We'd all like to think we give strangers the benefit of the doubt. New research proves otherwise.
Our brains actually process opinions and judgments about people within milliseconds of meeting, according to a study conducted by folks at the Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg in Breisgau, Germany.
Yep, in less than a second we assess whether someone is likable or not.
To come to these findings, researchers administered the Implicit Association Test, a measure used in psychology that detects a person's immediate, often subconscious associations and attitudes between certain concepts. The test helps to determine a person's initial reaction, since what a person says isn't necessarily accurate of what they really think.
Participants responded to concepts like "love" and "death" and the names of things with which they were familiar, like their favorite soccer players, while researchers measured their brain waves on an EEG.
The experiment was conducted to analyze the steps the brain uses to process information and how long it takes to make a subconscious assessment. Researchers were able to observe individual phases in the processing, called "microstates," in which a neural network performs a specific step of the process.
While it's been established that reaction times in the Implicit Association Test are longer when people associate foreign concepts with positive characteristics, this study found that longer reaction times occur because some of the processing steps take longer, not because there are additional steps. This means we're judging everything almost instantaneously.
"This study demonstrates the potential of modern electrical neuroimaging in helping to better understand the origin and time course of socially relevant processes in the human brain," neuroscientist Bastian Schiller said in a press statement.
The researchers hope to use their findings to assist in the therapy of people with mental diseases that involve social shortcomings.