Thursday, August 24, 2006

Hot or Not: First Impressions Matter

This week, I worked with a young woman on her interviewing technique. She is smart, beautiful, qualified for the jobs she's interviewing for, and initially, very shy. She's had trouble with giving a great first impressions. That's a problem. First impressions are lasting impressions. They are important.

Why? Within three seconds, people form an impression of someone else and are very likely to stick to it forever. Consider this:


By the time we flash that return grin, our Polaroid shutter will have already closed. Just three seconds are sufficient to make a conclusion about fresh acquaintances. Nalini Ambady, professor of psychology at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, studies first impressions carved from brief exposure to another person's behavior, what she calls "thin slices" of experience. She says humans have developed the ability to quickly decide whether a new person will hurt or enrich us—judgments that had lifesaving ramifications in an earlier era.

Examples:
  • My own husband saw me across a grocery store and "just knew". Insane, I say. It's his story and he's sticking to it.
  • My best friend in Chiropractic College (actually there were three of us who hung together thick as thieves) walked into the class, strode directly to my other friend and I, and said, "Hi, I'm Jay." He lives in New York and our families are still close over a decade later. Less than three seconds. Maybe one.
  • Another friend said that he saw a woman come into a bar where he and pal were drinking on shore leave. She was cussing out a cop who had pulled her over and was giving her the business for breaking some law. This fiesty lady wasn't buying it. My friend watched her and laughed and said that he thought, "Now that's a live one." He walked up to her, "they talked all night", and they've been together ever since.
  • Another friend walked into class, turned to his buddy and said, "You see that girl right there? I'm going to marry her." They had their first child after seven years of marriage last year.
How long do impressions last? This research measured students sizing up professors, this study
followed people making friends in a class for the first time. The snap judgments were suprisingly accurate and enduring.

This research is a lead in to another barnstormer of a post by Ace of Spades. Yesterday he skewered a pompous, delusional woman. Today he is going after men who are "insufferable pussies." As background, Ace is getting after a guy who is dumping a girl he has falsely befriended because she is an "attention whore" but will never put out. So here's what Ace says:

What's this whole "Woe is this attention whore" whine? This sissy is operating under pretenses more false than the chick is. If she's a sex-tease, he's a friendship-tease. He's as uninterested in friendship with her as she is in sex with him.

This whole "friends" thing is a pussy way to get close to a girl without putting anything on the line. I've done it dozens of times myself. It's unmanly and counterproductive. Make a move or don't, but don't be chickenshit chump waiting months and months for the "right opportunity."

The "right opportunity" comes the night you meet the person you're interested in. The girl knows within three minutes of meeting you, if not sooner. She's not going to change her mind either way by "getting to know you." [Emphasis added-Ed.]

Ace, of course, is right. We just read the science that supports it (if you went to the links and you should!).

Does this mean that personality doesn't matter? No. And this is where I disagree with Ace, or maybe just to tweak a bit. When we make a first impression, we are taking into account personality. It is not just looks, and sex appeal. For example, have these experiences happened to you:
  • A guy walks into a room with a sneer on his face. You immediately think: he thinks he's better than everyone. You immediately dislike him. You avoid him.
  • A girl walks in with her nose in the air, clasping books to her solar plexus. You immediately think: she's stuck up and aloof, but maybe afraid and nervous, too. You might ignore her. "What a bitch!" or you might seek to get to know her better.
  • A guy shuffles into a room, head down, blank stare, no eye-contact. You think: Dude, what a downer. What's up with him? Depending on your personality you think "too much trouble" or "he needs a lift" or "avoid at all costs".
  • A girl bounces into the room, grinning, talks to loud to a friend, enjoys being in front of everyone a little too much. You might think: Hot, but crazy. Maybe manic. Avoid at all costs. She's unstable. Or, hot and crazy. I like it.
The problem, of course, is you might be right, you might be wrong. Here is where first impressions and then the actions we take based on them can lead us astray:

Certain physical features consistently prompt our brains to take first-impression Polaroids with a distorting filter. People who have a "baby face," characterized by a round shape, large eyes and small nose and chin, give off the impression of trustworthiness and naivete—on average, a false assumption. A pretty face also leads us astray: Our tendency is to perceive beautiful people as healthier and just plain better than others.

Leslie Zebrowitz, professor of psychology at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, argues that we overgeneralize in the presence of baby mugs and homely visages. Humans are hardwired to recognize a baby as an innocent, weak creature who requires protection. By the same token, mating with someone who is severely deformed, and thereby unattractive, may keep your DNA from spreading far and wide. But we overgeneralize these potentially helpful built-in responses, coddling adults with babyish miens who in fact don't need our care and shunning unattractive people who may not meet our standards of beauty but certainly don't pose an imminent threat to our gene pool.

Zebrowitz has found that many baby-faced grown-ups, particularly young men, overcompensate for misperceptions by cultivating tougher-than-average personalities in an attempt to ward off cheek-pinching aunts. Think of the sweet-faced rapper Eminem, who never cracks a smile, or the supermodel-juggling, hard-partying actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

So we can overgeneralize our snap judgments. And how about those of you who know someone, or maybe you are this person, who gets it wrong all the time? Do you invariably screw up your impressions of men and/or women? Some women just seem to have no trouble picking great guy after great guy. Some women seem to have a homing device for the bad and the awful. In fact much has been made of this statistic:
In a 1999 longitudinal study of 3,000 women, researchers found women who had been victimized before were seven times more likely to be raped again. (Acierno, Resnick, Kilpatrick, Saunders and Best, Jnl. of Anxiety Disorders 13, 6.)
What's up with that? That is like the worst of the worst judgments--considering that 77% of women are raped by someone known to them.

But the converse is also true: (again from Psychology Today)

Not every observer is equally likely to draw unwarranted conclusions about a smooth-cheeked man or a woman with stunning, symmetrical features. People who spend time cultivating relationships are more likely to make accurate snap judgments.

"A good judge of personality isn't just someone who is smarter—it's someone who gets out and spends time with people," says David Funder, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Riverside, who believes in the overall accuracy of snap judgments. Funder has found that two observers often reach a consensus about a third person, and the assessments are accurate in that they match the third person's assessment of himself. "We're often fooled, of course, but we're more often right."


Finally, some people are an "open book". Everyone "gets" them. What do psychologists say about those people?

On the other side of the equation, some people are simpler to capture at first glance than others. "The people who are easiest to judge are the most mentally healthy," says Randy Colvin, associate professor of psychology at Northeastern University in Boston. "With mentally healthy individuals," Colvin theorizes, "exterior behavior mimics their internal views of themselves. What you see is what you get."
Bottom line, it takes two to tango. And Ace is right, if it ain't happening out of the gate, it's unlikely to happen. He says this about "But I have a great personality":

Well, yes, but the superficial personality you put on when meeting people, charm, wit, magnetism, "confidence," etc. All these superficial qualities are on display immediately.

And all are factored into the decision immediately.

Guys like this are convinced that if a woman just gets to know their "deep personality," the "real person" underneath, the chick will go for them.

Wrong. First of all, no one falls in love with a really good personality. You fall in love with the superficial qualities and looks of a person. A good personality, and having virtue, and basic goodness, etc., makes someone love you more, but it doesn't make someone love you to begin with.

Second of all, as Steve Martin said in My Blue Heaven, everyone thinks they have a sense of humor, but not everyone does. Similarly, everyone thinks they have some kind of totally-cool "deeper personality," just blazing with attractiveness if only someone would take the time to get to know them, but they are, by and large, assholes, as most people are.

And I have the feeling the 10% of the population with truly stand-out virtues also tend to have the virtue of modesty, so they're not even really strongly aware they're a particularly fine specimen, personality-wise.

This particular guy's "deeper personality" is that of the sort of chump willing to spend countless hours being a girl's emotional tampon without having the balls to ask her out on a date.

So, she probably knows his "deeper personality." And that's not working for him either.

Ace writes the truth, men. So if you're sad and lonely, you might want to, to use Ace's words "grow some balls" and work on those first impressions. They matter.

1 comment:

Christy're said...

The husband and I knew each other 3 days in person when we agreed to get married. We're both open books--stable, honest, and loyal. And we "knew" pretty well off the bat.