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How First Impressions Can Affect Your Relationships

Written by Kate Ferguson, Monday, January 9th, 2017 in Dating Columns, Sex & Dating

adult-1853436_640We like to say that we don’t judge other people too much, but we actually do quite a lot of it. But the fact that we do is not necessarily a bad thing, it has some very strong evolutionary reasons. We need to know who to avoid. It’s the social world of “being nice” that make us worry that we’re too judgmental. But here’s what some recent research has to say about it.

There was a study done at Cornell University where 55 people were evaluated for their first impressions. To do this, they showed each person a stack of photographs and asked them if they would be friends with each person or not. They were also asked to rate the people based on whether they seemed extroverted, agreeable, emotionally stable, conscientious, and/or open to new experiences. There were two different versions of each photo, one where they were smiling and one where they were not. 

A few months later they called the participants back for what they thought was a separate study, but was actually the second part of the first study. The participants were then presented in real life with the people who had they had previously rated in the photographs. (The few people who recognized their faces from before were asked to leave, so the remaining people were unaware that they had already rated these people.

The participants spent about 20 minutes getting to the people by playing a game with them, and then were asked the same questions to rate them as they had before. The interesting thing that they found, was that although there were some inconsistencies, overall the people had the same impression after getting to know someone that they did when they were simply shown a photo of them. We make judgments about people quickly and we tend to keep them, whether or not they could later be changed by spending time with more the person.

The phrase for this is behavioral confirmation, which is sort of self-fulfilling confirmation that what we believe about someone is true. There are also “halo” effects that influence the way we see other people, such as the fact that people tend to assume that attractive people are more socially competent and trustworthy people than unattractive people.

The thing to take away from this, is that given a split second or 20 minutes with a person we’ll seem first impressions about them, but that it might not give us the whole picture. Then again it might, if our first impressions were correct! This does bring up some interesting considerations for online dating, where we generally make a pretty quick assumption about a person based on their photo and a short bio. We could be wrong, but we’re likely to think that we’re right.

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