The science and power of first impressions
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” – Will Rogers
At some point in our lives, we have heard of this classic quote. First impressions can make or break our reputation and potential relationships with others. We must act quickly to make a proper first impression. In some cases, we need to act even before we meet new people. Here’s why.
Our brain does ‘judge a book by its cover’… and it judges insanely fast
Think that you have a few minutes to make an impression? Think again. Within the first seven seconds of meeting a new person, they will already have a solid impression of us, just like we have formed a snap judgement of them. Research demonstrated that the brain ‘thin-slices’ within a split-second. In fact, other research suggest that the brain only takes a fraction of a second to determine certain traits, such as trustworthiness, status, and attractiveness.
Our brains are not only judgemental, they can be quite biased
Additionally, neuroscientists have discovered the likely brain mechanisms underpinning first impressions. Some of these brain regions, such as the prefrontal cortex, have been well-documented for its involvement in bias. What this means is that first impression is tightly connected with any conscious or subconscious biases we may have (and vice versa).
For better or worse, first impressions do stick and persists
These first impressions and associated biases tend to last and are incredibly difficult to be challenged. Why? The brain mechanisms involved in first impressions and biases are also closely associated with the limbic system, which regulates our emotions. It’s quite difficult to be best friends with someone who made a bad first impression on you, isn’t it? This study suggests that first impressions will prevail and persist, regardless of how often new and positive experiences contradict a first impression.
Are we doomed?
While we have no control of people’s judgements, we do have control on how we can (and want to) come across to them. Just type first impressions on Google. You’ll find yourself being advised on all the ways you can ensure that you have a great first impression (remember to smile!). In general, first impressions are influenced by a mixture of several factors, like appearance, eye contact, mannerisms, speech, body language, and so on.
However, there is no one formula that fits all: everyone picks up on different things upon first meeting. With the rise of social media, migrations, and economic development in recent years, there is an even bigger emphasis on the importance of making a great first impression. Whether that means society is becoming more superficial or not is a topic for another time. But it’s important to be aware that how we perceive ourselves may or may not be in line with how other people view us. We can use this knowledge to our advantage.
Make it count
From my perspective, first impressions do count. Try as we might, we will never have a second opportunity to change first impressions about… well, anything or anyone really. First impressions are instantly made but ironically, they can stubbornly last a lifetime. But substance has the final word; what we do after our first interactions significantly matters, as it can either improve or sour our connections with others. With all of this in mind, it certainly doesn’t hurt to put our best foot forward, no?