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November 23, 2014

First Impression and Body Language

Age of Impressionism
The ‘First Impression’ always has been in talks of people living in towns and cities. 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 and frequently used all over the word. Grooming and Image Management schools and institutes have cropped up.

Appearing in front of somebody at very first time is all about making an (long lasting) impression on the individual's mind. Thus, first meeting or encounter is given crucial importance to, in both human and animal world. It's all comes down to determining the potential outcome upon showing up.

Most of us always seek opportunities to impress others positively because it has an enormous importance especially in employment, politics, business and courtship. However, most of us mistakenly equate a positive impression with good appearance, exterior or ‘looks’ only. It’s not the whole truth because looks are or can be deceptive. You’ll realize the same after going through rest of this article. At least, you’ll start looking deep inside an individual, apart of its 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 individual by its first impression only.”, “Never judge any individual 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 our 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 grooming and image management schools and institutes may not be able to explain ‘What first impression exactly is?’ scientifically.

First impression is nothing but the quickest unconscious or involunteer evaluation of an individual on the basis of trustworthiness i. e. if the individual is (or can be) trustworthy or not. After finding an individual trustworthy, we naturally develop likability towards the same individual and make ourselves comfortable with or express level of comfort.

First impression is deeply connected with our own survival and that’s why most of us can hardly get out of its influence because we just can't escape from forming impressions of the individuals we face, let the encounter be an accidental one. So let’s see how first impression develops in our mind and why so quickly.

Which individual you find as trustworthy?

The very moment we watch or look at a (complete) stranger at first time, our brain immediately starts gathering visual clues given away by the same individual. Our vision collects a wide spectrum of clues that we don't realize consciously. In very short amount of time, brain has to decide that whether the individual is favorable or risky for our survival.

Within just a few milliseconds, brain figure outs whether the individual is positive, neutral or negative i. e. the different polarities of favorability about the individual. Why does it happen so quickly and without any conscious or logical control? If it is done so quickly then there must be some hidden benefits (and also drawbacks) of same.

Mental mechanism of impression formation is the leftover of ancient neurological processes that helped our ancestors in surviving during social situations and we inherit the same till date. Although a lot of processing goes on inside our brain but the first impression forms without our conscious justification, reasoning and calculation.

Is appearance everything?
What exactly we look out for in other individual within just few moments? Our brain derives an impression based upon an individual’s physical attributes and its body language i. e. eye contact, facial expressions, way of approaching, interpersonal space (distance between two individuals), body posture, body movements, style of walking, attire, speech and the most importantly hygiene and tidiness.

On the basis of the same, we instantly judge or rate the individual as Likable (Positive), Okay (Neutral) or Not Likable (Negative). We just can't escape from such evaluation because it has greatly helped our ancestors in creating and avoiding connections with the individuals they faced.

Why body language plays a crucial role because it conveys aspects, signal and clues that attire and appearance simply can’t. Hence it is really important to understand that ‘looks’ or an external appearance is one of the essential factors of quick evaluation and a positive first impression. Body language conveys emotions, intentions, motivations, orientation, favorability, vulnerability, formidability and confidence of an individual.

Deal or No-deal?
During our long evolutionary history, it was really crucial for our ancestors to pick a favorable individual over an unfavorable one. If somebody picks an unfavorable individual by mistake, it would cost the first individual too much. Perhaps, an unfavorable individual could pose harm to or even become a cause of death.

The very moment we come across any individual, especially with whom we’re meeting or facing at very first time, is determinant of our future. If the individual 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 the same individual turns out to be negative, fake, unpredictable and unfriendly; the individual could pose harm to us in many ways which we might not be able to imagine and think about while looking at the individual. In stressful, uncertain and chaotic situations; fractions of a second could make a great difference between life and death.

Negative Impression = Aversion
Even though it turns out to be completely wrong sometimes, our brain makes snap judgement about the individual we’re looking at very first time. It happens quickly because we might not know exactly when perceptibly negative or unfavorable individual could pose harm to us.

Hence our brain creates strong sense of disliking about the individual so that we keep safe distance from the same and avoid further interactions. On the other hand, positive evaluation or judgement done by our brain encourages us to keep interacting with the individual.

However, an impression or instantaneous evaluation works like a double-edged sword in the human society. Why? An external appearance is alterable and/or can be deceptive. Thus later assessment and realization which turn out to be inconsistent with one's external appearance can and do negatively affect both parties i. e. one who evaluates and other which is being evaluated.

According to William Shakespeare, All that glitters is not Gold. Almost everybody of us might have (repeatedly) experienced the same in our lives. Hence this grave issue led me to figure out the origin of connection between an external appearance and instantaneous threat evaluation or the ‘first impression. Only brain-storming, visualization and contemplation over days helped me in doing same.

Impression is an evaluation.
Before writing a hypothesis about the evolution of impression formation process during the 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 verify and validate. It might turn into a theory in near future.

Removed from Wikipedia English but presently exist in Wikipedia German

Related Articles:
1) Face to Face 2) Confident Body Language


  1. Nicely done Sachchidanand. There is significant suggestion in the ancient Sanskrit as well (e.g. the Panchatantra), in Freud's manifest/latent self theories and the etymology of language, and even the visible spectrum (which coincides with water's permeability of light). When young, I came upon a "motorcycle gang" when alone, worrying about the situation...they turned out to be kind and considerate. First impressions often keep us in the dark I guess. Being informed is key, and hospitality of regard offers a much better chance to see who others truly are, than inference is.

    1. My hypothesis is all about crediting 'First Impression' for survival of primaeval creatures (with smaller/less complex brains and preliminary vision) from which most of the creatures evolved. However, reliability of 'First Impression' is questionable in society of humans who have large-sized and complex brains.


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