Should You Trust Your First Impression?

2 minute read


Should you trust your first impression? In my opinion, it depends.

Consider the following cases.

Case A. You’re watching a movie and find that a person sitting next to you is a bit bothering. He laughs, rants, and spoils the whole movie plot. Your first impression probably slants to be negative and all you got is highly immoral information about the person.

The next day you’re walking at a park, it’s raining and you forget to bring an umbrella. There’s a guy offering his umbrella and that’s the same guy you met at the movie theater. Would you update your impression of him?

Case B. You’re asked to judge a soccer player’s skill. One of the most straightforward ways to do that is by counting how many goals are scored by the player. Presume that the player doesn’t score a goal during the first five shots. In this period you might think that this person’s skill should be considered mediocre. However, the player scores a goal on the sixth shot. Would you change your mind about the person’s skill?

To answer the questions from both cases, we need to know that behavioral researchers have identified that there is a consistent pattern included in our impression updating process. This pattern says that people tend to update their impression when encountering less-frequent (out of ordinary) behaviors.

In case A we can see that there are two behaviors shown by the annoying guy, namely:

  • The first one is laughing, ranting, and spoiling the movie. It is something that happens less frequently. In other words, such a behavior is not what most people do at a cinema for the sake of comfort
  • The second one is offering an umbrella. It is something that people would most likely do or something that people would expect anyone to do in such a situation (in this case, rainy)

Meanwhile, in case B there are two different behaviors as well, namely:

  • The first one is not scoring goals during the first five shots. It is something that happens frequently for most of soccer players
  • The second one is scoring a goal finally. It happens less frequently

According to the pattern mentioned previously, most people might change their mind for both case A and case B. The rationale is obvious. In case A, the process of impression updating occurs because of the first behavior (laughing, ranting, and spoiling the movie) which is an out of ordinary behavior. Meanwhile, in case B, it occurs because of the second behavior (scoring a goal) which happens less frequently.

So, back to the first question. Should you trust your first impression? Well, it depends on the behavior category. Is the behavior something that people would commonly do or is it something that out of ordinary?