First Impressions

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Research suggests that first impressions are created within the first few minutes of meeting someone. Discuss the factors that affect our perception of people and some of the elements that impact our accuracy or otherwise of first impressions, e.g. in an interview situation, first date, etc.

People take initial information about appearance, body language, what you say and more importantly how you say it and then form a judgment very quickly as to what type of person you are. First impressions are mainly based on facial features and body language as well as various generalisations and bias which affect the accuracy of those perceptions. From physical appearance to choice in clothing; from religion and race to social class and level of education; when meeting someone for the first time we look upon people that are similar to us more favourably. In every way our first impressions goes back to our most primitive survival instinct. "Is this person a threat to me?" If the person appears to be friendly we drop our guard and we allow ourselves to continue our assessment. We look at every detail to try to ascertain information, scan the person, and form judgment within 3 seconds…. and it is all done subconsciously.

The first thing we look for when meeting someone is trust. If a person is able to come across as trustworthy then a first impression will most likely be favourable as this person is not a threat. Out of all the judgments we make about others solely on first impressions, our judgment of a person being trustworthy or not is the one we come to in the least amount of time, almost instantly. The results of a Princeton university experiment revealed that a person can judge another's face on whether it appears trustworthy in 100ms. This speedy judgment is only rivalled by our judgement of attractiveness (Willis & Todorov 2006). If we decide that the face we have just seen is untrustworthy a specific area of our brain, the amygdala, is triggered. This area of the brain also triggers fear, and just as we have no control over our reaction to being frightened we have no control over our perception of distrust (The Human Mind 2003). This seemingly spontaneous judgement is an automatic process that evolutionary psychologists say is essential for survival.

Judgment of first impressions is primarily based on how someone looks. Being physically attractive definitely has its advantages when it comes to someone trusting you. Also a face that is more infantile in features will be the one people find most honest. This tendency has lead to the ‘baby face theory'. In (The Human Mind 2003) an experiment was shown were a group of mock jurors was asked to view a number of men and then make a decision as to who they trusted the most or the least. They all agreed on their choices, the man they trusted had infant like features, mainly a round face, big eyes, and fuller lips. The man they trusted the least had a long thin face and small eyes with a long thin nose and thick eyebrows.

It is argued that the reason we trust people with infantile features is because we associate them with childlike traits of warmth, weakness, naiveté and trust. For example baby-faced individuals may receive less severe punishment in judicial system (Willis & Todorov 2006) and may be seen as more honest, but in a work environment they may have problems with people taking them seriously. This is due to the ‘facial fit effect' which occurs when people with infantile features are subconsciously treated like children. People who are baby faced may have to prove themselves in the work place but they also are treated with more affection both physically and emotionally because they are seen as more delicate and approachable (Zebrowitz 1997). From this research it is clear that first impression of trustworthiness may not be accurate at all, as people with infantile features give an illusion of trust but this may not be the case in reality. Our judgment of...
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