Psychology-First Impressions Essay

As we all very well know that a First Impression is the event when one person first encounters another person and forms a mental image of that person; so no need to go into details.

Now, first of all let’s see what the Supporters of this slogan say, and what is the viewpoint of its Adversaries, and subsequently I’ll put forth my personal opinion.

THE SUPPORTERS’ VIEWPOINT

The Supporters of this notion have their own strong points and they are well justified in their opinion as also evident from our discussion in this forum.

William Hazlitt, the British Writer once said,” First Impressions are often the truest, as we find (not infrequently) to our cost, when we have been wheedled out of them by plausible professions or studied actions. A man's look is the work of years; it is stamped on his countenance by the events of his whole life, nay, more, by the hand of nature, and it is not to be got rid of easily.” The truth of the matter is that the first impression can actually play a pivotal role in the way a person perceives you or continue to perceive you in future. 

The question is- Why is the first impression so important? How does the first impression play an important role in creating an impression that can last for a very long time or for that matter, forever? The answer is simple. When we meet someone, we have never met before; they do not have any clue about who we are. Since they do not know us or have never met us before, they do not have absolutely any knowledge about the person that we are. So, they judge us on the basis of what they see and hear.  Everything else becomes secondary. The things that we say, the way in which we act and everything that indicates anything about our personality lays the foundation on which the other person builds an idea about our character or personality. 

Once the foundation has been made, it becomes very difficult to change it. Thus, the first impression is extremely important because it creates the granite foundation for the way in which people perceive us. It provides people with the glasses through which they see us. This is precisely the reason why people should make every effort to create a good first impression. 

One does not get a second chance to create a first impression. Everyone gets just a single chance and they have to make the best out of it. If you spoil your chance, you will have to work very hard and for a very long time to reconstruct your image. However, if you hit the bull’s eye in your first chance, it is quite likely that you will still be forgiven if you mess up once or twice. In Professional and/or Personal life, a good first impression can open the doors to so many other good things. 

THE  ADVERSARIES’ VIEWPOINT

During the course of our discussion in this forum, we’ve seen that the viewpoint of this slogan’s adversaries is also equally strong and well justified.

They say that you should never judge a book by its cover, and, especially regarding people, it’s true.In this case, the “cover” is not necessarily meaning the appearance, but the first impression of another person.Like the cover of a book, first impressions are not always as appealing as what is really there. It’s not until after you start “reading”, or get to know someone, when you really find out that what you see is not always what you get. There are several factors that can affect the first impression that one receives from another. Differing personality, situations and presentation of a person, make first impressions often the worst means of judging people.

Your first impression of someone may not be accurate because you do not know of the situation they may be in. When seeing or meeting someone new, you have no idea the kind of day, difficulties or kind of disappointments that person may be experiencing. They may have had a rough morning, may have recently lost some dear one, or could be somewhere new and yet still have to deal with the routines and stresses of going through out their day. All of these situations can create a barrier between themselves and others, and setting off a good impression is probably not at the top of their list of important things to do.

Again, the way someone presents themselves doesn’t always showcase their true personality and show who they are. Unfortunately one’s presentation is the first thing that others see, and the first thing that people are judged on. Some people look and dress a certain way either because they want to, or because they have to, based on their financial situation or to fulfill some type of professional obligation.

There are many factors that lead to someone’s first impression of another. Someone’s personality, current situation, or the way they happen to present themselves all influence the way someone thinks about a another when seeing or meeting them for the first time. Since what they think is based on these judgments, their first impression is usually wrong. If all Friendships were based upon first impressions, there would be a lot less of them in the world. First impressions are often the worst means of judging a person because it’s not until you get to really know a person, you are better equipped to understand what kind of person they truly are, and really know the individual based on real values, rather than their first impression, or “book cover”.

MY PERSONAL VIEWPOINT:-

I AM AN ARDENT ADVOCATE OF BOTH OF THESE VIEWPOINTS IN SOME WAYS but, HONESTLY, MY COMPASS IS A BIT MORE DRIVEN TOWARDS ITS ADVERSARIES.

Undoubtedly, we live in an era where competition is not only high, it is cut throat. If we want to get ahead in our corporate professional life, we will have to present ourselves as nothing but the very best. A good first impression will bring us out in the eyes of the top most important people and from there, we can work our way to the top through hard work and labor. The first impression will help us in establishing ourselves as someone who can be trusted and is worthy of attention.

BUT, It's not possible to decide just in a couple of encounters how a person really is. We may come across a person who may not be in his best humor/right frame of mind that particular day, maybe because something has annoyed him/her or made him/her nervous, etc. Some folks don't open up and mingle all of a sudden; they take time to get comfortable with others. Then there are some who hide their true personalities under a mask and often portray themselves as something they are not in reality; maybe because being themselves will make them vulnerable or reveal their unpleasant/'not-so-good' side. Others are just not gregarious and sociable – the 'shy' types basically.

EXAMPLE FROM MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE ELUCIDATING THE PIONT AS TO WHY ONE SHOULDN’T BE JUDGED ON THE BASIS OF HIS/HER FIRST IMPRESSION:-

I launched an Academy for three years; hired brilliant employees (Teachers). Normally, the candidates are in their best attire during an interview, but I came to interview a potential female candidate, who was in the roughest attire of all, was at her wits’ end with tears in her eyes. Literally there was no chance of her getting selected for the applied post, but during the interview, I figured out that she was much more competent as compared to other potential candidates who were fantastically dressed up and obviously looking much more confident to leave a good first impression on anyone, including me obviously. After having gone through all the candidates’ positive and negative points for that specific subject, even to her surprise, I appointed her and, believe me, she proved to be a real gem for the Academy and became the apple of every student’s eye. She surpassed all her contemporaries when the Board results showed up and, in her relative subject, the academy students showed splendid results.

I don't feel it's right to judge a person based on what we conclude just after one or two meetings with them. Unless we know a person deeply, thoroughly and truly, we should not let ourselves be influenced by any kind of prejudice or conviction. The longer we know someone, the more opportunities we have to change our perception of that person (and vice versa).  However, if the first impression is a particularly unpleasant one,it is extremely difficult to completely erase that impression. It is rather like putting our footprint or handprint in wet cement.  After the cement is dry, we aren't likely to smooth the edges or change the shape of those imprints.

I think if anyone goes by the premise that the first is the last, then the person is limiting the process of getting to know humans, as complex as we are. If we examine the thought process of discrimination, it is primarily based on first impressions. It seems that there should be some level of social reconfiguration of understanding how our first impressions are always going to be there, but ensuring that a process of reflection to make sure that our first impressions do not constitute the whole of judgment on a person is a critical piece that should be undertaken by as many as possible.

The crux of all this discussion is: First Impression isnot alwaysan accurate reflection of how a person is; Times change and so do people. So, I CAN’T SAY THAT ‘THE FIRST IMPRESSION IS THE LAST IMPRESSION’, instead I WOULD LIKE TO SAY IT ‘THE LONG-LASTING IMPRESSION’.

Imagine that you learn something highly negative about someone new. For instance, say, an up and coming politician is accused of corruption, or a new faculty member is rumored to have sexually harassed studentsFurther, imagine that you find out later that you were entirely wrong. Perhaps the politician’s opponents planted evidence, or the rumors about the faculty member were soundly discredited. In scenarios like these, can we fully cast aside our false first impressions, or might they persist at some level even after we explicitly believe that we have changed our minds? Popular wisdom tells us, after all, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” If it is the case that first impressions “stick” even when new facts come to light, it is easy to understand why they are often considered to be so important.

Research in social psychology would seem to agree that, in fact, it is difficult to fully “undo” a false first impression. Experiments using implicit measures – those that assess spontaneous, unintentional reactions to stimuli, rather than asking research participants to express an opinion of those stimuli – have often found that photographs of people continue to elicit implicit reactions consistent with an initial impression, even after participants no longer explicitly believe it. For example, in one line of studies, participants formed impressions of two groups based on a story in which one group coldly massacres the other, and formed implicit and explicit evaluations consistent with what they learned (Gregg, Seibt, & Banaji, 2006). Subsequently, they were told that the groups had been labeled incorrectly due to experimenter error, and should be reversed. This revelation prompted participants to immediately flip their explicit judgments of liking of the two groups. However, their implicit reactions to the two groups were largely unmoved: they continued to have more positive reactions to the initially positive group than to the initially negative group. These and other findings have been interpreted to mean that the process of rejecting a prior impression does not actually erase the memory of that impression or make it less likely to be spontaneously triggered; rather, it primarily affects whether we choose to deliberately express it. Considering that implicit reactions predict behavior in unique and important ways, this suggests that our first impressions may continue to influence and guide us, even after we have explicitly rejected them.

Luckily, some research suggests that although deciding that a first impression was false (e.g., “that rumor about the new faculty member was not true!”) may not be enough by itself to budge implicit reactions, learning new information about a person can shift them. Even if the earlier impression is not deleted from memory, a new impression might become strong enough to overshadow it, even in our implicit reactions. As we accumulate many new details about a person that contradict our earlier impression, implicit evaluations do eventually drift to fall in line with those new revelations (e.g., Rydell & McConnell, 2006). And, more recent findings by Cone and Ferguson (2015) show that sometimes all it takes is a single new piece of information. When a new piece of information is extremely negative (and therefore especially diagnostic), it can overturn even a well-established positive first impression. In this recent research, participants’ beliefs about how diagnostic the new information was about the person predicted implicit change.

Reinterpretation as an avenue for change

In our work, Melissa Ferguson and I built on this idea that how and what we think about new details about a person matters for how effectively our implicit impressions will shift. In particular, we wanted to identify a way in which new details could immediately reverse an initial negative implicit impression – something that Cone and Ferguson (2015) did not find. We reasoned that if new information about a person not only implied a positive evaluation that diverged from earlier negative details, but also fundamentally reinterpreted the earlier information such that it no longer implied a negative impression at all, change in implicit reactions might be more substantial. For instance, when we learn that a politician who is suspected of taking bribes in fact did not take bribes, it may be difficult – for various reasons – to just negate that initial claim, even if we fully believe the new version of events. But, perhaps finding out the specific ways in which the apparent “bribery” behavior was completely misinterpreted, and was actually a praiseworthy deed (e.g., was part of an FBI sting to catch violent drug dealers), might effectively undo that initial implicit negativity. Essentially, this may counter the initial negative impression by giving new meaning to the specific details that previously supported it. The new information is positive, but its positivity inherently undoes the initial negative information. In this way, the new information is not just added to the stockpile of evidence we have about someone, it changes previous evidence, flipping its evaluative meaning.

To test this idea, we ran a series of studies in which participants read a story about a man who broke into, rummaged through, and damaged his neighbors’ homes. After forming a negative implicit evaluation of him based on this initial information, participants in the experimental condition were then told that in fact the houses were on fire, and the man broke in so as to heroically search the homes for the young children he knew to be trapped inside. Unlike in a control condition in which this detail was omitted, participants here showed a complete reversal of their initial negative implicit evaluation of the man into a positive one.

But how did we know it was reinterpretation per se that was key? In another experiment, we compared this reinterpretation condition with one in which participants read about a different heroic action of the man in the story, one which was rated in a pilot test to be just as positive as saving children from a burning building: jumping in front of a subway train to rescue a baby that had fallen onto the tracks. Critically, this information did not reverse implicit evaluations, and produced a much smaller shift. This bolstered our account that the effect of the fire rescue revelation works by prompting participants to reinterpret the basis of an initial impression, rather than simply by presenting any highly positive information. As additional support for the process, we also conducted studies in which participants were asked the degree to which the new details changed the meaning of the earlier story. We found that this measure, and not more general questions gauging the extent to which they thought about the story in general, predicted the final implicit evaluations of the character.

Moving forward

Our findings are consistent with theories that hold that implicit evaluations can shift with the learning of new information, but are aimed at addressing the question of how and when such change is most likely. Importantly, we find evidence that the manner in which people consider new details appears to matter greatly: perceiving the new information to alter the basic implications of what has been learned before was instrumental in driving change of implicit reactions. When such reinterpretation was not prompted by the new details, or was not reported by participants, revision of implicit reactions was considerably weaker. Together with recent work on how considerations of diagnosticity matter for implicit reactions (Cone & Ferguson, 2015; see also Mann, Cone, & Ferguson, in press), this program of research should reveal the types of thinking that are the most effective in updating implicit evaluations, bringing them in line with what we learn to be true of the world. First impressions might often stick, but there seems to be some hope for finding ways to change them when we are truly convinced that they should be.

Citation

Mann, T. C., & Ferguson, M. J. (in press). Can we undo our first impressions? The role of reinterpretation in reversing implicit evaluations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

References

Cone, J., & Ferguson, M. J. (2015). He did what? The role of diagnosticity in revising implicit evaluations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(1), 37-57.

Gregg, A. P., Seibt, B., & Banaji, M. R. (2006). Easier done than undone: Asymmetry in the malleability of implicit preferences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(1), 1–20.

Mann, T. C., Cone, J., & Ferguson, M. J.  (in press). Social-psychological evidence for the effective updating of implicit attitudes.  Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Rydell, R. J., & McConnell, A. R. (2006). Understanding implicit and explicit attitude change: A systems of reasoning analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91(6), 995–1008.

Bio

Thomas Mann is a fourth year Ph.D. student in social psychology at Cornell University. His research examines the formation, change, and implications of automatic reactions and first impressions. He can be reached at tcm79@cornell.edu.

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