First impression: starting point of every relationship

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Robert Maurer

First impression: starting point of every relationship

Last update: December 15, 2017

Have you ever thought about how quickly the image of who we have in front of us forms, how quickly we pass from what we see to what we intuit? Have you noticed that the brain works almost automatically to profile those around us? Precisely these mechanisms define the so-called first impression of who we know.

A study by Bert Decker confirms that a first impression is formed in the brain about the people we know within two seconds. In these first moments the brain produces 50% of the image and it will be in the following that it will complete the rest of its idea about the person. From this point on, the mental image created will determine our interaction with the subject, because we will have a tendency to confirm it.

And consider a simple example to illustrate what has been said. Let's imagine that our first impression of a newly met is that of a kind individual. If we think so, we will most likely, in turn, be nice too, and so the other person will continue to be nice too, or, if they are not, they may start behaving this way. Among the various factors, this is one of the main ones that make it more difficult to change a first impression: we behave with others based on that first image.

Understanding how the first impression is formed is fascinating: the brain acts unconsciously and enters a lot of data even though it does not have it. This is explained by a study conducted by psychologist Nalini Ambady. Thanks to this experiment it was found that for a group of pupils it was enough to watch a video in which a teacher appeared for 10 seconds to make a first impression of the teacher. That's not all, because that first impression, on average, differed very little from that of students who had actually attended the teacher's classes for a full semester. This shows us how fast our brain is at creating a complete picture of what we see.

From this we can deduce the importance of our body language and our outward appearance. The way we present ourselves or show ourselves at first will be part of the image that others have of us.

"There is no second chance for a first impression"

-Oscar Wild-

First impression: how do they affect society and culture?

We are influenced, consciously and unconsciously, by society and culture. What is around us and our history of living with it condition this first impression that we keep in our brain. Sometimes even without having processed it. And then we act accordingly, almost without realizing it.

Society tells us how to dress, act, talk ... And we code many of the parameters that are part of this first impression in this sense: we notice whether they correspond to what the company approves (which may or may not coincide with what we approve or not we approve). Those who do not fit this pattern are likely to attract our attention the most, and this will be an aspect that will stand out in the first impression. Therefore, it will be faster coding.

Much of this process is unconscious, we do it without realizing it. All of this makes it difficult to directly influence the process. However, what we can do is be cautious in evaluating the reliability of the images, trust them enough and be open to changing them. It will be beneficial to ourselves, because it will improve the quality of our new relationships.

We are not just a first impression, we are not just an external image: each of us has a lot inside and we deserve someone to take the time to get to know us. As we have seen, we are not very wrong with the first impression when we compare it with the impression we have after a couple of months.

But beware, this happens with relationships that are not very close, such as that between a teacher and a student. With deeper relationships the first image eventually undergoes many changes, both because we made a mistake in forming it and because the other changes.

Are our first impressions spot on?

Studies show that we are generally pretty good at making first impressions. In a few seconds it is possible to deduce information that the other does not give us, and to guess.

But why does this happen? We must think that if on the one hand the company outlines a course of action, on the other we are able to deceive our interlocutor quite easily, showing that we are within the socially defined "normal" limits. It is easy to create a positive image if we know in advance what the other would like to find in us.

In any case, first impressions, even if good, are rarely accurate. Their main advantage is that we need them to create expectations or develop action plans: for example, so that the other has a good impression of us. The downside is that there are pre-assumptions in them that often distance the possibility of really knowing the other person.

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