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First Impression

Age of Impressionism
‘First Impression’ always has been in talks of people living in towns. Catch phrases like “First impression is the last impression.”, “You never get second chance to make good impression.” and “First impression lasts longer.” are very popular. Appearing in front of somebody at very first time is all about making an (long lasting) impression on its mind. Thus, first meeting is given more weightage to - in both human and animal world.

Most of us always seek opportunities to impress others positively because it has an enormous importance especially for employment, business and courtship. However, most of us mistakenly equate positive impression with good appearance or ‘looks’ only. It’s not the whole truth! You’ll realize same after going through rest of this article. At least, you’ll start looking deep inside a person, apart of how it looks.

As systematically advocated by cosmetic product and cloth manufacturers through TV commercials, brochures, banners, tabloids and magazines; an external appearance has been largely emphasized to make money. We tend to judge a book by its cover but it doesn’t work correctly every time. Hence, warnings are also given like “Never judge any person by its first impression only.”, “Never judge any person by its attire only.”.

Face to face encounters lead to interpersonal evaluation.
Apart of such worthy warnings, first impression takes hold of our unconscious mind and paralyzes logical reasoning most of the time. Even though we can’t deny its importance, most of us cannot explain that what first impression is all about. Can you? Even many professionals from impression and image management business may not explain ‘What first impression exactly is?’ scientifically.

First impression is nothing but quickest evaluation of a person on the basis of trustworthiness i. e. if the person is (or can be) trustworthy. After finding a person trustworthy, we naturally develop likability towards same. First impression is deeply connected with our survival and that’s why most of us can hardly get out of its influence. So let’s see how first impression develops in our mind and why so quickly.

Which person you find as trustworthy?
The moment we watch a stranger at very first time, our brain immediately starts gathering visual clues given away by the same person. Although a lot of processing goes on inside brain but the first impression or evaluation develops without any rational justification, reasoning and calculation. In very less amount of time, brain has to decide that whether the person is favorable or risky for our survival.

Within just few milliseconds, brain figure outs whether the person is positive, neutral or  negative - the different polarities of favorability about the person. Why does it happen so quickly and without any conscious or logical control? If it is done too quickly then there must be some hidden benefits (and also drawbacks) of same. Mental mechanism of an impression is the leftover of ancient neurological processes that helped our ancestors in social survival and we inherit it till date.

Is appearance everything?
What exactly we look out for in other person within just few moments? Our brain derives an impression based upon person’s physical attributes and its body language i. e. eye contact, facial expressions, way of approaching, interpersonal space (distance between the person and ourselves), body posture, body movements, style of walking, attire, speech and the most important - hygiene and tidiness. On the basis of same, we instantly rate the person as Likable (Positive), Okay/‘So-so’ (Neutral) or Not Likable (Negative).

Hence it is really important to understand that ‘looks’ or an external appearance is one of the essential factors of quick evaluation or first impression. Why body language plays a crucial role because it conveys aspects that attire and appearance simply can’t. Body language conveys emotions, intentions, complexes, orientation, favorability, vulnerability and confidence of a person. What would be your first evaluation of a good-looking person who gets hostile at you in very first meeting?

Deal or No-deal?
During our long evolutionary history, it was really crucial for everybody to pick a  favorable person over an unfavorable one. If somebody picks an unfavorable person by mistake, it would cost the first person too much. Perhaps, an unfavorable person would pose harm to or even become a cause death of the person who chooses it. The very moment we come across a person, especially with whom we’re meeting at very first time, is determinant of our destiny i. e. our survival, progress and prosperity.

If the person turns out to be positive, trustworthy and friendly; it would ensure and even multiply chances of our survival. The association could be mutually beneficial and both parties could remain in good spirit with each other in future. On the other hand, if some person turns out to be negative, fake, unpredictable and unfriendly person could pose harm tor us by multiple terms. In demanding situations, fractions of second could make a difference between life and death.

Negative Impression = Aversion
Even though it turns of to be wrong sometimes, our brain makes snap judgement about the person we’re looking at. It happens quickly because we might not know exactly when perceptibly adverse person could pose harm to us. Hence our brain creates strong sense of disliking about the person so that we keep safe distance from same and avoid further interactions. Positive evaluation done by our brain encourages us to keep interacting with the person.

However, an instantaneous impression works like a double-edged sword in human society. Why? An external appearance is alterable or can be deceptive in human world. Thus an impression which is inconsistent with one's external appearance can negatively affect both parties i. e. one who evaluates and other which is being evaluated. All of us might have experienced same in our lives. Hence this grave issue led me to think deeply over the origin of connection between an external appearance and instantaneous evaluation or ‘first impression’.

Impression is an evaluation.
Before writing a hypothesis about the evolution of first impression in first interpersonal encounter, I had to visualize a lot  about the conditions and circumstances through which our ancestors used to go while trying to survive in pre-historic world millions of years ago. The hypothesis has been entered in Wikipedia and also its draft has been forwarded to many researchers from eminent universities and institutions to validate. It would turn into a theory in near future.

Entry in Wikipedia (URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_impression_%28psychology%29#Evolutionary_Basis)
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