Why We Should Stop Giving First Impressions So Much Importance

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To live in a meritocracy means to live under constant judgment. In university applications, job interviews, client presentations and potential relationships, you must prove you deserve the spot.

Yet, how much you plan what to say and try to impress is irrelevant. Their verdict was determined the moment they glanced at you.

It takes seconds into knowing someone to decide if you’ll hire, date, fear or hate him or her.

Social decrees are fast and permanent; once we create them, we seek conforming facts and ignore any opposing ones.

Still, right or wrong, our snap judgments guide all subsequent attitudes, beliefs and exchanges between us.

So, the first minute of any relation is the most important time you’ll have.

First impressions matter. If you mess up, you’ll struggle to fix it, and maybe you never will succeed in doing so.

Why this occurs is inconclusive. It might be an evolutionary gain in quickly identifying potential threats or alliances.

It could also be the fact our brains process emotions faster than reason, which means we feel it before we understand it.

Yet, these intuitions aren’t random. They are a part of a detailed recognition process happening outside our awareness. And surprisingly, they’re often correct.

Harvard psychologist, Nalini Ambady, researched the accuracy of these insights and concluded we’re mostly right when inferring others’ emotional states, personality traits and even sexual orientations based only on 10-second video clips.

Similarly, in a Princeton study, students rated the most competent US Congressional race candidates just by looking at their pictures.

On average, they unknowingly picked the winner 70 percent of the time. So, good first impressions can shape and even predict election outcomes.

But, just because we judge people competently, does it mean they are competent?

Instincts are effective in labeling superficial qualities, as if a person is an extrovert, warm or likeable.

But, we unwisely extend our judgments to what we cannot quickly detect, like one’s morals or integrity.

Such depth will mainly be revealed via actions over a long time, not precisely gleaned from first impressions.

We often jump to conclusions about people’s character by influence of our prejudice and stereotypes.

We look at exterior traits, like age, race, gender or attractiveness, through the lenses of our bias.

Our unsupported assumptions of how people from a certain social category act distorts our attitude and behavior toward them, mostly unintentionally, as showed in a study by psychologist Damian Stanley.

But our social decrees don’t just affect our conduct with others; they shape their responses to us, too.

The expectations we hold about others trigger their reactions in a way that confirms our initial beliefs, as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In a well-known study by Robert Rosenthal, experimenters randomly picked a group of students and told their teacher they were blooming geniuses, forging an expectation.

Unknowingly, the teacher began giving the group more attention and praise.

By the end of the year, those students exhibited higher intellectual performances than others did, indicating the teacher’s expectations affected performance and proved how labeling shapes behavior.

This happens daily.

A cop who anticipates a black man to be more hostile or potentially criminal acts more aggressively toward him, resulting in an unnecessary death.

A recruiter assumes women to be too emotional for a position handles a candidate with disregard, looking to confirm an already made decision.

Can you ever know if things would have been different if you acted differently? No. Real life, unlike science, doesn’t have a control group.

So I wonder, do we perceive people as they are or as we expect them to be?

Often, it feels as if there’s nothing you can say or do to alter one’s mind.

Worse, anything you do gets distorted to validate the person’s opinion of you.

If our decisions weren’t based on first impressions, and those weren’t heavily shaped by our implicit bias, how changed would our reality be?

Snap judgments are a useful way to respond to the social world, but they’re not made in a vacuum.

Understanding how we assess not only alerts us to how others might judge us, but it also make us aware to where our minds can lead us.

Some insights should be listened to; others should be ignored.