The Importance Of First Impressions
It is a common belief that first impressions are of most importance, for it leaves a mark on how other people may perceive them, which becomes a long-lasting label. Thus, it is obvious that one would act according to their best behaviour in order for them to be deemed proper and likeable by the people they have only just met. However, some individuals may believe that first impressions do not really matter, for it does not necessarily show one’s true self, and that people’s perception of others may differ from the reality of it. Therefore, the questions of how important first impressions really are, and how one could make accurate impressions and judgements of others are asked. An Impression refers to an idea or a personal opinion that one may have towards someone, formed from the personality traits one displays to possess, such as trustworthiness, humility and intelligence, seen from one’s facial expressions and how they behave (Willis & Todorov, 2006). Impressions may also be constructed based on the physical appearance of an individual, which could be seen from the way they dress, of their physical attractiveness.
One may assume a person’s personality and attributes as either positive or negative, which is formed from the type of traits that is presented; positive traits build a positive impression, whilst negative traits form a negative impression. This could be seen from the study by Asch (1946), whereby a list of personality traits which belonged to a person were read out; for some participants, included in them were positive ‘warm’ traits such as intelligent and skilful, and for some were negative ‘cold’ traits such as talkative and persuasive. It was thought by the participants that was presented with ‘warm’ traits that the individual was more sociable, popular, happier and funnier than the individual whom possesses the ‘cold’ traits. This study therefore shows that impressions are influenced by personality traits present, either positive for good-natured attributes or negative for socially undesirable features. The debate on the importance of initial impressions is highly contested; some believe that first impressions are very crucial, for it is most likely to be remembered. It is considered to be the first act of judgement one receives and makes when meeting an individual for the first time, and such judgement will have an effect on how they are treated from then onwards due to the primacy effect, whereby humans have the tendency to remember the information that is absorbed first, rather than those that is learnt in between.
Therefore, since an individual only has one chance to make a first impression, then it would be best for them to make it as impressing as they can. Research has supported the theory whereby when one has made a good impression and has left a positive remark, then others would want to communicate more with them and prefer to seek information from them than one whom negative judgements have been formed and are attached to them (Horan et al. , 2009, as cited in Horan, 2014). This therefore exhibits behavioural implications towards people, based on judgemental images made during the initial contact. This is particularly important in cases such as job-hunting, whereby candidates would try to be best behaved and impress the interviewer by acting according to characteristics which are thought to be admirable such as confidence, hardworking and organised. They would want to leave the interview with a long-lasting positive impression, so that the employer would consider them to work at their company. Interviewers view first impressions as vital in choosing their future employees, and would ask questions to confirm their judgement and give them treatment that is consistent with such impressions (Dougherty et al. , 1986, as cited in Okten, 2018). With their positive judgement, they are more convinced to give the job and provide information, rather than asking for information from the interviewees (Dougherty et al. , 1986, as cited in Okten, 2018). Therefore, this shows that the outcome in job interviews are heavily influenced by the first impression that is obtained from the recruit. Another example would be in business negotiations; businessmen would dress formally and act professionally when handling business meetings, for they believe that the exhibition of properness towards clients have a huge impact in the positive outcome of the meeting. This is because the first impression of a businessman represents the quality of their work or product, especially important in the ‘make it or break it’ stage of discussions, and that if they are presented poorly, then it is less likely for them to succeed in persuading the clientele.
Therefore, first impressions are of utmost important, especially in highly competitive platforms. However, the other half of this debate believes that first impressions are not nearly as important as we think, due to the inaccuracy of them. They believe that rather than judging a book by its cover, it is best if we look at what is inside instead; the substance that really makes a person. Impressions are believed to be just that – an impression. Since an individual would be in their best behaviour and act to impress, thus it does not necessarily reflect the actual personality, character and values which they truly possess.
For instance, a scammer may act in good nature and speak kindly to convince people that their product is real, hiding the evil intentions that they have behind it. Even so, people’s image and judgement towards an individual may change within time. This is because the more they communicate with each other, their judgement and ideas may change, for they would get to know who they really are more in depth; two people who may not have understood each other at first, may end up being very close in time due to the constant feeling of solicitude and having experienced the same events together. They also believe that human emotions and behaviour may be influenced heavily by their surroundings, known as situational attribution; if an individual was be put into an uncontrollable and unstable environment, these external variables would cause the individual to feel stressed and in distress, resulting in them behaving in a rude and offensive manner towards others.
If a person was to meet this individual at that time and have no clue that their intentions are different from how they act, then the judgement that they may make is incorrect. Another example would be if an interviewer acts in a warm behaviour, they may also induce warm behaviour from the candidate (Snyder et al. , 1977, as cited in Okten, 2018), which confirms their first impression. Even if their performance does not confirm the first impression, they are still less likely to change, and may end up not assessing the candidate’s performance accurately due to the employers’ high level of self-regulation (Nordstrom et al. , 1998, as cited in Okten, 2018). The example also reflects on the process of self-fulfilling prophecy, where the first impression creates expectations on how they would behave, and behave in a way that likely will elicit the expected behaviour. If the individual actually acts according to expectation, then the first impression is confirmed, despite the fact that it is the perceiver which has influenced the behaviour to occur. Thus, this inaccuracy depletes the real importance of first impressions. In the formation of impressions and judgements, characteristics of physical features, such as height, facial hair and clothing; social category membership, such as sex, race and social class; and traits of personality and ways of communication are used.
Factors such as non-verbal behaviour, which refers to any type of communication whereby speaking is unnecessary, may also influence how one is viewed. Actions such as body language, hand gestures and interpersonal distance are thought to reinforce spoken words (Hostetter, 2011, as cited in Stangor, 2011). This is particularly important because it is claimed that translating non-verbal behaviour is an innate process, learnt before language was even developed (Walker-Andrews, 2008, as cited in Stangor, 2011). For instance, the action of crossing arms is thought to be a sign of introversion, whereby the individual persists to be open to communicate, and that those who speak in a soft manner is more preferred than those who speak in a tone which is considered to be harsh or rude. Amy Cuddy in her TED Talk in 2013, mentioned that standing in an upright and widespread position, known as ‘power posing’, has an effect of confidence towards not only the individual, but also to those surrounding them, making them believe that they are indeed a person that is powerful and confident. Another example would be the notion that people who walks in a faster pace are thought to be happier and powerful in comparison to those who walk in a slower fashion (Montepare et al. , 1988, as cited in Stangor, 2011). Personality traits are of most importance in really understanding people and in creating judgements. This is because in describing people, we use terms such as ‘kind’, ‘nice’, ‘mean’ or ‘crazy’, which are traits. In order to use traits to build our judgement, we first need to analyse every possibility of these features present within a person, both good and bad, and subjectively calculate how positive or negative each traits are.
After having done so, we would then add these traits together and measure the average warmness or coldness of the individual. This system of measuring judgement using traits has been proven to be used by people, whether they are strangers or those whom know each other very well (Anderson, 1974, as cited in Stangor, 2011). This again returns to Asch’s study of centrality of warm and cold traits; the more positive traits observed, the judgement made would also be mainly positive. Both personality traits and non-verbal behaviour needs to be integrated in order for an impression or judgement to be accurate. But in addition, the context we make judgement in and the amount of information gained may also influence how judgement is made. The article written by Campbell and Wall recently in 2018 mentioned that to measure extroversion, it is best to put them in a face-to-face form of interaction, rather than through an online discussion. This is due to the fact that there is more access to non-verbal behaviour and visual cues, which has been suggested to be very important in judging extroversion. Therefore, a lot of factors play different roles in forming judgements and impressions on people, and these factors need to work together in order to achieve utmost accuracy in such evaluation. Despite our efforts in accurately judging people, it is quite complex for us to actually pinpoint people’s character and personality, due to the fact that human beings are in fact a species that constantly changes, and factors such as subjectivity is also present. The mere act of judging is thought to be only an act of guessing, and that judgement formed may not even correlate to who the individual being judged really is (Rule et al. , 2008, as cited in Stangor, 2011). However, judgement of others will always be part of our human nature, and its existence is inevitable.