My last post about the psychology of handshakes sent me off on a train of thought that has kept me rather busy. I found myself asking lots of questions:
If I can make judgements about people based on observing them (without even meeting them), is it fair?
Are my judgements correct?
How easy is it to reframe things?
In this post I’ll be starting to answer these questions.
These are all incredibly important questions to understand from the perspective of developing within the workplace, where we often have absolutely no choice who we work with. If Jade has such piercing blue eyes that she seems “a little creepy” or Matt must be “a bit shifty” because he bleaches his hair it is saying much more about us than it is about them… and yes, there is a particular shade of blue eyes that creeps me out.
In 2006 two researchers – Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov – demonstrated that it only takes 1/10th of a second to form an impression of attractiveness, trustworthiness, competence and aggressiveness. Quite frighteningly, more time doesn’t make a difference – that 1/10th of a second’s impression merely becomes further cemented over the course of the first second.
And in fact, 100ms may be being generous – the same year Bar et al. demonstrated that consistent first impressions were made after 39ms. However, this latter study showed an opportunity for us to breathe a sigh of relief: impressions are not consistent on intelligence: because unlike attractiveness, trustworthiness, competence and aggressiveness, there is no short-term affect on survival from intelligence.
So how does this directly affect our employment? Right from the first job interview (Neuberg, 1989; Dougherty et al., 1994) and in this case the idea of 39ms goes straight out of the window. In fact, merely a read-through of an application form can lead to a first impression being created, which can then affect what happens in the interview room. If a positive first impression has been formed, the interviewed will demonstrate more supportive and positive behaviour, and in fact will ask less questions, a pattern of behaviours that will lead to stronger rapport being built and a “virtuous circle”.
So a lesson for us all there – our application forms and CVs have much longer lasting impact than we’re usually told, but other than making sure our CVs lead to a positive first impression (which, unless you know the person who will read it, is virtually impossible) the solution is difficult, and becomes more a matter of making sure that employers and colleagues get an accurate first impression of you. Fortunately, the CV is not the only tool in your arsenal, and I’ll be discussing the accuracy of first impressions in the next post.
Bar, M., Neta, M., & Linz, H. (2006). Very First Impressions. Emotion, 6 (2), 269-278 DOI: 10.1037/1528-35184.108.40.2069
Dougherty, T., Turban, D., & Callender, J. (1994). Confirming first impressions in the employment interview: A field study of interviewer behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 79 (5), 659-665 DOI: 10.1037/0021-9010.79.5.659
Neuberg, S. (1989). The goal of forming accurate impressions during social interactions: Attenuating the impact of negative expectancies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56 (3), 374-386 DOI: 10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.114
Willis, J., & Todorov, A. (2006). First Impressions: Making Up Your Mind After a 100-Ms Exposure to a Face Psychological Science, 17 (7), 592-598 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01750.x