Pictures Give the Wrong Impression

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Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita in response to a question about asking a shadchan for a picture to see if he finds her attractive to save time said:

! שטויות! הוא לא יראה כלום – צריך לפגוש

“This is nonsense! He will not see anything. He must meet [her]!”

“He will not see anything” was corroborated by years of research in person (mis)perception.

Although some claim they can tell personality traits from facial features, my master`s thesis found “He will not see anything”. In this study, I took pictures of students in a college who shared a residence for 3 years, who were then seniors in college. These students then rated each other on 20 personality traits. I then showed these pictures to groups of other students who attended a different university which was 40 miles away and each student rated the person in each picture on the same 20 personality traits. I wanted to know the how much agreement there was by people who knew each other well by living together for 3 years and know how much agreement there was by people rating others by their picture alone. (Reliability) I also wanted to see how much agreement there was on ratings of people they know well and ratings based on picture alone – or how valid was first impressions. What I found in this thesis, later published in a professional journal, was very high reliability quotients in both groups, meaning that there was a great deal of agreement on all 20 personality traits of each person rated. To oversimplify, 9 out of 10 students who rated the person by picture alone agreed and 9 out of 10 of the students who lived together for 3 years agreed. However, there was wide discrepancies in ratings of each trait between the two groups.

First Impressions are Reliable but Not Valid: What this means is that your first impressions of someone and another person`s first impressions of that same person will be highly similar. And if you both got to know this person over a long time, you both also would agree. But the person you got to know well is not the same person you thought from your first impression of them.

Corroborating this thesis published as a journal article over 40 years ago, Princeton University Professor, Alexander Todorov, in his textbook Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions reviews his own research and over 40 years of research by others which he summarizes as “The scientific story of first impressions—and why the snap character judgments we make from faces are irresistible but usually incorrect.” The consistent finding of over a half century of research was summarized succinctly by Rav Chaim “He will not see anything”.

Pictures and Physical Attraction: Again, corroborating Rav Chaim’s succinct statement that it is a fallacy is that you need to see pictures to see if you are attracted, in another study, I gave male college students 8 x 10 photographs of females’ faces and the students rank ordered them in terms of physical attractiveness. Then the student was hooked up to EKG and GSR monitors and was told that he would be shown slides of pictures and to just sit back in the comfortable reclining armchair. While the photos where shown they could hear what sounded like an EKG monitor beeping their heart rate. The heart rate however was false feedback so that with some pictures the heart rate accelerated and others no change. They were then shown photographs of the girls faces mixed in with other photos and asked to separate those they recognized seeing before. They then were asked to rank order those same pictures which they originally rank ordered. The order of pictures changed. Instead of being the same as the original rank ordering, they rank ordered them based on the false feedback. So that their physical attractiveness changed.

We actually use different parts of our brain when judging a potential date from a photo as opposed to in person. Researchers conducted brain scans of volunteers looking at pictures of potential dates. The researchers found that two brain regions became active while volunteers viewed the photos. The paracingulate cortex calculates how attractive the person is, while the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex decides if it’s a person, they would like to pursue a relationship with. After the initial viewing of the pictures, the researchers then had the volunteers meet. They discovered that when the two people met, a second region became active. The rostromedial prefrontal cortex began making more sophisticated calculations, such as how similar and likable the person was. Therefore, some people may be dismissed as potential possibility based on pictures, but if they met in person, they would be considered desirable. The reverse is also true. A person can become quite enamored with a photo, but once the two people meet in person, those feelings can disappear faster than promises after Election Day.

Judging from a picture is a small part of a bigger problem: The Actor-Observer Perspective: In another line of my research, a number of studies showed profound differences in the actor-observer perspective. When Rav Chaim says he will see nothing, they should meet, this is exactly the point of this line of research. Judging from a picture whether someone is attractive or whether they possess the personality traits you are looking for is an observer perspective which is doomed to perpetual failure. This judgmental hypercritical mindset invariably turns a date into an interrogation where both of you are incessantly looking for red flags, a euphemism for flaws. This is no way to build a relationship. Just being yourself, letting it happen does. If you fit, nothing can break it, if you don’t, nothing can make it. Falling in love is in a way like falling asleep, you can’t force it, it just happens. You have to be in it to win it, not from a critical observer perspective but from an actor perspective. All you need to do is switch your perspective from an observer to actor, as put succinctly by Rav Chaim, “He will not see anything, he must meet”.

And it is divine.

Rabbinical sources compiled as a resource guide for shadchanim and those in shidduchim are available in this sefer so that you can read the the original sources. The loving relationship you develop brings the shechina to the world as the Maharal concisely put it “A Man and A Woman is the Mizbeiach for the Shechina.

The Maharal in reconciling two apparently contradictory statements מצא אשה מצא טוב and, ומוצא אני מר ממות את האשה (קהלת ז, כו)  gives a number of possibilities. One is that the first statement is in the past tense and the other in present tense. If he found the one that in the past was decreed, 40 days before he as a fetus was formed, then he found good. But instead of the preordained Mrs. Right, Mrs. Right Now is worse than death. He elaborates in a second approach in noting the Torah is called the Good Woman and Gehennom the Bad Woman. Why? The Torah connects you to Hashem and in Gehennom you are not connected to Hashem. It is all about the relationship. If you have a good connection then this is good and no connection is worse than death.

So, Make it Happen by Letting it Happen. There is the right one at the right time. Since the six days of creation, Hashem does not entrust Angels but He Himself makes and sustains the relationship from shidduchim through marriage, as the Maharal put it, there is nothing new under the sun, but connecting one individual to another individual is above the sun – supranatural – above nature. You may experience it as falling in love, but in reality, when it happens, this is the hand of Hashem. Even in times of Hester panim, the Chazon Ish says, you see the hand of Hashem in shidduchim.

Akin to prophecy, where a prophet has an obligation to prophesy, the Chazon Ish writes that when a shadchan gets a shidduch idea, he must act on it immediately. He practiced what he preached. He got a shidduch idea in the middle of the night – woke up the bochur in the dormitory that they are going for a walk – and around 3:00AM they are walking on Rabbi Akiva Street in Bnei Brak where at one corner was waiting the girl who the Chazon Ish called to come right away. He told the bochur to walk with the girl on the other side of the street and he will walk on this side. The boy married this girl.

May Hashem give shadchanim the ruach hakodesh to succeed in this avodas hakodesh to find you the right one and may the right time be sooner than later.