Are first impressions really that big a deal?


Yes. In fact, even more than you thought:

Few interpersonal relationships endure without one party violating the other’s expectations. Thus, the ability to build trust and to restore cooperation after a breach can be critical for the preservation of positive relationships. Using an iterated prisoner’s dilemma, this article presents two experiments that investigated the effects of the timing of a trust breach—at the start of an interaction, after 5 trials, after 10 trials, or not at all. The findings indicate that getting off on the wrong foot has devastating long-term consequences. Although later breaches seemed to limit cooperation for only a short time, they still planted a seed of distrust that surfaced in the end.

Source: “Getting Off on the Wrong Foot: The Timing of a Breach and the Restoration of Trust” from “Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin”

Holy crap! “Devastating long-term consequences”!?!?! Why is it so bad? How does that work?:

Conditions under which implicit and explicit impressions of an individual may change in response to new information were investigated in two experiments. Participants formed an impression of a target person based on his membership in a social group and, in some conditions, detailed behavioral evidence. Later, half of the participants were given reason to believe that the initial information they had been given was wrong, and that the target actually belonged to a different social group. Implicit and explicit measures of participants’ impressions of the target were then collected. Results indicated that, while explicit impressions were effectively corrected in light of new information, implicit impressions continued to reflect initial beliefs (Experiments 1 and 2). However, when given the opportunity to re-examine the original behavioral information, implicit measures also reflected a change in participants’ impressions (Experiment 2). The role of elaboration in determining implicit and explicit impression change is discussed.

Source: “You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First (Implicit) Impression: The Role of Elaboration in the Formation and Revision of Implicit Impressions” from “Social Cognition”

And even when you’ve made a good impression, it’s all too easy to undo that:

“Impressions are somewhat fragile,” Ames explains. “You’re more likely to have an impression get worse than better, and a negative behavior can readily undermine a positive one. For leaders and managers, who are almost always highly visible and under scrutiny, even a small and seemingly forgivable slipup can be judged harshly. It reinforces the need for managers to be mindful that they are always on stage.”


How can you fix damage you’ve done? There is a way:

“One thing people can do is try to clarify that there may be reasons for why they’re behaving in a way that isn’t typical. You can signal, in effect, that a certain behavior ‘shouldn’t count.’ Even something as basic as a circular excuse — ‘I’m really upset because I’m frustrated’ — can satisfy a person, and limit a behavior’s harm, if it’s delivered in a sincere way. For isolated instances, perceivers may let it slide, but over the long haul, actions speak louder than words.”


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