We have all been taught that a book should not be judged by its cover. In theory, this makes perfect sense. However, in reality, this is not practical and is very difficult at best.
First impressions, regardless of how minute or seemingly insignificant the encounter may be perceived as, can play a huge part in determining the actions of others. A first impression is everlasting and has the influential ability to “make or break” a situation regardless of whether or not the perceived notion is accurate. OrganizedKhaos (2009) suggested that “this cognitive tendency affects our lives in numerous ways and goes unnoticed a large majority of the time (para. 6).
First impressions are developed almost instantaneously and unconsciously. Winerman (2005) stated “people often judge each other on immediate intuitions. We make split-second judgments of strangers all the time” (p. 54). Within seconds of encountering a stranger, we have the uncanny ability to take in and decipher their posture, eye gaze, tone of voice, body position, gestures, and facial expressions. This results in our split-second judgment about what kind of person this individual is. This, in turn, becomes a first impression or “gut instinct”.
As minimal an exposure time as a tenth of a second is sufficient for people to make a specific inference from facial appearance is the claim of Willis and Todorov (2006). Once this first impression has been made, it is ingrained into our minds and is not easily overcome. Judgments are already anchored on the initial inference.
In determining the extent to which these fleeting moments of judgment impact our lives is difficult, as rarely does one openly admit to what their first impression is of someone they have just encountered. When we pass judgment on a person that that we have, take for instance, just observed in passing, will our assumptions of them, whether positive or negative, really affect their life in any significant way? The answer is, probably not.
On a deeper scale, if we are introduced to a person face-to-face, and our instant perception of them is unfavorable, this could result in us missing out on a possibly very influential person in our lives. Odds are that if our first impression of someone is unfavorable, that impression acts as a brand and there is little the judged can do to overturn our prior judgment against them. It is apparent that one’s first impressions of another affects their successive interactions and that one’s expectations influence another’s behavior. (Clifford & Walster, 1973)
The idea that something so small as a fleeting moment of intuition can affect major decisions as well as the way we interact with people in our lives and this leaves room for lots of issues. This could result in a corporate headhunter misjudging a potentially invaluable recruit, or a chance encounter with the person that could easily be the love of our life being obliterated by a faulty perception.