We subconsciously form an impression of people we meet for the first time. What is amazing is that it takes us a fraction of a second to do so, even though we are simultaneously considering multiple factors.
When we see a person for the first time, we take in their gender, height, weight, eye colour, skin colour, and even the symmetry of their face. We assess their body language, the expression on their face, their hand gestures. As they open their mouth to speak, we place them geographically and sometimes, by class, education and income.We sweep our eyes over their clothes and make snap judgments about the person’s wealth, hygiene, fashion sense and perhaps even where they shop! That’s a lot to have assessed in a single first impression. But is it always right? This essay argues that your first impression is always right for you at the time, although it may not always be the objective truth.
First impressions when internet dating
Let’s use the example of internet dating. It’s compulsory on the majority ofonline websites that you post a recent picture of yourself. Note the words, “recent” and “yourself”. Many people, however, post pictures of themselves 20 years earlier when they were young and slim and had hair, or photos of someone completely different. Why? Because as potential love partners, we are so conscious that the first impression we make on someone is such a deciding factor in whether the other person will even want to have a cup of coffee with you, let alone share your bed, that we are prepared to be less than honest to improve our chances.
Yet, despite the notion that being immediately attracted to a person is a prerequisite for a relationship, we all know people who have not initially been in the slightest bit romantically interested in someone because that person doesn’t immediately pique their interest, but who down the line fall in love with them once they get to know them. This supports my thesis that your first impression of a person is always right at the time, although it may not be later.
First impressions that trick you
Confidence tricksters, the MrRipleys of this world, are another good example where a person’s first impression of the dazzling, charismatic and charming person before them is right for them at the time, but turns out to be very wrong in hindsight. Conmen know exactly how to look and act and what to say to make a good impression on people. They are warm, engaging and seem to be very interested in you. Until the day it dawns on you they are not at all what your first impression was.
Many people find it very difficult to reverse the first impression they have of someone. This is because our first impression creates a set of expectations in us, which tend to be self-fulfilling. So when we make a snap judgement of someone being a brilliant investor who is going to make us lots of money, we follow him blindly despite the many red flags and the skepticism of our friends. We don’t want to admit our judgement was wrong. Likewise, the father-in-law who takes an instant dislike to his future son-in-law will not easily admit that his daughter’s husband is actually good and kind, because it would mean admitting he was wrong.
Caution is well advised
This essay has argued that your first impression is right, within the given context. But as the examples drawn from internet dating and confidence tricksters show, it’s best not to rely solely and blindly on these first impressions. Getting to really know someone slowly and without prejudgment is a much better predictor of who that person really is.