Post No.: 0159
Although first impressions are typically based on highly superficial cues that can be temporarily faked, or can be highly unrepresentative of how a person is most of the time – first impressions matter a lot and they can be made within a split-second.
We can form durable impressions of others based on ‘thin-slice’ information – seeing someone for a mere moment or two or hearing a scant piece of information about them then assuming they’re always like that or that’s all they are. For example, anybody can look weird or awkward when eating, yawning or sneezing if a photo snapshot is taken of them midway – but a snapshot in time should be read as just a snapshot in time, within its context, and not wildly inferred to mean anything else without other supporting evidence. The less we know about a person, the more we’ll generalise their attitudes and behaviours, even though we know that most people are mixtures of good and bad and are more complicated than they at first seemed once we get to truly know them better. However, a problem when we gather more information about a person is that the process might be influenced by confirmation bias because we all like to think we’re great judges of characters and that our first impressions were accurate, hence those first impressions of ours tend to stick.
We can relatively more reliably judge someone within moments though, if the situation we’re judging the person by is relevant to the attribute we’re judging them on (e.g. how well they cope with stress if seeing them in a challenging situation) or if we are judging them on an attribute that usually (but note – not always) reliably reflects outwardly on their appearance (e.g. their sexuality). Judging any deeper attribute requires deeper analyses that take time and seeing them in a wide variety of different contexts, hence try not to prematurely jump to any fuzzy conclusions.
In this mobile, fast-moving world today though, moments of contact with people are often extremely fleeting, and so first impressions may be all we get (before someone e.g. swipes left or right!) Commercial adverts are typically no more than a minute long or a poster may only be seen for no more than a second when one is driving past, and that’s one reason why advertisers want to associate their products and brands with attractive people and settings who or that make a desirable first impression – even though those things have nothing to do with what’s actually inside those products!
People are often confused or lazy when it comes to assessing the trustworthiness and competency of political candidates in a deep and effortful way, thus many people are unconsciously drawn towards favouring political candidates whom they find most physically attractive (or least physically unattractive usually!) or most ‘competent-looking’ as opposed to ‘baby-faced’. This is an example of cognitive ‘substitution’ – the tough question of ‘how competent is this person?’ is substituted with an easier question to answer that is ‘how competent does this person look?’ This substitution is done without one being consciously aware that one is doing it too. Most people should simply say, “I don’t know” based on the information they do know about them otherwise. Ratings of competence are more important than ratings of likeability to most voters – and this assessment is usually made superficially, such as by how a candidate’s face looks or how their voice sounds – particularly by politically uninformed voters.
To counter the folly of first impressions when judging politicians – think of their policies first, then the candidates, or read about the news rather than watch it, to not be swayed so much by superficial cues such as how a candidate looks; albeit it’s pretty much impractical to avoid at least catching a glimpse of the candidates’ faces when paying attention to the news. Well more ideally, one must be more engaged and think about politics on a regular basis (i.e. not just when elections arise) to be more informed in order to make better-informed decisions. How a person looks or what accent they have matters less over time the more we get to know them less superficially.
Interviewers may deny it or are simply unaware of their unconscious biases but they too are influenced by the physical looks of candidates. We all think we will benefit if we’re associated with attractive people too. But people need to learn to judge other people based on their content rather than their appearances (i.e. move important decision making from instinctive system one to critical system two, or use strategies like blind auditions). Seeing should not necessary be believing – in this context, if ‘it looks like a dog and sounds like a dog’ then it still might not be ‘a dog’ (woof woof). Some people present superficial charm to manipulate their public reputation. Some people are great at telling stories.
One will only have oneself to blame for falling for or hiring the wrong person based on their appearance, charm and other superficial cues rather than their kindness, content, actual competence and actual record of trustworthiness, for instance. The electorate will only have themselves to blame if they vote according to how a political candidate’s hair looks, how they eat a sandwich, what football team they claim to support to sound like ‘one of us’, their age or the like.
All groups judge by, and attempt to infer deeper traits from, appearances, by stereotypes – from children to adults, and between children and adults (which is bad when e.g. adults or teachers treat some children with less warmth or attention because of the way they look). We also tend to generalise that beautiful people are (depending on what’s culturally considered desirable) smarter, happier, healthier, outgoing and more successful, although not more honest or concerned for others. This is the ‘physical attractiveness stereotype’, or closely related ‘halo effect’, which children unfortunately learn quite early, possibly through stories of beautiful princesses and ugly witches, and via the media in general where the ‘goodies’ are typically portrayed as pretty or handsome and the ‘baddies’ are typically portrayed as hideous and frightful. This can often result in a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ too, where if people are labelled and treated in a certain way then they’ll start to behave like the label they’ve been given – more reason to treat every stranger well however they look!
Partly because of the self-fulfilling prophecy effect, young adults who are considered attractive by their peers do tend to be more relaxed and outgoing. They also tend to be more popular and gender-stereotyped (more masculine if male, more feminine if female). In other words, attractive people are more favoured, hence tend to develop a higher self-confidence, and so tend to become even more favoured, and so on. On the other hand, some people directly play on using their appearances to get whatever they want and end up becoming more arrogantly egocentric, and less smart, less considerate and less favourable in the long run.
One might argue therefore that it’s not so much how you look but how people treat you, which somewhat arises from how you feel about yourself too. So however you (believe you) look – like and be comfortable with yourself, hold yourself with confidence (without drifting into arrogance), and you’ll eventually find that (the right) people will draw to you and will like you! People’s first impressions of you may be negative (based on their own quick, superficial judgements) but you must fight the urge to let that drag you down – don’t behave defensively or retaliate with ugly behaviours but instead patiently prove that you are in fact an attractive person deep inside. Woof!
Indeed, physical attractiveness most affects first impressions and becomes less important over time as we get to know a person on a deeper level. And it’s not so much our first impressions that matter in the long-run but our last impressions that persist – although if one’s first impression isn’t good then that might end up being one’s last!
Whatever we think about first impressions, we all do, at least unconsciously, make snap judgements based on first impressions – often within seconds of meeting a new person. And these can be hard to shift if you never subsequently get a chance to know them better, and if they never get a chance to know you better. So to be on the safe side, be conscious of giving first impressions that highlight your best side when meeting new people; yet when you meet new people, be conscious that your first impressions of others may be based on too little information. Many first impression judgements turn out to be pretty accurate – but still don’t judge others too soon because when they’re wrong, they can be very wrong in either direction.
…Or if you want to take it to Machiavellian extremes, you could purposely try to exploit other people’s superficial and suggestible instincts to give them impressions of you that are false but favourable to you; but at the same time try not to be fooled by others possibly attempting the same in return(!) You’ll eventually be found out but maybe you’ll have already gotten what you wanted by then? Well – more reason for everyone to learn to become less superficial and to hold more provisional first impressions.