People form impressions, or vague ideas, about other people through the process of person perception.
Physical appearance has a strong effect on how people are perceived by others. Two aspects of physical appearance are particularly important: attractiveness and baby-faced features.
Research shows that people judge attractive-looking people as having positive personality traits, such as sociability, friendliness, poise, warmth, and good adjustment. There is, however, little actual correlation between personality traits and physical attractiveness.
People also tend to think that attractive-looking people are more competent. Because of this bias, attractive people tend to get better jobs and higher salaries.
People’s attractiveness does not have much influence on judgments about their honesty. Instead, people tend to be judged as honest if they have baby-faced features, such as large eyes and rounded chins. Baby-faced people are often judged as being passive, helpless, and naïve. However, no correlation exists between being baby-faced and actually having these personality traits.
Evolutionary theorists believe the qualities attributed to baby-faced people reflect an evolved tendency to see babies as helpless and needing nurture. Such a tendency may have given human ancestors a survival advantage, since the babies of people who provided good nurturing were more likely to live on to reproduce.
When people meet, they form impressions of each other based on their cognitive schemas. People use cognitive schemas to organize information about the world. Cognitive schemas help to access information quickly and easily.
Social schemas are mental models that represent and categorize social events and people. For example, certain social schemas tell people what it means to be a spectator at a baseball game. There are also social schemas for categories of people, such as yuppie or geek. These social schemas affect how people perceive events and others. Once a social schema is activated, it may be difficult to adjust a perception of a person or event.