This paper explains how first impressions strike people and how they relate to Maslow’s theory of human needs. The paper also conducts an experiment by reading an article from Clark’s First Impressions and comparing two stories and reading them in reverse order in the article to discover how first impressions affect people’s perspective on others.
In one of his famous play As You Like It, Shakespeare (1980, p. 40) writes “All the world 's a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts….” As Jaques vividly expresses in the play, human beings are performers, playing various roles on different stages and interacting with one another according to diverse conditions. Despite the fact that people cannot often choose what roles they play, they actually can decide how they play them and win acclaim from their audiences. During the entire performing career, almost every single individual strives to make good first impressions through image construction. It is an inevitable action because it is the way how people interact. Erving Goffman, a prominent sociologist who theorized social interaction through dramaturgical analysis, indicates:
…. A person is not an isolated thing, but an image carved out of the whole life space of his or her interactions with others…. Each person’s self is a reflection of the responses of others, and each person gives others parts of himself in return…. Ordinarily, one derives one’s feeling of self from acting with a variety of people in many contexts” (Collins and Makowsky, 1993, p. 239).
With the image construction, people interact and communicate with one another to acquire essential information from those present. Judging from the collected information, the people involved in the social interaction can anticipate what they need to behave to fulfill expectations from one another. Goffman further points out, “When an individual enters the presence of others, they commonly seek to acquire information about him or to bring into play information…. Information about the individual helps to define the situation, enabling others to know in advance what he will expect of them and what they may expect of him” (Clark and Robby, 1992, p. 112). Being socially interactive, people deeply care about how others perceive them and utilize any possible forms of impression management intentionally or unconsciously to make sure others react to them in expected ways (Giddens, 1991, p. 126). Those adept at impression management certainly leave better first impressions on their target company than those who are less skilled in this aspect. For example, people who understand the impression management well use all types of perceivable behavior to impress their significant others whom they try to leave good first impressions upon by flattering these significant others or pretending to enjoy their conversations with great interest. In addition, they might use nonverbal behavior such as high level of eye contact, sweet smiles and nod in agreement to create good first impressions. Armed with these tactics of impression management, people can make memorable first impressions. According to Baron and Byrne (1987, p.45), “In general, such expressiveness seems to be a “plus”: persons high on this dimension generally receive more favorable ratings than persons low on this dimension when meeting other for the first time.” Based on first impressions per se, the stories mentioned in Clark’s First Impressions clearly reiterate the importance of first impressions (Clark, 2004). In John Is An Extrovert, John creates positive first impressions with both verbal and nonverbal behavior, which presents his excellent skills in impression management that would definitely gives him advantages in social interaction. For instance, he initiated a conversation with an acquaintance while waiting for an eye contact with the clerk. He was warmly chatting with his friend. He was outgoing and did not shy away from talking to a girl whom he had met before. John would be an ideal employee for most employers because of his skills in expression management. Impressed with his positive first impressions, people might feel sympathy for John after discovering his abnormal behavior in the second story, John Is An Introvert. They would be willing to offer some support to help him walk out of his trouble. Nonetheless, if the two stories are reread in reverse order, first impressions on John would be opposite from the first scenario mentioned above. People might be taken aback by John’s gloomy and passive personality. Despite walking on a bright sunny day, John’s perceptible dark personality might leave negative first impressions on people because he did not actively take any action to interact with whomever he encountered after work. People might be very surprised when John began actively mingling with people around him and wondered what exactly happened to John. Obviously, John would be classified as socially disabled because of his lack of skills of impression management, which directly and severely influences his interaction with others and his career future. This interesting reverse reading experiment once again emphasizes on how first impressions significantly affect people’s thinking and perspectives. Gidden explains that in Goffman’s dramaturgical model, in which he theorized individuals like actors and actresses in a theater playing various roles, most persons use many forms of impressions management to create situations in favor of their own benefits (1991, p. 126). The key purpose of first impressions is to create an image manipulated and preferred by people who wish to make a good impression on others when meeting the first time. Doing so might trigger favorable social interaction in the future. Such social interactions to some extent parallel Maslow’s early version of hierarchy of human needs based on physiological, safety, belongingness and love, esteem and self-actualization (Clark, 2004) because people acquiring positive first impressions from interaction with others might feel more secured and welcomed and receive better recognition than those who do not. Founded on what they have gained from first impressions, those capable of impression management can further advance to the highest level of human needs.
Baron, R.A., & Byrne. D. (1987). Social Psychology: Understanding Human Interaction (5th ed.). New York: Allyn and Bacon, Inc.
Clark, C., & Robby H. (1992). Social Interaction Readings in Sociology (4th ed.). New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Clark, Donald (2011). Leadership & Human Behavior. Retrieved from http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/leadhb.html
Collins, R., & Makowsky., M. (1993). The Discovery of Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.
Giddens, A. (1991). Introduction Sociology. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Shakespeare, W. (1980). As You Like It. New York: Bantam Books.
References: Baron, R.A., & Byrne. D. (1987). Social Psychology: Understanding Human Interaction (5th ed.). New York: Allyn and Bacon, Inc. Clark, C., & Robby H. (1992). Social Interaction Readings in Sociology (4th ed.). New York: St. Martin’s Press. Clark, Donald (2011). Leadership & Human Behavior. Retrieved from http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/leadhb.html Collins, R., & Makowsky., M. (1993). The Discovery of Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc. Giddens, A. (1991). Introduction Sociology. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Shakespeare, W. (1980). As You Like It. New York: Bantam Books.