Can You Judge Someone by How They Say “Hello”?

People generally aren’t slow to form first impressions of each other. In fact, it turns out we jump to all sorts of conclusions based only on how someone says “hello.”

Trustworthiness is one character trait people are ready to assess from a simple greeting. A recent study looked for patterns in how a “hello” that people find trustworthy differs from one that arouses suspicion.

In the study, researchers found that when people listened to recordings of different voices saying “hello,” they tended to agree on which greetings were more trustworthy.

Intonation was a major cue listeners used to assess trustworthiness. The hellos that were deemed most trustworthy tended to start high, dip in the middle, and finish high.

By contrast, hellos that stirred up suspicions of untrustworthiness tended to start low and remain flat, ending with a weaker and more gradual rise in pitch.

This isn’t the first study looking at how we can form impressions from nothing more than a greeting. A 2014 study looked at how people make inferences about personality, again from nothing more than a recorded “hello.”

The study found two essential personality traits that people form impressions of using a variety of acoustic cues. One of these is the speaker’s overall trustworthiness and likability while the other is the speaker’s level of dominance.

It might not come as a surprise that people tend to evaluate male and female voices differently. Among male voices, those perceived as most attractive tend to be the ones high in both trustworthiness-likability and dominance. In female voices, on the other hand, dominance seems to be less important, with people forming judgments primarily based on trustworthiness/likability.

Overall, it turns out that people are constantly jumping to conclusions about each other based on what little information they have, even if that’s a mere greeting. So if you find that people inexplicably evaluate you as untrustworthy, maybe all you need to do is change the way you say “hello”!

Image: Flickr/Wolfie Rankin