How accurate are our first impressions?

Ever wonder what your other classmates or associates think about you?  Do you think first impressions can be accurate?  The scary truth: first impressions, especially in college settings, can not only represent accurately the traits of a person, but represent them precisely.

A study conducted by Warren Norman and Lou Goldberg in 1966 demonstrates this fact.  College students were asked to rate their classmates’ personalities on the first day of class, before students got a chance to know each other.  Also, students were asked to self-assess their own personalities.

Two surprising findings resulted from this relatively simple study:

  1. Classmates tended to agree on certain characteristics that they thought another classmate had.  For example, if John rated Carl as dependable, trustworthy, and extroverted, frequently other classmates would judge Carl in a similar manner.  Almost everyone in the class wrote down that they thought Carl to be dependable and extroverted, even though they had no communication with Carl or each other.
  2. Student’s assessments of each other often lined up with student’s self-assessments.  This means that classmates were able to describe other classmates with the traits they used to describe themselves.  For example, if John rated himself as “extremely energetic” or “content”, Carl and Robbie are likely to assess John in a similar manner.

The ramifications of this study are profound.  Just how good are we at reading into people’s personalities?  Can we really get to know a person from a simple glance?  What subtle communications take place before we even open our mouths?  What do we look for to judge personality characteristics?

Regardless, making a good first impression might be more important than any of us thought.

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2 thoughts on “How accurate are our first impressions?

  1. whether or not a first impression is accurate depends on the insight and intelligence of the judge and the actions of who is being judged, based on the ridiculous variability of human life that we all exhibit i think this is a pretty tough question to answer

    also i dont get how you could have a first impression of somebody and say they were dependable, dependability implies that youve spent a long time with the person, right?

    • Obviously there are limitations here. Whether or not these people are actually dependable is out of the question. What the study is getting at is what people can Guess or Assume about a person just from what they see. These perceptions might be right or wrong, but you could still make them from simple observations. In fact, this study shows that people do in fact make these judgments rather quickly.

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