. We, for the first time, have focused on one single feature: skin smoothness.” The journal “Perception” published the results online. In further investigations, the two psychologists want to learn more about the influence of smooth skin on our personal appearance. For example they want to look closer into the interactions of skin smoothness and other facial properties.
Photo: (Jacobs University): What’s your impression? Original and manipulated image of a face as it was used in the present study at the Jacobs University Bremen.
For further questions:
Dr. Elena Tsankova | Postdoctoral Fellow Psychology & Methods
e.tsankova [at] jacobs-university.de | Tel.: +49 421 200- 3432