First impressions mean a lot — from how we speak to what we wear. According to a new study from researchers in Japan, nodding your head can matter too.
Hokkaido University Associate Professor Jun-ichiro Kawahara and Yamagata University Associate Professor Takayuki Osugi found that the head nod and head shake that many cultures use to indicate yes and no, respectively, have an impact on how people judge others’ personalities.
The professors showed 49 Japanese men and women, aged 18 years or older, computer-generated figures that shook their heads “no” or nodded “yes,” then had them rate the figures’ attractiveness, likability, and approachability on a scale of 0 to 100.
The results were clear: Study participants found the computer-generated people more likable and approachable when they nodded their head “yes.” Specifically, the scores for the likability and approachability of figures who nodded were 30 percent higher than those for the figures that shook their heads “no,” and 40 percent higher than those for the figures who stayed motionless.
Kawahara tells Yahoo Lifestyle that while nodding proved to positively affect personality perception, it did not affect attractiveness.
“The effect of nodding on likability and approachability was about 40 percent at most. However, its effect on physical appearance was much smaller, less than 10 percent,” he said.
While the researchers acknowledge that head nodding is already a positive form of communication, and thus is likely to be perceived as such, their study was able to prove that a head motion is all it takes for someone to make a personality judgment.
“The present study shows boosting occurs even without any context,” Kawahara explains. “Our study simply asked participants to infer personality. We found that participants automatically incorporated this body motion into their judgments.”
He and his colleague decided to conduct the study after seeing the effect that bowing had on attractiveness.
“We wondered how much trivial actions may cause any impact on our social judgments,” he said.
Thanks to these findings, the answer is quite a bit; but the professors hope to conduct another study in the future, with gender as a variable. They want to determine if the gender of the person moving the head makes a difference in perception.
One thing to consider, of course, is that perceptions may differ in cultures who communicate differently. “We’ve heard that tilting the head means positive in some cultures,” Kawahara says.
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