How long do you have to make that all important first impression?
Research from Harvard and Yale Universities explains exactly how we process information and evaluate it when making first impressions.
Making sense of others and the complex information they present in social interactions is no easy task. Even so, when we encounter someone for the first time we can be quick to decide whether or not we like them. Some research even suggests that people make relatively accurate evaluations of others based on observations of less than half a minute.
In one NYU study, the neuroscience team took brain scans of nineteen volunteers as they were asked to form opinions of fictional characters. The volunteers were shown pictures of mens faces on a computer screen and given six sentences that described a mix of positive and negative aspects of the men’s character. For example, a person may have picked up their roommates post on the way home or told someone they were stupid. After reading all the sentences the subject was asked to rate how much they liked the person in the picture on a scale of one to eight (with eight being the most they could like the person).
The parts of the brain we use when forming a first impression
The team looked at the images from the scans to see which areas of the brain were most active whilst forming their first impressions. The scans revealed that two activated areas of the brain were:
- The amygdala – the almond shaped part of the brain linked to regulating emotion. The amygdala is one of few areas of the brain that receives information from all the senses, enabling it to process subtle social stimuli. It controls and moderates our motivations. Damaged amygdala results in a total loss of fear and an inability to distinguish between harmful and harmless stimuli.
- The posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) – which is active in making financial decisions and assessing the value of objects, choices, make risky decisions, calculate bets and assess the outcomes of situations. It is involved in emotional influence and memory, attention and autobiographical memory as well as being important for spatial memory. People who have a damaged PCC find it difficult to locate where they are or navigate in familiar places.
The super quick score card in your head
Elizabeth Phelps, one of the researchers, commented,
“Even when we only briefly encounter others, brain regions that are important in forming evaluations are engaged, resulting in a quick first impression.”
The team’s research demonstrated that the brain works to sort information on the basis of its personal and subjective importance, summarizing it into an ultimate score which becomes the first impression.
5 tips to create a killer first impression
- Smile and be open. Much of what we first register about a person will be non-verbal. Make sure that you’re relaxed and open when meeting others. You might find it helpful to take a minute to get yourself into the right frame of mind, take a look at Amy Cuddy’s body language research for some great tips.
- Prepare. So we know that first impressions are made with lightning fast judgement. This is the best reason to put some preparation time in, beforehand. What do you already know about the person, their interests, their work or family? Remembering a few details about the person you are going to meet can provide you with some instant opening conversation topics.
- Show a genuine interest. Listen to what the other person is saying and show a genuine interest by giving them your full attention. Focusing on the other person enables you to understand their perspective, it is also affirming and will make them feel heard and acknowledged.
- Make a statement with your clothes. Make sure that your clothes reflect the image you want to portray. Think about where you’ll be meeting and the impression you want to create, whether it’s formal, professional or creative, make sure that your clothes make the right impression.
- Authenticity. Be yourself, when you are authentically you, you are at your most relaxed and find it easier to be receptive to the other person and their needs, rather than concentrating on projecting an image that doesn’t resonate with the real you. Authenticity enables you to make a genuine connection and build rapport with others.
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