If this small study can be believed, photos tell far more about the people in them than just what they look like.
113 people, plus a few close friends of each, filled out forms outlining personality traits. Then the 113 were photographed a couple times – once posed facing the camera with as neutral an expression as possible, and the other more spontaneously natural.
Six “observers” looked at each set of photographs and tried to nail down the personalities of the strangers in them. Even with the students posed the same way in the standardized images, more than 60 per cent of the time the observers were able to judge their emotional stability, openness, self-esteem and religiosity accurately, and they picked out extroversion more than 70 per cent of the time.
Posture and style of dress helped nail down things relating to faith (visible crosses, etc) or how comfortable they were in front of a camera. People who are unfazed by unusual situations (like when strangers take pictures of them) are probably not the shy ones. I wonder why they only had six people looking at the photos, though. That doesn’t seem like enough people to base useful conclusions on.
The spontaneously posed photos provided even more complete first impressions, allowing the observers to pin down nine of 10 personality traits including agreeableness, loneliness and political affiliation, as well as the traits they were able to judge with the less expressive photos.
Conscientiousness was the one trait that was difficult for everyone to judge, and that’s also where “a surprising quirk” in gender emerged. Observers tended to think neatly dressed men were more conscientious but the same wasn’t true for women, which Naumann believes is a result of social pressures dictating that women should always look put together.
A little trip to dictionary.com for a definition of conscientiousness: 1) controlled by or done according to conscience, or 2) meticulous; careful; painstaking; particular
Aurelie Duhaime, president of the Canadian chapter of the Association of Image Consultants International, says within four to 10 seconds of meeting someone new, people take stock of their socioeconomic status, belief system, age, health and education. Most of our communication is non-verbal, she says, and the challenge is to make sure people’s external appearance reflects their interior and the message they want to broadcast to the world.
Not that I’m going to declare it’s time to go back to fedoras and suits every day or classy Jackie O inspired styles that require four hours of hair time before you dare balance a pillbox hat on it. Heck no. I like my scruffy jeans and discount t-shirts. It sells the image that I don’t buy the good stuff. And I don’t mind, because I won’t spend my hard earned money on outfits I’d need to dry clean every time I spilled stuff on them. It’s not worth it, not even to look well dressed and conscientious.
Too bad people will judge my personality based on how I look or dress, though, but I guess it’s what people do. Still, it’s worth noting that seeing a person in good clothes doesn’t automatically make the person good.
Naumann’s study, to be published in the December issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, also reveals glitches in our ability to size people up based on appearance.
While observers were able to judge people’s liberal or conservative politics with some accuracy, further analysis showed they were mistaken in assuming people with more distinctive appearances were more likely to be left-leaning. They also thought people who were dressed more neatly or plainly were religious, but that wasn’t necessarily true.
“For some traits it’s easier to judge a book by its cover, but certainly there are drawbacks to using such snap judgments,” Naumann says.
Well sure. Any snake can wear a suit, but he’ll still be a snake underneath. Remember those makeover shows Jenny Jones and her ilk used to put on? Like changing hair or an outfit was really going to instantly change the person underneath. “Oh, I’m so happy!” the girls would cry, friends and relatives would be burbling and oozing sweet talk out every orifice, and then the talk show host would blather some dithering bit of self-esteem crap just before the credits rolled. Did anything really change for these women? Probably not. At least, not for long.
Quick thing to round this off – I decided to try a search about whether personality can change over a lifetime. The first article I read seemed to suggest yes, but it wasn’t a longitudinal study of a set group, it was only a survey of 20s, 30s, 50s, etc to see how attitudes appeared to be at different stages of life. They were trying to conclude that aging changes personality, but since they couldn’t go back in time to when the 50 year olds were in their 20s, I don’t think they succeeded. But they did discover that older people tended to be more conscientious than their younger counterparts (A result of when they were young? What they experienced as they aged?) and older women were less neurotic then younger ones, while there was no noticeable decline for older men.
The other article is from Psyblog, which only caught my eye because it mentioned movies I’ve seen – Schindler’s List and Lord of the Rings, comparing two styles of Hollywood heroism. Schindler starts as a greedy dick and grows a kind heart that changes his whole outlook on life. Boromir and Aragorn are trapped in personalities they can’t change because they can’t alter their fate in any way. No matter what they do, the story has to play out just the way it does, with Boromir’s betrayal and Aragorn getting the crown he’s long tried to avoid.
Self help people push the concept that change can just happen if you will it, if you just decide to be different you’ll manage it. Well, hardly. That was always my assumption when I went to new places, that I could also be someone new once I got there, but fat chance. No matter how far I went, the same old me walked those strange streets, regardless.
I’ve reached a level of acceptance about that now, at least. It’s the same reason that fitness and diets can take so much work. It’s big change. It can’t happen overnight, or because you’ve asked the universe for it. It’s not a parking space close to a door you’re dealing with here. It’s your Self.
Psychological research tells us that people’s personalities are actually relatively stable over their lifetimes. What changes as we age is probably not the larger, more obvious aspects of our personality, but the little things we do. The types of things that would normally sneak under the radar of psychology studies. Our experience broadens, or narrows, our lives are struck by dizzying triumph and cavernous misfortune, and we march on, most of us, making tiny changes as we go.
As any management consultant will tell you, people are remarkably resilient to change and ultimately this inflexibility is necessary for our survival. As an evolutionary psychologist would say, it’s adaptive behaviour. If we were too easily influenced to change our beliefs, our attitudes, our whole direction in life, we would never achieve anything. What our culture worship as its greatest achievements in the arts, sciences and politics, were mostly achieved by people who were remarkably stubborn in sticking to their vision.