Many of you have asked me why I chose the name “First Impressions” for this blog.
I was considering “My Spot in the Sun” because this space would focus on my thoughts; “Rambling Thoughts of a Restless Mind” because some times that’s what I end up writing about — and y’all know how restless my questioning mind gets; or my full name because it would have been simple enough.
But none of them seemed to fit.
Even though I didn’t have any particular structure in mind when I started this blog, I knew I’d be writing about my observations of daily life, asking a lot of questions, and sharing my ponderances.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much weight I give to first impressions — of places, people, cuisines, cultures, commodities … just about everything touching my daily life.
I judge things based on my first impression of them — not lasting judgments, but certainly quick assessments that lay the groundwork for more deliberate analyses.
In thinking about calling this blog “First Impressions,” I increasingly became cognizant of my behavior: I did not “waste” time on websites that weren’t clearly organized or had too many ads; I was wary of trying out anything that looked distinctly unfamiliar on a menu; I attached adjectives to strangers dressed a certain way; I determined whether or not talk to someone based on their observed mannerisms.
Essentially, I made up my mind about many things in the first 10-20 seconds’ exposure to them.
And I was not alone.
Everyone, no matter how inclusive or non-judgmental they claim to be, takes stock of a situation or person in the first few seconds and arrives at some conclusion.
It doesn’t matter whether the first impression becomes the last one or prompts further investigation — the fact is that all of us size up our environment and those in it rather instantly.
Intrigued by my own — and our society’s collective behavior, I did some Googling.
Turns out that two Princeton psychologists conducted a study in 2006 that revealed that “all it takes is a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face, and that longer exposures don’t significantly alter those impressions (although they might boost your confidence in your judgments).”
Did you read that?
We form our opinion of people within one-tenth of a second … sometimes taking as long as one entire second.
If you do a simple online search, you’ll find many researchers over the years have done various experiments to show, without doubt, how crucial the first few seconds are in any encounter. Here is an excerpt from Malcom Gladwell’s piece in the New Yorker‘s May 2000 edition:
Some years ago, an experimental psychologist at Harvard University, Nalini Ambady, together with Robert Rosenthal, set out to examine the nonverbal aspects of good teaching. As the basis of her research, she used videotapes of teaching fellows which had been made during a training program at Harvard. Her plan was to have outside observers look at the tapes with the sound off and rate the effectiveness of the teachers by their expressions and physical cues. Ambady wanted to have at least a minute of film to work with. When she looked at the tapes, though, there was really only about ten seconds when the teachers were shown apart from the students. “I didn’t want students in the frame, because obviously it would bias the ratings,” Ambady says. “So I went to my adviser, and I said, ‘This isn’t going to work.’”
But it did. The observers, presented with a ten-second silent video clip, had no difficulty rating the teachers on a fifteen- item checklist of personality traits. In fact, when Ambady cut the clips back to five seconds, the ratings were the same. They were even the same when she showed her raters just two seconds of videotape. That sounds unbelievable unless you actually watch Ambady’s teacher clips, as I did, and realize that the eight seconds that distinguish the longest clips from the shortest are superfluous: anything beyond the first flash of insight is unnecessary. When we make a snap judgment, it is made in a snap. It’s also, very clearly, a judgment:we get a feeling that we have no difficulty articulating.
Ambady’s next step led to an even more remarkable conclusion. She compared those snap judgments of teacher effectiveness with evaluations made, after a full semester of classes, by students of the same teachers. The correlation between the two, she found, was astoundingly high. A person watching a two-second silent video clip of a teacher he has never met will reach conclusions about how good that teacher is that are very similar to those of a student who sits in the teacher’s class for an entire semester.
The conclusion? As Gladwell aptly puts it: human beings don’t need to know someone in order to believe that they know someone.
Surely, you have a certain impression of me — the writer and the person — as you peruse through this blog.
Every blog post, in isolation, creates that first impression on those stumbling upon it from a search engine or blogroll.
The blog on the whole, though, will probably present a more complete picture and some insights into the workings of my mind.
So, the title serves as a reminder of our inherent prejudices — and, by extension, also cautions us against them.
I use this space to expand on my thoughts, engage all of you in my transcendental questions, and allow for some honest discussions.
And hopefully, together we can go on a journey that expands our horizons beyond first impressions.