Spontaneous first impressions emerge from brief training

Ruth Lee, Jonathan C. Flavell, Steven P. Tipper, Richard Cook, Harriet Over

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Downloads (Pure)


People have a strong and reliable tendency to infer the character traits of strangers based solely on facial appearance. In five highly powered and pre-registered experiments, we investigate the relative merits of learning and nativist accounts of the origins of these first impressions. First, we test whether brief periods of training can establish consistent first impressions de novo. Using a novel paradigm with Greebles – a class of synthetic object with inter-exemplar variation that approximates that seen between individual faces – we show that participants quickly learn to associate appearance cues with trustworthiness (Experiments 1 and 2). In a further experiment, we show that participants easily learn a two-dimensional structure in which individuals are presented as simultaneously varying in both trustworthiness and competence (Experiment 3). Crucially, in the final two experiments (Experiments 4 and 5) we show that, once learned, these first impressions occur following very brief exposure (100 milliseconds). These results demonstrate that first impressions can be rapidly learned and, once learned, take on features previously thought to hold only for innate first impressions (rapid availability). Taken together, these results highlight the plausibility of learning accounts of first impressions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number15024
Number of pages13
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • First impressions, learning, evolution, faces, trustworthiness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Spontaneous first impressions emerge from brief training'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this