Published on November 5th, 20120
Why First Impression Matters
By Joachim Vogt Isaksen
Did you know that people just use a few seconds to evaluate you when they first see you? In this short time the other person forms an opinion about you based on your appearance, how you talk, your body language, and how you are dressed. These first impressions can be difficult to revers or undo, and how you present yourself is therefore extremely important. Why do we immediately like some people and dislike others, even without being aware of the reasons why?
The impressions we make of other people is based on cognitive representations, which is a term used to describe the body of knowledge an individual has stored in his or her memory. When we meet people for the first time we start to search for visible cognitive cues that make it easier to form an impression. These cues may be described as hints that make the world easier to organize and understand. The cues you look after may be a persons’ physical appearance, nonverbal communication, or whether you spot some familiarity in him or her. The purpose of forming impressions of other people is to better guide us through our actions.
Human beings have a tendency to search for patterns and categorize information. Studies of how people perceive the physical and the social world have demonstrated how the brain structures information. Structuring makes the world easier to understand, and the human tendency toward categorizing may also lead to negative outcomes such as seeing things in black and white. This is the main cause behind prejudice and racism.
Personal criteria and first impressions
Research have demonstrated that there are certain objective criteria all individuals search for when they meet a new person. Although, the picture may also be more complicated than this. Individual psychology was a school developed by Alfred Adler, and from this perspective first impression depends on whether a person can help us to reach specific goals. Since people´s goals and experiences vary a lot from person to person there are no universal or general rules. People may interpret the cues differently, since the cues have no meaning in themselves. This means that how we interpret the cues depends on our stored knowledge and earlier experience of people, behaviors, traits, and social situations.
For example, if a man has positive earlier experiences with blonde women he may unconsciously have a tendency to form more favorable first impressions of blondes than of brunettes. His first impression is colored by his previous experience, while his bias doesn’t say anything objectively about blondes or brunettes.
Why is it sometimes difficult to form a consistent and stable impression of another person? Research shows that our first impressions of other people often are quite accurate. However, sometimes you may experience that your impression of a person changes from moment to moment while you are spending time with her, and your brain may find it difficult to organize stable and consistent impressions. As a consequence, you may perceive this person as a mystery while the person´s behavior rather could be a symptom of personal instability. How we form impressions may then help explain why we tend to perceive certain types of personalities as mysterious.