In spite of the hard­ness and ruth­less­ness I thought I saw in his face, I got the impres­sion that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word.”

Neville Chamberlain’s first impres­sion of Adolf Hitler can char­i­tably be described as an error in judg­ment. Rarely do our own mis­cal­cu­la­tions result in tragedy, yet pop­ular sen­ti­ment seems to hold that when it comes to truly trusting others, you just never know. Wolves in sheep’s clothing abound, and pru­dence demands skep­ti­cism. Whether we are deciding on a babysitter, a doctor, or a car, we try to not base our judg­ments on our first impres­sions. We ask for ref­er­ences, and look up reviews and blue book values. We know that “I’ve just got a good feeling about this” can be famous last words.

But this may not be a full por­trayal of our capacity to judge others’ char­acter. New research led by David DeSteno at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity sug­gests that when it comes to deciding whom to trust, our first impres­sions can be quite accu­rate. In fact, per­son­ality traits such as hon­esty and fair­ness are linked to spe­cific kinds of non­verbal cues, and humans can pick up on these sig­nals during inter­ac­tions. According to these researchers we are like robots, pro­grammed to move in par­tic­ular ways if we are honest. To know who to trust, one simply needs to be able to read the patterns.

Read the article at Scientific American →