Chances are, the first thing you do before meeting someone—whether it’s for a job interview, a date, or a new apartment—is Google them. After all, a preview of someone’s personality via 140-character tweets or a Facebook bio can only make it easier to break the ice, right?
Not quite. According to a new study from Benedictine University in Arizona, a pre-meeting Facebook introduction can actually enhance nerves when the real life interaction occurs. Familiarizing yourself with someone’s online presence could lead to rumination, study author Shannon Rauch, Ph.D. told TIME.com. In other words, social media may kickstart your brain into imagining all the scenarios—including worst-case ones—that may happen when you finally come face to face with the person in the profile.
“If you think you already know someone based on their social media profile, you’re not paying as much attention to the small in-person cues that let you know whether or not you’re a fit for each other,” explains Karol Ward, author of Worried Sick. Reading your future boss’s hilarious Twitter feed, for example, may make you more likely to overlook her standoffish personality—which could lead to a less-than-ideal working environment.
But avoiding social media—or cyberspace in general—is easier said than done. So instead of ignoring, simply search the smart way. Here’s how.
Cap Yourself at 5 Minutes
Some basic intel is common sense—you want to make sure your date doesn’t have a criminal record, for example—but spending more than five minutes looking someone up may sabotage your in-person conversation, Ward says. In five minutes, you’ll get the basic information, as well as some talking points for your meeting, but there’s still enough you don’t know that your opinions on the person won’t be pre-formed, she explains.
“People in this day and age expect they’ll be Googled to a certain extent before meeting,” reminds Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., a psychologist in New York. So instead of playing dumb, use the knowledge to your advantage. If your interviewer has a LinkedIn or a bio on the company website, any of that information is fair game to bring up—especially if, say, you went to the same college. But if you’re Googling a future date or friend, make sure any info is used for conversation, not interrogation. For example, if his feed is full of beach pictures, ask where his dream destination is, rather than letting him know that the pic of him in board shorts in the waves was your fave from the photo set he posted.
Keep Your Findings in Perspective
Marathon finish lines, puppies being rescued, and wine tastings may make for a seriously intimidating Instagram feed from a blind date, but remember: Those are only a few self-selected moments from his life. Furthermore, to an outsider, your own feed could look just as impressive, Ward says. So if you find yourself second-guessing your own accomplishments or getting nervous, make a short list of what you love about yourself. Better yet, check out your own Facebook profile: Studies find that because our profiles are an idealized version of ourselves, taking a look at the page for five minutes can boost self-esteem.