Why You’re Judging People More Quickly Than You Think

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

We’ve always been taught not to judge a book by its cover, but turns out our brains can’t help but to do that! A team of New York University and Dartmouth College scientists discovered in a new study that our brains make their own conclusions about an individual’s trustworthiness (or lack thereof) without us consciously knowing it.

“Our findings suggest that the brain automatically responds to a face’s trustworthiness before it is even consciously perceived,” explains Jonathan Freeman, an assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and the study’s senior author, in a university press statement. “The results are consistent with an extensive body of research suggesting that we form spontaneous judgments of other people that can be largely outside awareness.”

Published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers examined a specific portion of the human brain: the amygdala. Located in the brain’s medial temporal lobe, the amygdala is associated with an individual’s social and emotional behavior. This region of the brain, according to previous studies, is also responsible for judging the trustworthiness of a face. In fact, previously neuroscientists from NYU and Harvard University were able to identify the neural systems involved in making first impressions. According to their findings, which were reported in the journal Nature Neuroscience, they were able to narrow down the amygdala and the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) as regions responsible for making first impressions.
What makes the finding of this study novel is that it was previously not known that the brain made such judgements without perceptual awareness. Translation: We make these judgments and have no idea that we have made them! “These findings provide evidence that the amygdala’s processing of social cues in the absence of awareness may be more extensive than previously understood,” explains Freeman. “The amygdala is able to assess how trustworthy another person’s face appears without it being consciously perceived.”

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