Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Naive ideas about first impressions (censored comment)

with one comment

In November, I commented upon a post titled You Call That a Handshake?e, where the author expressed the opinion “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I can always rely on my first impression of a person within minutes of meeting them…and it starts with their handshake.”.

The comment I submitted (censored) was roughly that anyone who made that claim either had superhuman powers, lied, or was highly naive—and I stand by that comment. The censorship is a good example of the distortion of debate that I have discussed earlier.

To expound a little on why this opinion is naive (or a lie; I do not believe the author had superhuman powers):

  1. First impressions are often highly misleading, and anyone claiming to “always” being able to rely on them is wrong. Consider e.g. meeting someone for the first time after he had a good night’s sleep respectively was kept up all night by a crying baby, just received a promotion respectively was fired, is in top shape respectively suffers from a migraine, …

  2. Not everyone sends the same signals and there is no realistic way to reliably take such differences into consideration within a few minutes. Compare the baselines of an Italian and a Swede, an extravert and an introvert, an NT and an aspie, … Even variations in age and occupation can make a difference in appropriate interpretation. Indeed, I have myself often had the problem that people entirely misjudge who I am, what I want in a certain situation, or similar, because my baseline and my typical external reactions simply are different from most others’.

  3. There are many who have deliberately worked on the first impression they give, in order to mislead others about who they are: “Honest Harry” should not be taken at face value. Even among those who do not deliberately try to mislead, there is a strong correlation between experience with/knowledge of first impressions and the quality of the impression given.

Finally, in my experience, those who think that they are good at judging character are actually often poor at it… (Including being led astray by good actors; never bothering to check that the judgment was actually correct; and interpreting later events to fit the judgment, rather than letting the later events refine the it.)


Written by michaeleriksson

March 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm

One Response

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  1. Good post. I agree wholeheartedly that people are often mistaken in placing so much faith in their assessment of first impressions. I hear people say that sort of thing all the time, and people tend to give me a hard time for not being a quicker judge of character. But I tell them that I’ve learned people who initially create a sense of strong dislike have wound up becoming my close friends eventually, and likewise vice versa.

    Being an extrovert compelled to go out and meet people, I’ve met countless “actors” who work diligently at creating a false impression to others, sometimes because the person is a criminal, sometimes just a demented player. One thing I’ve been repeating to myself in recent times is that I must learn to cease placing so much straightforward value in what people say, because people so often lie and deceive. Sometimes it’s unintentional and due to them not knowing what they want or need, usually a result of inadequate introspection and a great emphasis on playing a part.

    People aren’t so easy to figure out, that’s for sure.


    March 6, 2011 at 10:17 pm

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