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First+impressions+are+important%2C+but+shouldn%E2%80%99t+be+defining

Graphic by Kripa Mayureshwar

First impressions are important, but shouldn’t be defining

Assessing the significance of split-second assumptions on our perceptions of people

It takes roughly seven seconds for people to form fully-fledged impressions of others, and even less to begin forming judgments about qualities like trustworthiness and attractiveness. A simple Google search for “how to make a good first impression” yields thousands of results, reflecting the significance of the first impressions we form.

And first impressions are important — they can determine the likelihood of getting a job after an interview, help us make friends and, in the context of business, help with networking and making money. For teenagers, first impressions are especially influential — they’re seen as a segue to a social life and a foundation for others’ opinions of us, which is something that is hard to change after an initial interaction. 

However, despite the emphasis placed on making a good first impression, the reality is that the majority of factors which go into forming first impressions are out of our control. Seven seconds is not nearly enough time to make an accurate judgement of someone’s character, emphasizing how first impressions are predominantly reliant on one of our predetermined features — our appearance.

To make a good impression, it is recommended that you dress well, be confident, be polite, be attentive and smile, whether it be the first or 100th time meeting someone. But first impressions mostly draw from someone’s outward appearance, which, concerning face and body structure and skin color, largely cannot be changed. However, outward appearance also involves things that can be modified, like hairstyle, makeup and clothing. Something as simple as wearing jeans instead of sweatpants can affect how you are perceived, as sweatpants can be associated with laziness. Our brains perceive attractive people as “good” and they are automatically associated with more positive traits compared to less conventionally attractive people. 

We cannot change our brains’ tendencies to make assumptions about people at first glance, but we can make an effort to be more conscious about the fact that many of these assumptions are rooted in what we gauge from our first glimpse at someone, which is an unfair way to judge their character.

Graphic by Kripa Mayureshwar

As high school students, we are at an age where other people’s opinions about us hold a lot of value. We meet new students and teachers every day — it’s only natural to care about how they view us.

Following the widespread usage of masks during the pandemic, the term “maskfishing” has also been coined. This word essentially means that someone is “catfishing” — pretending to be someone else online, often an attractive person — but with a mask, or in other terms, they look different without a mask so their appearance with a mask misleads people to think that they are more attractive than they actually are. At school, we see so many new faces every day —  although it can be easy to judge someone and create a mental picture of people from only the top of their face exposed, it is important to not create unrealistic standards or jump to conclusions about people from something as minute as this. 

We should be aware of how our prejudices affect the ways in which we view other people and also acknowledge that other people have implicit biases that affect the way they view us. It is important to be confident in ourselves since we know that first impressions are likely inaccurate representations of our true selves, but that doesn’t mean we should dismiss first impressions entirely. 

In job interviews and professional relationships, doing what you can to make a good impression is valuable because the time you have with the other person is likely limited, but important to your future. And even in potentially casual relationships, making a good impression can be a segue into making a stronger, more meaningful connection.  

While it is important to put your best foot forward and to try and make positive first impressions, accepting that first impressions are largely based on superficial qualities and focusing instead on building relationships that aren’t reliant on a split second assumption is crucial to forming genuine connections. 

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