Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Curse of First Impressions

As soon as I meet someone, my brain goes to work trying to put that person in a box. 

Is this someone I “like” or “don’t like”? Are they “friendly”? Are they “funny”? Maybe instead they’re “mean” or “aloof.”

When I do this, I do myself a great disservice. It’s not that this is bad—it’s simply how the brain works, trying to make sense of the world.

But as soon as my brain puts someone in a category, it’s very difficult to pull them out of it. If I have a good impression, it takes a lot of evidence to move them to the other side of the ledger. And if I have a bad first impression, look out.

You might not think you do this. I didn’t. I could come up with examples where my impression changed. But almost always when it changed, it changed back later on. Back to my first impression. This is called “confirmation bias” and studies have proven it over and over. We do this for people, animals, furniture, weather, really everything in our world.

When we form an opinion (which we do, rather quickly), we seek evidence to confirm that opinion.

And we no longer have an open mind.

I try so hard not to do this. To instead be open to other people no matter what is happening. Because everyone has a bit of everything, right? The selfless and the selfish? Mean and kind? Serious and silly? 

And to see both is to see people in their full complexity and beauty. Not as boxes or categories or items on a checklist.


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