What Are Snap Judgments?

You see a woman walking down the street while you’re walking your dog. She is walking with her cat, who looks quite scraggly. She is wearing sweatpants, a shirt with a few holes in the arm and shoes that are extremely outdated. Her hair looks like a rat’s nest and the scent radiating off her body is extremely pungent, and not in a good way. You walk up to her and she says hello and asks what the name of your dog is. You get to talking and she says how she can’t wait for work on Monday. You ask her what she does for a living and she replies, “Oh, I’m a hedge fund manager.” You look at her in awe, having thought she was homeless. Completely astonished, you finish the conversation and walk away. That’s what you would call a snap judgement. Snap judgments are the automatic thoughts and perceptions a person gets right before meeting someone new or experiencing something new. Snap judgments are mostly based on physical observations about a person or thing. Our previous experiences influence these decisions. However, most of the snap judgments one makes are incorrect, or at least lack crucial parts of the truth.


The History of Snap Judgments:

It is highly likely that snap judgments evolved from an ancient need for rapid decision making based on a given situation. Snap judgments are exactly what they sound like, an instant subconscious observational analysis of another person, situation, location, or object. Any given situation may warrant a snap judgment if there are any foreign stimuli that have not been encountered before. A subconscious decision is then made about the stimuli based on a combination of observation, previous experience, cultural identity, personal values, and other factors related to previous experience such as what a mentor or friend would do/think. This rapid response to stimuli makes snap judgments an incredibly effective and crucial tool for surviving and thriving in situations that require a fast, semi-accurate response.

Due to the nature of snap judgments, they are the perfect adaptation for making the right choices at the correct times. By combining basic reflexes and deduction skills with learned knowledge, snap judgments allow for a complex response in less time than a conscious thought requires. This unique combination allows the subconscious to carry out a practiced or improvised response in reaction to a stimuli. It is important to understand that snap judgments can also be a practiced reflex that your subconscious can utilize without any conscious thought to slow it down. This form of snap judgment is the most effective for self preservation and response to dangerous and critical situations. Imagine that you are a first responder to a car crash and you have trained for and carried out rescue and response actions before. There are a lot of things to do in order to effectively control the situation, so many in fact that the conscious brain would take to long to think through all of them. This is where learned and practiced snap judgments come into play. Your subconscious knows approximately what to do for every situation that you have trained for allowing your subconscious mind to take over leaving your conscious mind to analyze the situation. This shortcut to action allows for immediate action based on how the stimuli lines up with mental models of an appropriate response. Based on the application of this type of snap judgment, it would be fair to assume that learned/practiced snap judgments evolved first, allowing for learned responses to be grouped with reflex and instinct.


The value of these learned response snap judgments becomes apparent when considering the conditions that our ancestors lived in and the constant application of a snap judgment based response to changes in the immediate environment. Those humans that could make the fastest and most accurate snap judgments were the most likely to survive and pass on their genes to the next generation. This use of natural selection for the sensory elements required for snap judgments most likely improved the innate ability to make accurate snap judgments at speed, and rewarded those with more effective senses to better understand stimuli in a rapid fashion.

Snap judgments then evolved further as humans began to live in larger groups and eventually civilizations. The same mental infrastructure was used, but the use of snap judgments change to accommodate the shift in environment. Due to the increasing numbers of people, it became important to analyze each person as a new stimuli. This led to snap judgments based on the appearance of a person. The new evolution of the snap judgment translated to an increasingly socially complex world of acquaintances, friends, family, and enemies. Because of this shift the way in which human interaction with one another changed; more backstabbing, distrust, different end goals, cultures, and values. This created a need to be able to determine a potential ally or trustworthy person from one who will clash with your goals and values. Due to our continued growth as a species and the increased interaction between diverse people, it makes sense why this form of snap judgement is far more apparent and widely used than the original form of snap judgment.

Snap Judgments in a Modern-Day Context:

While we no longer require snap judgments as a means for choosing the correct prey to hunt, there are still many purposes for them in the modern world. The use of snap judgments has experienced a shift, from aiding our physical survival to our social survival.

In today’s society, human interaction is often seen as the key to success. It is necessary that one has the skills to work in groups, communicate efficiently with peers, and generate positive first impressions from new people. Therefore, snap judgments play a huge role in our social and professional lives.

As in the past, we often unconsciously use snap judgments to read and respond to situations. In modern culture, the method of reaction and problem solving that result from this judgment is very similar, however it is the situations themselves that have changed. For example, the stimulus could be as simple as receiving a text. While texts are things that seem common and trivial, a great deal of processing goes into developing a response. Upon receiving a text, we first see who it is from and then make a guess as to what it is about. Next, we open the message, and must identify the tone and objective of the sender, even with messages as simple as “hey” or “what are you up to.” After making a hypothesis for the purpose of the text, we must choose a response that accurately relays our reactions and matches the situation. From there, we send the message and hope we have read it right. These steps happen almost instantly, with our brains accepting and analyzing data at an incredibly quick rate. However, it is the snap judgments that we make which allow us to function in the fast-paced social world and adapt to the majority of situations.

While snap judgments often help us read environments and communicate successfully with others, they also detrimental promoters of stereotypes. These stereotypes can be based upon sex, race, religion, economic status, hair color, nationality, and just about every other line you can draw between groups of people. Common stereotypes include:

*Blondes are dumb

*Asian people are smart

*Guys are slobs

*Women do the cooking in a household

*Christians are homophobic

*Muslim people are terrorists

*Piercings and tattoos make people less professional

While many of these stereotypes are well known to be incorrect, they are still prominent in society, whether through jokes or real opinions. Therefore, they are frequently repeated and become etched into our brains. For that reason, stereotyping composes a large portion of our unconscious snap judgments. It is when we react to situations using our unwarranted initial impressions that we promote and accept stereotypes to be true. Even if the stereotypes seem to be positive, or true in a given situation, such labels should be developed on a case to case basis, and only after real evidence in supplied.

In the modern world, snap judgments based on stereotypes can have extremely negative effects. An example of this can be found in the rising issue of race based police brutality. In many cases, such as those of Eric Garner, Michael Brown Jr., Freddie Gray, and Philando Castile, incorrect snap judgments based on the stereotyping of a skin color has led to the manslaughter of innocent victims. While this may seem like an extreme, uncommon form of snap judgments, small actions and decisions reinforce the larger scale ones. Things as small as glancing over your shoulder more often when an African American man walks behind you, or not passing a ball to a girl promote stereotypes that morph into the giant societal issues of sexism and racism. Minor, seemingly innocent snap judgments and first impressions are leading to problems that drive wedges between groups of people and prevent progressive movement towards an integrated community.

Manipulation of Our Snap Judgments

We are not conscious of our snap judgments.

The Conscious vs. Unconscious Mind

Now, that’s both a positive and a negative thing. If our snap judgments were conscious thoughts, we’d take too much time thinking in situations where we need to do something quickly and without hesitation. Those kinds of situations are the ones that our snap judgment ability plays to our advantage. Nowadays, however, those situations aren’t that regular. Instead, we tend to use snap judgments in our daily life; judging the facial expressions and body language of people to determine a baseline of what we think about them; the more complicated snap judgment of how we should interact with the people; observing social situations to see where we best fit in and what the best way to insert ourselves would be; whether or not we should buy that product, or pay for that experience, or trust that famous person. These the situations in our modern-day society, especially in America, when we use our snap judgments.

As our society has become more and more aware of our snap judgments and how they guide our choices and decisions, there have been people who’ve begun to take advantage of them. More and more celebrities and politicians are hiring body language coaches in order to improve their nonverbal communication. The point being to appeal to more people by using our most basic instinct of judging people from the small changes in their face or body to their advantage. They’ve also begun hiring social media managers to help them build the best social media presence they can by curating their posts, photos and videos in such a way that appeals to the biggest audience possible.

Over the past 20 years, a new job has popped up: Body Language Expert. Patti Wood, MA, CSP and Dr. Lillian Glass are both Body Language Experts, and they have both been hired by dozens of media outlets and by dozens of celebrities and politicians. They were hired by the celebrities and politicians in order to learn body language skills which can help increase popularity and likability, and then they were hired by the media and interviewed on how to decode the body language of our politicians and celebrities! This increased awareness of our snap judgments and its byproducts, such as these Body Language Experts, come from years-long studies done by advertisers and marketers in order to identify what the best ways are to sell things to us. What’s changed in recent years is that it’s not only products being sold to us. Celebrities and politicians are selling themselves to us in very similar ways that companies like Coca-Cola, Nike and McDonalds sell to us.

Along with live appearances or official performances, celebrities and politicians now need to also have a good social media presence, as social media has become the biggest platform they have for reaching their fans. And, due to its importance, many big celebrities, such as Beyonce, now have something called a “social media manager.” These “managers” find the best photos, and if they can’t find the right one they plan photo shoots, of the celebrity in “candid” situations. These carefully put together compositions play off of our unconscious’, putting the celebrity in poses that people have figured out appeal to certain snap judgments. We deem them powerful, popular, wise, beautiful, funny; all the things celebrities and politicians want us to think they are.

Another strategy used to influence us through our snap judgments is to inundate us with pictures, videos, quotes, articles, interviews, etc. that have to do with the person or thing they are promoting. The more we see something, and more we think about it, the more important we deem it. If we never hear about someone, we’re more likely to think of them as insignificant. If we hear about someone all the time, however, we think of that person as someone influential, someone who we should pay attention to; we also tend to feel as though we know them better. Politicians especially use this to their advantage by constantly giving speeches, radio interviews and playing TV ads. They know that the more they become a household name, the better the chance they have at getting voted into, and staying in, office.

These are just a few of the ways celebrities, politicians and corporations use in order to influence our snap judgments and unconsciously bias us towards their products, whether that be a can of Coke, or a human being.

So, Why Should We Care About Snap Judgments?

Because they influence every single part of our lives. And our first judgements, our snap judgments, may not be right.


Snap Judgments: Thoughts from a Highly Judgmental Person

Snap Judgments: Linking Journal (Born Identity)

Snap Judgments: Why They Happen and Whether They Are Good or Bad

Snap Judgments: A Personal Reflection

Snap Judgments: Hmmmmmmmm….

Snap Judgment #810: Legacy

Snap Judgments: My Snaps

Our SNAP JUDGMENT Photo Gallery:

And Finally, Our SNAP JUDGMENT Podcast:


Legacy — Snap #810 | Snap Judgment. Web. 06 June 2017.

Born Identity — Snap #807 | Snap Judgment. Web. 06 June 2017.

“Body Language Expert Patti Wood.” Patti Wood — Body Language Expert. Web. 06 June 2017.

“Dr Lillian Glass — Communication and Body Language Expert, Author — Toxic People, Talk to Win.” Dr. Lillian Glass. Web. 06 June 2017.

Jashinsky, Emily. “Huffington Post Enlists Body Language Experts to Critique Trump’s Stair Habits.” Washington Examiner. 19 Apr. 2017. Web. 06 June 2017.

Johnson, Judith. “Why You Should Break the Habit of Snap Judgments.” The Huffington Post., 29 Feb. 2012. Web. 06 June 2017.

Saxena, Jaya, and Sally Holmes. “Two Experts Analyze Donald and Melania Trump’s Body Language Over the Years.” ELLE. 25 May 2017. Web. 06 June 2017.

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