The Psychology of First Impressions, Relationships & the Amount of Judging Involved

my first impressionsWhen you first meet someone, you instantly categorize them into one of several possible classifications, depending on the situation and who the person is.

Some examples of this categorization process would be labeling a newly met stranger as a potential friend, an elder/parent figure, or, in certain conditions, as a possible romantic interest.

Whatever the case may be, you naturally form first impressions from every single interaction that you have and, according to two Princeton psychologists, those first impressions are formed in just a tenth of a second after seeing a stranger’s face. The Princeton psychologists also discovered that longer exposures (say, a full minute) do not significantly alter your previous (1/10 of a second) impression.

After your initial impression is made, you then slowly begin to create newer sub-impressions that are determined by how ‘close’ your relationship gets with that new person.

On one end of the spectrum, this can be you deciding that the cashier, who just sold you a cup of coffee, is nice because of the way he/she interacted with you. On the other (more intimate) end of the spectrum, you may decide that you no longer feel attracted to someone (who was previously a possible romantic candidate) based upon a new sub-impression that resulted from something the person did or said (e.g. “Actually, I don’t believe in wearing deodorant.”)

We may lay the foundation of our impression of someone in under a second, but the rest of the “house” is constantly being added on to until the relationship comes to a point of termination (e.g. you walk out of the coffee shop, or decide you can no longer stand to be around someone).

Certain relationships, such as a parent and a child’s, typically do not have a termination point; even if your mother/father doesn’t believe in wearing deodorant, you probably still love them. This covalent relationship type is usually only terminated as a result of death, or after a severe disagreement, which, in my opinion, can be more heartbreaking than a relationship being terminated because of death.

The human process of starting and ending relationships, such as the first impressions we make, is, in my opinion, a fascinating. I’m not exactly sure why this is, but it might have to do with the multitude of different outcomes that can result from our interactions and how the human mind has a proclivity for being judgmental.

If an attractive person walks into a room, you immediately (and decisively) judge them to be, well, attractive. When humans decide someone fits into this category, it is a well-known fact that we spend more time peering at them and give them much more attention than we’d give the average-looking person in the same room.

If you’ve been blessed with good looks, your life is unfortunately (in ethical terms) easier than that of an unattractive person’s. We sadly judge and lay down our founding impressions just by the way someone looks and we do so without even thinking twice about it. Actually, it’s (almost) impossible to imagine we humans behaving in any other manner, which is a rather depressing contemplation.

This adverse, but very true, fact about judgmental humans is a key ingredient in the process of creating first impressions. Americans are especially good at making their first impressions from a foundation based upon looks, perceived status rank and material possessions.

We’re sadly becoming more and more concerned with outwardly appearances rather than the more important, intrinsic characteristics. This causes us to become more susceptible to laying foundations about someone that are inaccurate, or solely based upon invaluable attributes (e.g. what they’re wearing, the car they drive, which iPhone they own, etc.)

Why we as a society behave in this manner is not completely apparent, at least to me it isn’t, but I have somewhat of an idea behind its existence and it’s relatively easy to come up with excuses and things to blame for making us this way.

You could say that it’s hardwired into our natural behavior (because we seem to instantly judge someone the moment they enter a room), that society itself guided us to overvalue extrinsic elements, or even that Hollywood has influenced us all to become “fake.” However, the degree of which we allow our judging/first impressions to go is ultimately up to us to decide…not Hollywood, not the Media, but us.

I’m not saying that the things around us don’t have a strong influence over our actions and behavior, but I think you know that it’s inevitably up to each of us to decide where the line between human nature and human perception lies. When you cross that line, and the farther over that line you get, the more diluted your reality of first impressions, relationships and society becomes.

The next time you catch yourself creating a first impression of someone, ask yourself if that impression resulted from something unimportant, like the iPhone in their hand, or if it was built off of something substantial, like them being ridiculously attractive, which in that case you should immediately stop analyzing yourself and go ask them for their number. I kid, I kid…sort of.

If you take anything away from this article, remember to try to judge people in the same way that you’d like to be judged. After all, the manner and extent of your judging isn’t completely out of your control and the more often we attempt to tame our judgmental instincts, the easier it becomes to do so. Or that’s what I’ve heard anyway…I harshly judge people all the time and I ain’t never gonna quit!

The Psychology of First Impressions, Relationships & the Judging Involved

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  1. This topic is so fascinating to me actually too. I have somewhat of a cave woman nose, as I like to call it, and can actually smell people immediately, as they move in to shake my hand. It’s their musk/chemical smell, that only I seem to detect. Some make me literally want to run, like serial killer warning, and others just have a really strong smell. My husband has the best smell ever, and my father and brothers totally stink to me. I’ve come across a few others who claim they have this ability as well, and I wonder if this plays a role in this initial judgement you’re talking about? I can just really identify it, and others might not be able to do so.

    On another side of this, I just returned from the Sprint store for a new phone, and the young man helping me approached confidently, shook my hand, introduced himself with authority, took care of everything I needed, was completely charming, and had the worst crossed eyes you’ve ever seen. But, he came in for that handshake, and gave me a good vibe. That was all that mattered of that first impression. Plus, I have a soft spot for the nerds;) Maybe someone without my nose, would have judged him differently?
    Courtney~Mommy LaDy Club recently posted..Fitness Journal: Online & Brutally Honest…Final Entry!My Profile

  2. I’m very judgmental but against such behavior. Hypocritical? Probably. But I recognize my judgement as wish I weren’t like this. I watched a show on a health channel once about human sexuality. A lot of our first impressions of the opposite sex (or same sex depending on our sexual orientation) are a result of the primitive brain’s preferences in a mate, according to this article. I’m not going to get into it all here, but it was very interesting. I’m fascinated by all things psychological, including judgement.
    Laura@Catharsis recently posted..On my son’s birth and the worst day of my lifeMy Profile

  3. According to the article? Show, I meant. According to the show. OK, I’ll stop now. I think I need some sleep. :-/
    Laura@Catharsis recently posted..On my son’s birth and the worst day of my lifeMy Profile

  4. I opened this article expecting to find something completely different, but this blew me away! What a great read…very interesting.

  5. I love the way you wrote this article. This is wonderful. I do hope you intend to write more of these types of articles. Thank you for this interesting content!

  6. Michael Henderson says:

    Fascinating. In my opinion this is the most interesting post you have written so far. More of this! I also liked that the words to pictures ratio was very big respectively (i.e. there were lots of words and few pictures).


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