Impressions rule reality

How much does the cover of a book matter to you? Would you pick up a book that had a picture on the cover of a small Guinea fowl playing the clarinet? What if that same book had the title, “Twelve Days in the Pantry”? We make swift judgements about a book by its cover, so people can say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover all they want, but we do it anyway. The same is true for people too. We make instant judgements about people when we meet them just by the way they look and new research shows that those judgements are held to even when we are told they are wrong.

The research showed subjects photographs of 20 men identifying them as either gay or “straight”. Prior to this another group had judged whether the men appeared gay or straight. The subjects were then tested to see that they correctly remembered what they had been told each man’s sexual orientation was. Once this had been established the subjects were shown the faces again but sometimes the faces were only flashed up while on other occasions they were left for longer on the screen.

When the subjects were only able to see the faces fleetingly their assessment of the man’s sexuality aligned with the group who had judged them on appearance rather than on what the subjects had been told about the men.

In another experiment subjects were more likely to judge someone as trustworthy based on their appearance in a photo regardless of what the experimenter told them about how trustworthy the person was.

These studies suggests that we preferentially revert to first impressions based on appearance, regardless of what we learn about a person later.

In another series of studies it was found that the way people form impressions is very different when in a face to setting than in the online milieu. The studies found that when judging people from an online profile the sexes did conform to sexual stereotypes. In the online scenario it emerged that men care more about attractiveness and women care more about a man’s earning potential. However, when people meet face to face these gender differences disappear and people judge others based on how they make them feel.

All of that adds up to the fact that the first impression you make when you physically meet someone is vitally important and can transcend all other contradictory information as well as stereotypical preferences…no pressure though.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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