Upon meeting someone new, in just one tenth of a second your brain will scan that person for hundreds of different attributes that will ultimately form a portion of your first impression of that person. Some of these attributes are easily recognized; for example gender, race, cleanliness, body shape, and age. Other attributes are considerably more subjective, trustworthiness, confidence, attractiveness, health, and even intention (Reiman, 2008). Our mind goes through this process before the person you are meeting has said a word for one reason; we are trying to determine how this person can help meet our needs.
Of course first impressions are made up of more than just the initial sight of a new person, they also include the style and content of communication, body language, and of course the future relationship between the people involved. According to Maslow’s (1970) theory of human needs, meeting our needs, basic and meta, is the driver of our behaviors. If Maslow is correct, it is understandable that the first thing we do upon meeting a new person is to evaluate how likely they are to help us meet our needs. Because meeting our common human needs is one of the most powerfully motivating factors influencing human nature, and thus human behavior, the importance of first impressions becomes clear. A first impression of a person, right or wrong, can tell us many things; all of these things, at the most basic level, lead back to meeting on of our needs. When we meet a new person we evaluate everything from “is this person a danger” or “will this person be a friend of mine” relating to our basic need for safety; to “can this person teach me something” or “can this person help me move ahead in life,” relevant to our metaneeds (Maslow, 1970).
The two scenarios describing John portray a man who seems to have two very different motivations. And while only reading the descriptions of John cannot tell the entire story, like many first impressions, the description is of what is visible and therefore enough information for humans to make a judgment on. In the first scenario describing John, he initially seems like a man who is very confident in himself. John carries himself in a way that displays his confidence, whether it is walking directly in the sun, easily talking with several acquaintances or even his apparent lack of concern about getting back to his office in a quick timeframe. The introverted description of John paints a starkly different picture. In this description, John does not portray the image of confidence to nearly the extent as the extroverted description. And while John does not portray confidence, he does not come across as someone who is shy or timid, but rather as someone who would prefer to be left alone. As an introvert, John may be walking in the shadows to avoid being noticed so as not to be stopped; he may be drinking alone for some time to himself, even though he knows several people in the bar.