First impressions

Have you ever said, “We just got off on the wrong foot”? In so doing you are saying that your relationship with someone has been coloured by an initial impression that was less than favourable. The sad thing is that first impressions are potent, and new research confirms that they tend to be maintained even in the face of contradictory information.

To test this power of first impressions researchers showed the participants in the experiment information about another person on a computer screen; that information was either positive or negative. Later, the participants were shown new information about the same person but this time the background colour on the screen was changed.

When the researchers then measured participant’s spontaneous reactions to an image of the person, they found that the new information only influenced reactions when the person was shown against the same background as the new information had been shown. Against all other backgrounds the participant’s reaction was dominated by the information that they had initially been shown.

This amounts to the fact that new information only influences a first impression in the precise context that the new information is received. So imagine that you meet a new colleague at work and decide that they are a moronic bore with the charisma of a stapler and the wit and insight of dyspeptic ferret. However, a few months later you are at a party where you find that they have a laid-back charm and easy humour. Unfortunately, despite the new insight to their personality, outside of the party context you will still see them as a moronic-stapler-ferret.

To really break a first impression, that impression needs to be challenged in a number of contexts. The onus then is on you, as the impression former, to give other people a break. Make every effort to make your first impressions of people positive ones and it will make your world a whole lot sunnier. As someone, somewhere said; the time to make up your mind about people is…never.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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