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The Brain needs 7 minutes to “scan” someone new at first meeting ?


I was recently told that when you meet someone new for the first time, the reason we have problems remembering names or anything else said to us in the first 7 minutes is because during that time the brain is "scanning" the other person to make a judgement / opinion about them - do we like them, etc ?

Has anyone heard of this before, and if so, can they point me in the direction of the research / source ?

(I am working with a group of salespeople on their communication skills at the moment, and this is how this piece of "information" came about)

Thanks in advance
Andrea Newton

andrea newton

8 Responses

  1. the face that launched a thousand slips
    I’ve never heard of the 7 minute scan and am slightly dubious about its effect. There is however a very clear model as to why we find it more difficult to remember peoples names. I think it is just coincidental that names are often given at the beginning of a discussion and so appear to fit the 7 minute theory.

    A psychology paper entitled “the face that launched a thousand slips” showed that faces and information associated with them are remembered sequentially and that names are at the bottom of the line. Our memory can fail us at any point along the line and any failure means that all information further down the line is forgotten. This explains why names appears so difficult to remember and are forgotten so often.

    It can help when trying to remember someones name to try and recall as much other information about them.

    For more information check out a book called Cognition in Action, at least thats what I remember it being called !!

    If there is info on the seven minute scan I would be interested to hear of it too. It would have implications for my work as a mediator.


    Paul Bridges

  2. 7 Minute scan
    This is the first time I have hear of this 7 minute scan idea, which surprises me as I specialised in neuropsychological memory systems as part of my first degree.

    To be honest it sounds like a case of an “American popular psychology myth”.

    Selection interviewing research shows that we make judgements about people in the first 45 seconds. Time after that is spent confirming our original opinions.

    In theory our preception processing and memory systems are seperate to an extent so I have serious doubts about this theory.

    Paul – you are right – the book is called Cognition in Action. Was written by Alan Collins and Mary Smyth to name a few. If your interested I can give you their email addresses and you can enquire further with them

    [email protected]

  3. Bunkum!
    It sounds like some terribly NLP theory to me where in some areas the criteria for scientific evaluation extends to practising the concept on ones own mother, and if she likes it the process then becomes an immutable NLP concept and is toted round and described as an ‘amazing advance in developmental psychology’ – it was ever thus.

  4. Is NLP really all that bad?
    Gary – you seem to have soemwhat of a downer on NLP, perhaps not surprising given the belief system that surfaces in your comment. I am sure there are a few charlatans and over-enthusiasts out there adn my experience is that modelling excellence in others (which is the core of NLP) is a great way to improve my and others’ performance.

  5. Yes – NLP can be that bad
    You seem to have a belief system of your own about NLP that surface in your comments Mr Roberts. It is rigorous and scientifically conducted researches into the claims of certain aspects of NLP that have led me to my opinion.

    Take a look at for the synopsis of just over 180 academic research papers into NLP, the vast majority of which find nothing to support the claims made for and on behalf of this field of so called ‘study’.

    In reaching my beliefs I have used facts rather than stories or anecdotes which are unsubstantiated and uncorroborated. I might also add that I have listened to the advice of Dr John Grinder, who states:

    ‘I would ask the person entering a training to be an active skeptic – more specifically, that they question everything, demanding first hand evidence (that is, personal experience) for each and every claim issued by the trainer(s).’

    I have done this and the answers to my questions have been shambolic, unproven and unsupported. But still the following assertions continue to be made:

    ‘We believe that NLP is the next generation of Psychology. It has been called the New Learning Paradigm and the New Language of Psychology. As a model of the structure of human experience, it may be as profound a step forward as the invention of language.’ Joseph O’Connor & John Seymour – Introducing NLP – HarperCollins


    ‘NLP represents a huge quantum jump in our understanding of human behaviour and communication. It makes most current therapy and education totally obsolete’. Steve Andreas – Author of Awareness

    Never in the field of human development has so much, been claimed by so many, based on so little.

  6. & Minutes – or 7 Seconds?

    I have no idea where this idea originally came from, but it’s about as wrong as you can get.

    In the first place there are numerous studies showing that we make an initial judgement about a new person within as little as 20 seconds – and maybe even less, say 5-10 seconds.

    To remember someone’s name the information must be effectively transferred from short to long term memory – which also takes a LOT less than 7 minutes.
    The problem for most people who forget names is something like trying to take in too much information too quickly and overwriting whats in short term memory before it has had time to move on to more permanrnt storage.

  7. Beware
    Beware the plattitudinous NLP-attacker. Though he claims to only be opposed to certain features of NLP, like the eye accessing cues, but from time to time – as below – he gives himself away by attacking NLP in total.

    Prognosis: Poor
    Treatment: Take with a pinch of salt

  8. Prevention is better than cure surely?
    I would beware of aspects of NLP and NLP practioners who make very specific claims, but deny that their assertions can be evaluated or tested at anything other than story and anecdote level, that kind of stance just lacks credibility for me.

    Prognosis: Terminal if not treated.

    Treatment: Inoculation with critical reasoning and a good dose of common sense.


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