Classic: The findings echo a classic line in the film Jerry Maguire, starring Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger.
Classic: The findings echo a classic line in the film Jerry Maguire, starring Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger.

‘You had me at hello’

By Rachel Reilly Time of article published Mar 25, 2014

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London - Scientists have discovered that it only takes saying “hello” for someone to decide whether or not you can be trusted.

Researchers at Glasgow University have found that it takes around half a second to make a good first impression.

They discovered that people judge someone on how trustworthy or how dominant they are within the first 500 milliseconds of hearing their voice.

Psychologists from universities of Glasgow and Princeton in the US, have shown that a simple “hello” is enough to allow most people to draw conclusions about personality type.

They also found that people will make these judgements, including how attractive they are, without seeing the person to whom we are speaking.

The findings echo a classic line in the film Jerry Maguire, starring Tom Cruise and Renée Zellweger.

At the end of the film, when Jerry expresses his love in a long-winded speech to Dorothy, she replies with the simple phrase: “You had me at hello”.

A study played recordings of people saying “hello” and asked test subjects to rank them according to 10 pre-defined personality traits including trustworthiness, dominance, attractiveness and warmth.

The study found that most of the recorded voices elicited the same response from participants and that these opinions were formed rapidly, after hearing the voices for only 300-500 milliseconds.

This suggests that the tone of voice you use when saying “hello” directly and immediately informs the first impression of the person to whom you are speaking.

The most important traits identified were trustworthiness and dominance.

The study found that males who raised their tone and women who alternated the pitch of their voices are seen as more trustworthy.

Dominance is partly indicated by lowering the pitch, but more so by changes in “formant dispersion”, which are adjustments of your voice caused by the structure of your throat.

The fact that the human mind is capable of coming to these conclusions so quickly and irrespective of visual cues implies that this is an ability that may have evolved in our recent history when decisions on who to trust and approach were crucial to our species’ survival.

Dr Phil McAleer, from the Voice Neurocognition Laboratory, Glasgow University, who led the study, said: “It is amazing that from such short bursts of speech you can get such a definite impression of a person.

“And more so that, irrespective of whether it is accurate, your impression is the same as what the other listeners get.

“It is perhaps also consistent that we are most attuned to recognising signs of trustworthiness and dominance, two traits that would have been central to our survival as we evolved.”

This research promises to help in the drive to improve the efficiency of voice-operated systems and learning aids, and to shed new light on the automatic judgements we make about strangers we don’t meet face to face – from conductors making announcements on trains to businesspeople making “cold calls”. – Daily Mail

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