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We Judge Each Other in Milliseconds

judge others milliseconds

In NLP we maintain that good communication skills go a long way toward establishing relationships with new people in your life. Even the best communication skills are implemented after our initial judgment of people, however.

There are  individuals that make it so much easier to build relationships of trust from the very first impression. Some people are naturally more prone to opening up and having personal discussions – even moments after meeting.

Then of course there are the people who trigger a more cautious approach. These people make us immediately hesitant, if not altogether leery, of being in their presence.

How quickly do we make such judgments? According to new scientific research, the human brain can make a judgment about a person’s trustworthiness in milliseconds, without even consciously registering their face.

Building on previous studies about quick judgments based on prevailing physical characteristics, Jonathan Freeman, an Assistant Professor at New York University’s Department of Psychology, took such theories a step further.

As a senior author for a paper set to be published in the Journal of Neuroscience, Freeman reveals the results of a series of experiments using both real and computer generated faces to determine how quickly the average person would judge trustworthiness. The surprising findings indicated that the unconscious mind would make an assessment without the conscious mind actually seeing the face.

The experiment required monitoring the brain’s activity and reactions in the region believed to be responsible for social and emotional conduct. Computer generated faces were created using facial features most likely to be considered untrustworthy, such as shallow cheekbones and low inner eyebrows.

Two groups of participants were involved in the experiment. The first group were shown the faces of real people, interspersed with the artificially composed faces, and asked to rate their level of trustworthiness, based on facial appearance alone.

The answers were not at all random or scattered. The group strongly agreed on which faces could be trusted and which could not.

The second group of participants was asked to view images through a brain scanner. In order to fool the conscious mind into not registering the images, a technique called “backwards masking” was used. Each facial photograph appeared for mere milliseconds, immediately followed by an irrelevant image to mask the facial image. The images were shown in rapid succession and the participants were unaware they had even viewed any faces at all.

The brain activity however, showed a distinctly different reaction. The participants in the second experiment had unconsciously made judgments matching the first group. The difference being, these snap assessments were made without any guidance from the conscious mind.

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We Judge Each Other in Milliseconds

Mike Bundrant

Mike Bundrant is the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage and co-founder at The iNLP Center which offers online certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and life coaching.

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APA Reference
Bundrant, M. (2015). We Judge Each Other in Milliseconds. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Feb 2015
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