“In spite of the hardness and ruthlessness I thought I saw in his face, I got the impression that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word.”

Neville Chamberlain’s first impression of Adolf Hitler can charitably be described as an error in judgment. Rarely do our own miscalculations result in tragedy, yet popular sentiment seems to hold that when it comes to truly trusting others, you just never know. Wolves in sheep’s clothing abound, and prudence demands skepticism. Whether we are deciding on a babysitter, a doctor, or a car, we try to not base our judgments on our first impressions. We ask for references, and look up reviews and blue book values. We know that “I’ve just got a good feeling about this” can be famous last words.

But this may not be a full portrayal of our capacity to judge others’ character. New research led by David DeSteno at Northeastern University suggests that when it comes to deciding whom to trust, our first impressions can be quite accurate. In fact, personality traits such as honesty and fairness are linked to specific kinds of nonverbal cues, and humans can pick up on these signals during interactions. According to these researchers we are like robots, programmed to move in particular ways if we are honest. To know who to trust, one simply needs to be able to read the patterns.