Why first impressions are a big deal

First impressions carry the burden of two psychological biases.

The first one is what Daniel Kahneman calls “What You See Is All There Is“. In a famous study, Amos Tversky and Kahneman told participants about Julie, a girl who is precocious and learns to read fluently by the age of four. The volunteers of his experiment used just that piece information to estimate Julie’s graduation GPA at a US state university at 3.7 or 3.8. Now a graduation GPA depends on a host of factors, including the mean value of all graduation GPAs and several of Julie’s life events that have not transpired yet. And yet, when we request our brain for a number, it readily supplies one. It does so by treating the only piece of information we have about Julie as everything there is to her.

You can see how this can easily apply to first impressions. When we have just met somebody, that limited window is everything we have to construct their image. And our brain does that without the slightest hesitation.

The second bias is that of anchoring. Two sets of volunteers were asked to guess the number of African nations are in the United Nations. One of them were asked to guess how much larger or smaller the number was than 10. The other set was asked how many more or less than 60 nations were members.  While the first group guessed about 25 nations on average, the second one, which was primed with 60 nations, guessed about 45. Both groups were anchored to an initial estimate that was supplied to them.

Our brain is an anchoring machine. From the anchored value, every change is an upward or a downward increment depending on subsequent interactions.

Our minds are wired to hold onto first impressions. Moreover, we are driven to believe that this is all there is to that person. These tendencies of our mind disproportionately weight a customer’s first interaction with our brand or our interview performances.

Inspiration: Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

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