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The Science of First Impressions

Alexander Todorov + Ellen Burstyn

Wednesday, June 7, 2017
7:00 PM–8:30 PM

We make up our minds about others after seeing their faces for a fraction of a second—and these snap judgments predict all kinds of important decisions. For example, politicians who simply look “more competent” are more likely to win elections by larger margins. Yet the character judgments we make from faces are as inaccurate as they are irresistible; in most situations, we would guess more accurately if we ignored faces. So why do we put so much stock in these impressions?

Together with award-winning actress Ellen Burstyn, Alexander Todorov—one of the world’s leading researchers on the subject—answers this question as he tells the story of the modern science of first impressions.

This program marks the publication of Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions. Drawing on psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, computer science, and other fields, this accessible and richly illustrated book describes cutting-edge research and the history of efforts to read personality from faces. Ultimately, Todorov describes how faces don’t provide us a map to the personalities of others; rather, the impressions we draw from faces reveal a map of our own biases and stereotypes.

Professor Todorov will sign copies of Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions after the program.

Brainwave is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.




About the Speakers

Alexander Todorov is professor of psychology at Princeton University, where he is also affiliated with the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. His research on first impressions has been covered by media around the world, including the New York Times, the Guardian, the New Yorker, the Daily Telegraph, Scientific American, PBS, and NPR. He lives in Princeton.

Ellen Burstyn’s sixty-year acting career encompasses film, stage, and television. In 1975 she became the third woman in history to win both a Tony Award and an Academy Award in the same year, for her work in Same Time, Next Year on Broadway and the film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. She has received five other Academy Award nominations, for The Last Picture Show (1972), The Exorcist (1974), Same Time, Next Year (1979), Resurrection (1981), and Requiem for a Dream (2000). She became a “triple crown winner” when she received her first Emmy nominations, winning for a guest appearance in Law & Order: SVU (2009) and her role in the miniseries Political Animals. In 2014 she was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame. Burstyn was the first woman elected president of Actors Equity Association (1982″“1985) and serves as the artistic director and co-president of the Actors Studio. She holds four honorary doctorates and lectures throughout the country on a wide range of topics. She became a national best-selling author in 2006 with the publication of her memoir, Lessons in Becoming Myself.



Advance Tickets: $25.00

Members Advance: $22.50

Student Tickets: $10.00

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