NPR logo

You Had Me At Hello: The Science Behind First Impressions

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
You Had Me At Hello: The Science Behind First Impressions

Your Health

You Had Me At Hello: The Science Behind First Impressions

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Today in Your Health: How learning to quilt could help your brain. First, a scientific study reveals how we use voices to instantly judge personality. Michelle Trudeau reports on scientists in Scotland who have been studying the power of the first impressions.

MICHELLE TRUDEAU, BYLINE: Remember that famous line from the movie "Jerry Maguire," where Renee Zellweger says to Tom Cruise...


RENEE ZELLWEGER: (As Dorothy Boyd) You had me at hello. You had me at hello.

TRUDEAU: Turns out there's some scientific evidence backing this up, according to psychologist Phil McAleer at the University of Glasgow, Scotland.

PHIL MCALEER: From that first word you hear a person speak...


MCALEER: start to form this impression of the person's personality.

TRUDEAU: To explore this, McAleer recorded 64 people - men and women from Glasgow - reading a paragraph in which the word hello occurred. He then extracted all the hellos, got over 300 participants to listen to the different hellos and to rate them...

MCALEER: On one of 10 different personality traits.

TRUDEAU: Such as trustworthiness, aggressiveness...

MCALEER: Confidence, dominance, warmth.

TRUDEAU: Basically, asking each participant...

MCALEER: What is your first impression of a person from the moment you hear them speak?

TRUDEAU: Here are a couple of examples of what the participants listened to and rated.


MCALEER: That voice, for our participants, was rated the most trustworthy male voice in the study.

TRUDEAU: Versus this voice.


MCALEER: This speaker was rated the most untrustworthy male.

The sort of guy you'd want to avoid, or you wouldn't really want to talk to on the phone.

TRUDEAU: McAleer says if you compare these two examples...

MCALEER: There's a real change in the pitch of the two voices. The trustworthy male says hello really quite high-pitched, like, hello. Whereas, the untrustworthy guy kind of says it more like, hello.

TRUDEAU: Likewise for the female voices.


TRUDEAU: That female voice was rated the most dominant personality.

MCALEER: So the dominant female, you can hear in her voice - again, it sounds like the pitch is lower. So it sounds like she's speaking in a bit more of a deeper voice.

TRUDEAU: Compared with the voice of the woman who was rated the least dominant.


MCALEER: In the non-dominant female that you just played there, it doesn't have that strength in the voice anymore.

TRUDEAU: Now, McAleer says it doesn't really matter whether the ratings of personality accurately reflect a speaker's true personality. What matters, he contends, is that most participants rated the voices the same way.

MCALEER: So we've asked 300 different people who don't know each other to rate 64 voices that they've never heard before. And from that, what we find is that they all seem to perceive that that voice is the most trustworthy, and another voice is the least trustworthy.

TRUDEAU: And for the other personality traits - such as dominance, warmth, confidence...

MCALEER: They rate in a very similar fashion as well.

TRUDEAU: In less than a second, we make a snap judgment about someone's personality, says Jody Kreiman, a UCLA researcher who studies how we perceive different voices. Hearing just a brief utterance, we decide whether to approach the person or to avoid them. Such rapid appraisals, she adds, have a long evolutionary history. It's a brain process found in all mammals

JODY KREIMAN: So, you know, biological things, things that are important for behavior and for survival, tend to happen pretty fast. You don't have a huge amount of time. It has to be a simple system of communication.

TRUDEAU: And it doesn't get much simpler than a simple hello, rapidly communicating friend or foe; a phenomenon that Phil McAleer has now dubbed the Jerry Maguire Effect - underscoring the old adage: You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

For NPR News, I'm Michelle Trudeau.

INSKEEP: Hello. If you'd like to try rating the hellos yourself go to our website,

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.