We judge people all the time. Research shows that when we first meet someone, we instantly use features such as their attractiveness and facial expressions to form an opinion about how approachable and trustworthy they are.But what about when our first impression of someone is formed online, for example by looking at a Facebook page or an online dating profile? In these instances, we're looking at a specially curated set of information about a person that only shows us what they want us to see. And yet a number of studies suggest that these profiles can often give away even more about someone's personality than actually meeting them. When psychologists study people's personalities, they typically judge five key traits: extroversion, openness to (new) experiences, conscientiousness, emotional stability and agreeableness. One thing they often do is use questionnaires that measure these traits to compare our personalities with the impressions other people have of us. These often involve participants rating how far they agree with a series of statements about their characteristics. Questions about extroversion, for example, involve statements such as "I am the life of the party" and "I feel comfortable around people". This produces a total score for each trait, building an overall picture of each participant's personality. Researchers can also use these questionnaires to judge how people perceive others' personalities. We typically think that extroversion plays a key role in our impressions of others during face-to-face contact. This means that we are more likely to have favourable emotions about a person we have never met before if we perceive them to be extroverted.
ShutterstockIn recent years, researchers have also begun comparing our personalities with the impression we give through our Facebook profiles. Research has generally shown that we are remarkably good at using profile pages to make valid judgements of how open to experience people are. We also make fairly accurate judgements about how conscientiousness and extroverted others are. What's interesting is that we're not so good at accurately judging some of these personality traits in face-to-face meetings. We rarely judge someone to be open to experience from our first impression of them because it is hard to work out how creative and open-minded they are. But extroversion is more easily detected in face to face contact because we tend to be pretty good at detecting whether people are chatty and sociable or not.