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First Impressions: Are We Right or Wrong?

Updated on September 4, 2017

First Impressins are Important

First impressions mean a lot. When we meet someone for the first time, how we present ourselves makes an indelible impact on them. We humans, are incredibly adept at picking up emotions and feelings through someone’s body language.

It has been found that within 30 minutes, two individuals having a conversation can send more than 800 nonverbal messages. Nonverbal messages are thought to be 12 ro 13 times more influential than the words we speak. Not to make you overly self conscious, but everything we do, from the way we walk into the room to the way, we speak, to our handshake, and our body language become an integral part of the first impression we make,

If our body language doesn’t match the way we speak, that will be noted immediately. Our body language shows whether we are calm, anxious, self assured, nervous. Our body language can give us away. First impressions count.

We Form First Impressions Instaneously

When we first meet someone, we decide almost instatneously if we like them. It takes only a few seconds for us to size up and evaluate the person we are meeting. Our decision stays with us. In a research study done by Alex Todorov, a Princeton University psychologist, and Janine Willis, they found participants in the study could predict with a 70% accuracy, which candidate would win an election when they showed them a microsecond of a political candidate’s video. First impressions are snap judgments we make in 1/10 of a second.

We get one chance to make a first impression.

Thin Slicing and First Impressions

What is Thin Slicing

First impressions are the basic foundations of the beginnings of any relationship. From our first impressions, we analyze other people and it becomes the initial circumstances that often effects further outcomes with this person

Thin slicing is the theory that we make mostly accurate judgments of another person from a few seconds of observations. We come to these conclusions even from a few glances we notice from the other person, which can tell us if they are trying to flirt with us, we should avoid them.

Our first assessments can set us on a course to determine if our initial observations are correct. This is known as confirmation bias. We are more prone to believe what we want to believe. This makes us naturally look for evidence that supports our initial opinions. It is counterintuitive to seek evidence contradicting and disproving our beliefs. It requires more proof for us to correct our first impressions.

Why We Need to Make Quick Judgments

We are hardwired to make a quick judgment. From the time of evolution to now, it is part of our survival mechanism. Psychologists are calling this quick judgment, thin slicing. We take a mental snapshot of another person and then assume their confidence, their competence, likability, trustworthiness, and other qualities. We need to know if this person is a friend or foe.

So our perception about people being quick to judge, is true. Not only do we make up our minds quickly, but we are pretty naturally good at it. There are things besides body language that affect our judgment. Finding out someone as the same name as we do often creates a sense of bonding. Sometimes, it is a handshake that makes a memorable first impression.

First Impressions Are Hard to Change

If we decide something about a person we just met, we pay more attention to the the proof that confirms our opinions, than the facts that show us otherwise. We look for information that tells us we are right, and have no place to put the information that might suggest something else.

In a research study done at Tufts University, Professor Nalini Ambady, had first year students rated their lecturer for openness, likability, and other characteristics. Two years later, the students were asked again to evaluate their same lecturer. The results showed there was no difference in their opinions, even thoght they had this professor for two years.

First Impressions Happen Unconsciously

Thin slicing goes beyond the study of body language and first impressions. Research over the last 20 years has shown we, human beings, have an unconscious intelligence that helps us perceive characteristics immediately, that done on a conscious level would probably take years to come to a rational conclusion.

We don’t know we are making these judgments. Researchers have found, when we question what made us choose, by second guessing ourselves, we get things wrong. When we automatically make perceptions from our first impressions, we have a better accuracy rate than we we think about why we came to that conclusion.

We are not perfect, by any means. Although our first impressions tend to be fairly accurate, we can misread someone and err in our first impression. This can be caused by cognitive biases. In a study done, people were shown a short movie of a woman who is just coming home from work, but nothing much else happening. Sometimes in the film, they called her either Janey the waitress, or Janey the librarian. Research participants, asked them to relate what they had just watched. The participants remembers details that were consistent with her job. Everything in the film was exactly the same, except for her job title. If she was introduced as a librarian, the viewers remembered her wearing glasses, even though she didn’t wear glasses in the movie.

Our judgment can be distorted based on our biases. If you have heard from a friend that the person you are about to meet is a nice person, you will behave in a more positive way towards them, than if you have heard they are not a nice person. You have already decided how you are going to react to the person, and it will take glaring evidence to turn your opinion around.

First Impressions

First Impressions and Bad First Impressions

Even though our first impressions are made within a few seconds of contact, bad first impressions can be corrected. The more important the relationship is, the more likely you are able to reverse your first opinions. Acquaintances, and less meaningful people and the first impression is less likely to be challenged and analyzed. Studies have shown, the more confident we are in our ability to be correct about first impressions, the less accurate we usually are.

With thin slicing, our unconscious mind looks for patterns in the person’s behavior and situation based on our own narrow slices of experience. Can we really gather the needed information to make a sophisticated judgment so quickly? We try to make sense of something quickly relying on our limited knowledge to give us an assessment of the whole situation so we can prepare ourselves for a possible issue.

First Impressions and What We Look For

What We Unconsciouly Look a From a First Impression

The things we decide instaneously from a first impression:

  • Trustworthiness

  • Social Status

  • Straight or Gay

  • Intelligence

  • Promiscuous

  • Aggressive

  • Successful

  • Earning Potential

  • Adventurous

  • Dominant

  • Religious

  • Extroverted

  • Competent

  • Conscientious

It can take only 3 seconds to determine whether you like someone or want to do business with them. Some are determined by the way we look. Some are determined by our facial features. How aggressive someone seems is mostly determined by facial structure.

Sometimes first impressions are a self fulfilling prophecy. What we believe is what happens. When a first impression is a positive one, we tend to act warmer towards that person. That person in turn, acts warmly back, thereby confirming the perception about the person being a warm individual.

What forms your first impression when you first meet someone

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First Impressions Lasting Impressions

We can't help ourselves. We form first impressions automatically. Our mind works so fast to pass judgment based on our limited knowledge and experience. Our instinct is usually right, after all, it is part of our survival needs to estimate who we are dealing with.

Yet when we meet someone who may have some importance in our lives, for the first time, it is importatnt to be openmined and look at more than what our mind tells us is so. It is an amazing ability, we humans have. It is a gift to be appreciated, and also to be humble about. But second impressions, done with an open mind are worthwhile also. Everyone deserves a second chance. This is something you would want also.

Are Our First Impressions Right or Wrong

Our first impressions come from an unconscious process, in which our instinct can be very accurate. However, sometimes our biases (good and bad) interfere and cause incorrect snap judgments

Should You Trust Your First Impression


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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      16 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I do believe first impressions are strong but there are other factors such as the context. Is it a social situation? Or a work situation? Are the people of simialr status, such as teacher to student or two teachers. In other words expectations enter in so that there is a prejucgement even before the first impression.

    • dashingscorpio profile image


      17 months ago

      Oftentimes it's not about "first impressions" or "judgments" but rather one's (personal tastes), likes or dislikes.

      If everyone thought alone the same lines you probably would never see "nice girls" with "bad boys"/ jerks.

      There are various reasons why people are attracted to others or dislike them. However there is no "universal guideline" book. No matter how you look, what you do, or say, there are going to be people who like you and dislike you. That's just a fact of life!

      No one who has ever walked this earth was (universally loved).

      Know yourself, Love yourself, Trust yourself.

      Be yourself and let the chips fall where they may.

      In a world with over (7 Billion) people rejection means: Next!

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR


      17 months ago

      Thanks Maree for your insightful comments. It is true there are many people who try to win us over with their first impressions. The quick judgments we make are just the beginning to what we need to know about a person we are about to do business with or get into a relationship with. As far as the scammers with Hurricane Harvey. That is also true. I experienced Super Storm Sandy in 2012, which caused much destruction in my town. As I started to do the repairs I was very cautious who I would deal with. But I also have to tell you, there were so many people who came to help in countless ways, asking for nothing but the satisfaction of doing good deeds. Those are the people I remember more than the people who tried to profit from our vulnerable situation. So while first impressions are lasting impressions. There is also the saying by Maya Angelou — 'At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.'

    • profile image

      S Maree 

      17 months ago

      Wow! Glad I managed to pick a good husband despite a very weird friendship/courting roller coaster ride. Don't want to go through that again! Impressions are very tricky; do your homework when choosing a life partner!

      Dad, sadly, lost his savings & even his health & life, believing the voices he heard from phone scammers. He was always trusting & gullible with strangers, but did not trust his family when it came to money. BEWARE of convincing voices, "official" mailings, and anything that tries to distract you, befriend you, or lures you in. Remember the criteria mentioned in this article. Do your homework when anything sounds too good to be true!

      First impressions are more than person-to-person. Take the tragedies created by Hurricane Harvey: How many good people will be sucked into scams that promise to help? How much help will be lost to those who really need it? Do your homework when giving!

      This article can be a template for more than personal relationships. It's a very good tool. Remember it when doing your homework!

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      17 months ago from Chicago Area

      The "first impressions last" theory definitely holds. Even if I change my mind about someone after getting to know them, I find that my first impressions were accurate in some way.

      And, yes, it is evolutionary.

      I find it amusing in discussions about dating where participants say they're looking for someone with a "good personality." Okay, how are you going to determine that in 3 seconds? You can't. So we have to rely on non-verbal cues, including how they dress which seems very superficial. But it's not. What's inside shows outside.

      Thanks for a look into this fascinating subject! Have a great Labor Day holiday!


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