The science and power of first impressions

First impressions on first meeting by fauxels from Pexels

“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?

12 Responses to “The science and power of first impressions”

  1. Janine Jaramillo says:

    Thank you for reading! 🙂

  2. Janine Jaramillo says:

    I’m happy to hear that a wonderful friendship blossomed after a bad first impression! It just goes to show that we should sometimes challenge the way our brain perceived things. Thank you for reading and I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

  3. sgiarrusso says:

    I had an arch-enemy in year 7 – 8 who I absolutely hated with all my guts. Years later we got to know each other and now she’s my best friend who I can’t live without!!!

    Great post I really enjoyed reading it 🙂

  4. Janine Jaramillo says:

    Thank you for your kind words! I understand what you’re saying. I admit, I can also judge harshly when I’m meeting someone new. But not all hope is lost! After several positive experiences with that person, our brain adapts and learn that some people are actually cooler than we gave them credit for. I’d like to think that might explain why some people who did not like each other initially ended up being best friends and/or romantic partners.

  5. Janine Jaramillo says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Joshua! 🙂

  6. Janine Jaramillo says:

    Thanks! It’s one of those quotes that I would have loved to be the person who said it. I have read articles that talked about how they missed opportunities because they made a bad first impression on someone! Yikes!

  7. Janine Jaramillo says:

    Thank you for reading, Ekmini! That’s a really interesting point. Our brain has a weird way of distorting how we view ourselves yet it is very meticulous and accurate when looking at others. I hope that paying attention to first impressions helps you out in some form in the future!

  8. ssantoreneos says:

    Great to see some scientific basis to this simple yet important thing we all do. Great post!

  9. egmorris says:

    This has to be a favourite post for me. I am constantly analysing my own biases and have a tendency to judge harshly upon a first impression of someone. It really does feel like my brain is completely in control of telling me what to think of people at that first meeting. It is both intriguing and yet so frustrating, to feel I will always initially assess a potential relationship (friendship, acquaintance, romantic etc.) based off the first few minutes of conversation. Thank you for this information! Great work!

  10. Joshua Sibbing says:

    Janine this was fascinating! Great post 🙂

  11. jonestc says:

    The initial quote you used was honestly a great way to start this piece.
    It was thought-provoking. I never realised how concrete someone’s first impression is until now. I definitely have to agree that ‘first impressions do count’ especially in the long run.

  12. Ekmini Ramanayaka Pathirannehelage says:

    Really enjoyed your blog Janine! Something that I always think of with first impressions is that we’re so used to seeing our mirror image but the people seeing us see our faces as they are, like how they appear in a selfie for instance. I’ll be paying more attention to my first impressions from now on!