The Psychological and Physiological Dynamics of a Simple Conversation

Article excerpt

Two experiments examined several variables that influence first impressions between previously unacquainted, opposite gender participants. The first experiment investigated the relationship among measures of extroversion, cheerfulness, and attractiveness during a first encounter. Results showed that measures of attractiveness did not correlate with measures of extroversion and cheerfulness. The second experiment examined galvanic skin response (GSR) from male and female couples engaged in conversation. The results showed a significant direct relationship between the electrical conductivity of the skin for 10 pairs of participants who were engaged in a simple conversation.

The first impression is the perception of another that is formed during a first encounter. Several studies have indicated that attractiveness and extroversion are the most important predictors of the first impression (Berry & Landry, 1997; Berry & Miller, 2001; Marcus & Lehman, 2002; Riggio, Widaman, Tucker, & Salinas, 1991; Zuckerman, Miyake, & Elkin, 1995; Zuckerman, Miyake, & Hodgins, 1991). For example, Zuckerman et al. (1995) reported that the more attractive a person seemed, the more positive was another's overall impression of that person. Symons (1979) showed that a woman's physical health, age, and uniqueness are attractive to men whereas a man's status, height, skills, and abilities are attractive to women. Berry and Miller (2001) found that males rated physical attractiveness as the best predictor for higher quality interactions with women, while women rated extroversion as the most salient factor for men. These results were supported by other published research (Marcus & Lehman, 2002; Markey & Wells, 2002). Other studies of gender found evidence for a "female positivity effect", that is, females tend to give and receive more favorable first impression ratings compared to men (King & Pate, 2002; Lippa, 1998; McDonald, 1968; Winquist, Mohr, & Kenny, 1998).

A less well studied phenomenon of the first encounter is the physiological adaptation that a person experiences when first meeting another. For example, if an individual is attracted to another at their first meeting, the attraction may manifest through arousal feedback such as increased galvanic skin response (GSR), blood pressure, and heart rate (Clore & Gormly, 1975; Kerber, 1981; Piccione & Veitch, 1979; Williams & Kleinke, 1993). For instance, Williams and Kleinke found elevated levels of systolic and diastolic blood pressure and heart rate during a first acquaintance meeting that involved mutual gaze and touching. The physiological reaction may have resulted from activation of the dopaminergic regions of the brain (Kampe, Frith, Dolan, & Frith, 2001). Although these studies did not show a correlation between the physiological reactions of the participants and measures of attraction, it is reasonable to suggest that psychological variables like extroversion and cheerfulness and physiological components like GSR, heart rate, or temperature may predict the level of mutual attraction that develops during a first encounter.


The research that follows addressed three issues regarding the first impression. First, the studies cited above indicated that variables like attractiveness, cheerfulness, and extroversion are crucial components of the first impression. However, the relationships among these variables have not been extensively investigated. Second, while there is some evidence to support a female positivity effect, there are no systematic tests of this hypothesis in the literature. Third, although studies have examined changes in physiological responses for individuals engaged in a first acquaintance conversation, no one has demonstrated a significant correlation between the physiological responses of participants involved in a conversation.


The first experiment examined the relationships among extroversion and cheerfulness as predictors of attractiveness during a first encounter. …


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