Whether or not they’re accurate, people are constantly forming opinions about everybody else’s personality with just a glance.
Psychologists call it thin slicing — we draw conclusions about people’s sexuality, dominance, and earning potential within seconds of seeing their faces.
But that impression-making isn’t limited to appearances; it’s also in the way people move.
In a British study, students were shown looping video clips of 26 other students walking a single “gait cycle,” or a completed step with each foot. They were asked to rate the walker on a range of personality traits: adventurousness, extroversion, neuroticism, trustworthiness, and warmth.
Naturally, some students had longer strides and others had shorter steps.
That one gait cycle was all that was needed to give a sense of the walker’s personality. Overall, students equated looser gaits with extroversion and adventurousness, while the more clipped walkers were seen as neurotic.
Perhaps surprisingly, these third-person impressions didn’t match up with the walkers’ scores on personality tests.
“It appears that trait impressions based on motion data … are reliable but not valid,” write authors John C. Thoresen of Durham University, Quoc C. Vuong of Newcastle University, and Anthony P. Atkinson of Durham University.
“Observers agree with each other about which walkers look, say, extroverted or conscientious,” they write, “but their impressions do not correspond to how the targets rated themselves.”
So while you may think you look like a carefree adventurer while strolling around downtown, passersby might get the impression that you’re emotionally unstable.
The takeaway: If you want to look like you’re personable and open to new experiences, you’re probably going to want to lengthen your steps — and give the impression that you can take it all in stride.
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