This is an often a determining factor in contexts such as interviewing for jobs. Research shows that "...the perception of a person is strongly influenced by the accuracy of early impressions." (Mc Keachie and Doyle. 1970. p. 552) The immediate perception of a person may therefore be colored by concepts and learnt assumptions that are applied to the individuals according to various cues.
One aspect in this regard that strands out in many studies is that while first- time perceptions can be erroneous and might be based on false preconceptions and stereotypes, yet these first impression can be extremely strong and also tend to influence later assessments of the person. This relates to the previously mentioned finding that first impressions tend often to focus on abnormal or different attributes, rather than on conventional or more positive attributes. This can, for instance, have a direct affect on a job interview where the wrong first impression may be given.
A people are especially attentive to negative factors, and if these are present, they will outweigh the positive ones in generating impressions. One reason first impressions are so indelible is that people have a tendency to interpret new information about a person in a light that will reinforce their first impression. They also tend to remember the first impression, or overall schema, better than any subsequent corrections. Thus if a person whom one thinks of as competent makes a mistake, it will tend to be overlooked and eventually forgotten, and the original impression is the one that will prevail. Conversely, one will tend to forget or undervalue good work performed by someone initially judged to be incompetent.
The above is quoted at length as it illustrates some of the central points about first impressions. It also points to just how important the first impression is and the way that this can affect later judgments and assessments. In an interview situation if the first impression made, possibly through attitude or dress, is negative then any subsequent mistake in the interview will be seen in a negative light; whereas, if the first impression in good then later errors will not be in such a negative light.
Another study supports this view of the importance of first impressions. "As many as four out of five hiring decisions are made within the first 10 minutes of an interview, according to some studies. Those decisions can be based on little more than the applicant's clothing or hairstyle, a subconscious stereotype or a preconceived notion about a particular candidate or type of candidate."(Gassner L. 2004)
It has also been found that attribution and categorization in first impressions are often-based strongly on appearance. One study found that, "...first impressions are driven by body language, posture, facial expressions and eye contact, according to psychological studies. Such cues send us signals about a candidate's preparation, confidence and even grooming habits." Furthermore, studies show that more 'attractive' people are also found to receive more positive first responses from interviewers. This brings another important aspect into play into the understanding of first impressions; namely the role that stereotypes in the media play in forming images of what is attractive and what is not. This aspect is reiterated in many studies.
A ubiquitous demonstration in person perception is that people's outputs (evaluations, impressions, memories) are shaped and guided by their knowledge and pre-existing beliefs about the social world. Rather than viewing individuals on the basis of their unique constellations of attributes and proclivities, perceivers prefer instead to furnish categorical (i.e. stereotype-based) conceptions of others. (Bodenhausen and Macrae 2001)
The above research indicates that the social and learnt factors play a vital role in the understanding of the functioning of first impressions. There are also numerous variables and factors which can be brought to this discussion such as the role of the media as a determining factor in the creation of stereotypes. One aspect that cannot be discounted is the possible influence of the instincts. One study in this regard states that the reason why 'pretty' or attractive faces are more acceptable on first impression points to an instinctual rather than a social reason for this preference. "This favoritism, while poorly understood, seems to be innate and cross-cultural. Studies suggest that even infants prefer pretty faces," (First Impressions Of Beauty May Demonstrate Why The Pretty Prosper)
However, this study, while not discounting instinctual aspects, has placed emphasis on social and socio-psychological factors. On of the reason for this is that in the modern world the media and media influence is ubiquitous. We are continually confronted on every level with social and psychological stereotypes and categories that may have a direct effect on the way that we make first impressions. This is an area which may be a fruitful ground for further research.
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Gassner L. 2004. Don't rush to judgment: relying on first impressions when assessing a job applicant can lead to a poor hiring decision. [Online] HRMagazine; 1/1/2004, Available at http://www.highbeam.com[14 July 2006].
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