DK Lee sociology Research Paper

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“It's the first impression and will either open the door or close it.” A first impression,
which is making evaluations based on observations in less than thirty seconds, give
impressions about an individual even before talking to them. Good impressions can be
difficult in cases where the first impression is a bad one. Most times in any interviews such as
in businesses and colleges, first impressions can be extremely important in the final results of
acceptance or denial. From personal studies backed by scholarly research, not only has first
impressions created profiles about the person that may not necessarily be accurate, but shown
to be difficult to change.
A personal research experiment, which was started on May 7, showed that first
impressions form tremendous differences in behaviors of when the individual changes their
outfit. The experiment was performed in Seoul subways every weekend with a student of age
seventeen wearing headphones with different clothes each weekend while sitting down on a
seat in the afternoon of time period two pm to six pm. While the student wore a hoodie and
ripped jeans in the first week with large headphones, the same student the next week in the
same time period wore jeans with a short sleeved shirt. The question was whether the student
would be asked to turn off loud rock music from the headphones from nearby passengers due
to their first impression of the student wearing different clothes. It was hypothesized that the
student would be asked more when wearing the clothes of a “purer” image with just jeans and
a short-sleeved shirt, while passengers may have just moved or ignored the student with a
crouching posture, covering the face, and wearing a hoodie with ripped jeans.
The results supported the hypothesis with the student wearing more “approachable”
clothes being asked to lower the music volume 65% more than the student wearing the
hoodie with ripped jeans from a study done to sixty passengers. This showed that the first
impression due to the appearance made an impact of decisions done by the public on the
subway, and conclusively the public formed different first impressions about the student. In
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the case of the student wearing nothing to reveal his face, the first impression as told by
public interviewees, “diligent at studying” and “responsible.” On the other hand, the same
student when wearing ripped jeans with a hoodie to cover his face had shown various first
impressions by the public where some stated they believed he was “dangerous” and “lacking
proper care by his parents.” The public formed different images of the student that did not
necessarily reflect the student’s original behavior. This shows that first impressions can be
misleading in the public forming haste opinions based on their impressions of the student.
This personal experiment in the subway would have many flaws such as a data sample
being too small and the case of different events that may have occurred during the day. It may
have been too simple of an experiment to specifically say that first impression had been the
main factor in telling the student to turn down the music. But since it showed very similar to
many different experiments by researchers, the personal experiment was able to show at least
the trend, with first impressions leaving different actions and therefore inaccurate predictions
of people’s personalities.
These results were only complementary to first impressions of outfits, but have shown
to be also true in almost any other case such as posture, voice, hand motions, facial
expressions, and even hairstyles. Scholars also supported this result from research in various
universities such as NYU and Tufts. Researchers designed an experiment showing the brain
activity when the participants formed evaluations on different individuals given twenty
written profiles of around twenty individuals with different traits. The profiles with pictures
showed scenarios that indicated whether the individuals would show positive or negative
traits in their depictions. During the impression formation period of only a few seconds, the
participants’ brain activity was observed using an fMRI or functional magnetic resonance
imaging. From the participants’ brain activities, the researchers were able to determine
whether certain information was important in the formation of first impressions and whether
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they liked or disliked the specific profiles of the individuals. 1First impressions have shown
to create a like or a dislike in a person. Depending on the degree and the various other
evaluations, people form first impressions that lead to what actions they would like to take.
First impressions may not always be the “correct” impression of people. As studies
have shown from research in subways and from professors of universities such as NYU, first
impressions have sometimes tended to show rash behavior and perceived certain people to
have very different personalities from what they would actually have. In many cases, first
impressions are sometimes moderately accurate at predicting a few personality dimensions
based on the small about of information, but many times wrong in cases of the people’s
extraversion or openness.2 Although some may be confident in their judgments, it did not
signal that they could actually make those good predictions. This is stating that people need
to be cautions with their first impressions, as it really does take some time to know people
and since first impressions are often flawed. First impressions have shown to even create selffulfilling prophecies meaning that first impressions can affect how one treats others, leading
to also different behaviors by those who react to them.
Had first impressions always been good, many human relationships may have ended
up with a better picture. First impressions having a profound influence on the future course of
relationships is what many researchers such as Artemio Ramirez Jr. called “predicted
outcome value theory.” 3There also showed a more “literal” truth to the saying “you never get
a second change to make a first impression,” suggests many researchers. An psychologist
named Bertram Gawronski stated an example,
“Scientists Identify Neural Circuitry of First Impressions,” Science Daily, March 13, 2009,
Art Markman. “We just met, but I feel like I know you. Do I?” Ulterior Motives,
Ravi Thilaka."First Impression," Medindia - Medical/Health Website.
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“"Imagine you have a new colleague at work and your impression of that person is not
very favorable. A few weeks later, you meet your colleague at a party and you realize he is
actually a very nice guy. Although you know your first impression was wrong, your gut
response to your new colleague will be influenced by your new experience only in contexts
that are similar to the party. However, your first impression will still dominate in all other
contexts." 4
According to Gawronski, the human brain has the first impression as an important
factor in the impressions later, even when he or she may think it is wrong. In order to prove
this and find out the persistence of first impressions, Gawronski and many other researchers
showed test participants either positive or negative information about an individual on a
computer screen. Then the researchers changed the background color of the computer screen
while the participants were given positive or negative information and created impressions
about the random person. To their surprise, they found new information had an impact on the
participants’ evaluations about the random person only when the person was presented
against the background is where the new information was learned. Otherwise, the
participants’ reactions were still dominant to the older or first information when the random
person was presented against other backgrounds.5 This study showed that first impressions
were very persistent even when they were taught new information with different
Also, a study of US medical students evaluating professors in 2010 supported the
notion that first impressions do last. The author of the research named John A McNulty of
Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine asked around 144 medical students to
evaluate sixteen professors who lectured during a physiology course. Students were told to
Rick Nauert, “Why First Impressions are Difficult to Change: Study,” Sott, January 19,
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evaluate the professor during the course or after the course, and were allowed to change their
minds before finalizing their opinions at the end of the course. In the end, only three percent
of the evaluations were not revised before being finalized. As one researcher stated,
“Students tended not to change their scores and comments, regardless of the time they
submitted their evaluations. Hence first impressions appear to be very important.” 6
Both this study and the one before showed first impressions do tend to stick with
people for a long time. Though both had some fallacies such as asking biased questions and
creating situations that may have supported a certain idea, these two studies showed
tremendous examples of how long first impressions can last. Although there are sometimes
events that promote change in thought of another’s personality or trait, first impression tend
to always come into mind and play a significant role in the evaluation.
Although it may be difficult to change first impressions, studies have shown that first
impressions can change. As Gawronski notes, "What is necessary is for the first impression to
be challenged in multiple different contexts. In that case, new experiences become
decontextualized and the first impression will slowly lose its power,"7 With enough new
experiences going against the first impression, first impression can slowly change and form a
different general impression. New contexts need to be experienced and challenge the first
impression; otherwise, first impression will dominate the new experiences. For example, a
student forms a first impression of a waitress to be lazy and irresponsible after the student
sees the waitress calling someone on the phone during her work hour. In order for the student
to change his or her first impression, he or she needs to see the waitress behaving differently
in a different context or place. Maybe outside of work, such as school where the waitress is
behaving responsibly in class may change the student’s first impression of her. It cannot just
be a single experience, but multiple new experiences that “become decontextualized,” and
“Study: First impression has lasting impact,” UPI, December 11, 2010.
Nauert, “Why First Impressions are Difficult to Change: Study.”
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force the first impression to slowly lose its power. After a period of time, the first impression
will be altered and replaced with new impressions.
Although first impressions have been proven to show a wrong image by many
researchers, other studies argue against this and show that they may correctly somewhat
predict people’s personalities. This was shown by the study about “thin slices” of behavior.
The study showed correlation between the first impressions made in the first thirty seconds
and a semester long class from the same teachers. The study was done with nine female
undergraduates who were shown just thirty seconds of videotape without sound of thirteen
different instructors. For each of the instructors, the undergraduates were shown ten seconds
of the instructors teaching at the beginning, middle, and end of class. From the thirty seconds
total, the nine female undergraduate university students were told to rate the thirteen
instructors of fifteen adjectives or dimensions such as professional, honest, and confident.
After that, the researchers linked these “thin slices” with evaluations and dimensions given by
those who took semester long courses of the same thirteen teachers. The correlation was .76
from the fifteen dimensions from those who made first impressions and those who took
classes for a whole semester. This showed that the thirty second “thin slices” were extremely
similar to what students concluded from spending a whole semester with the professors.
Some first impression dimensions were somewhat shocking as they correlated a bit higher;
such as confident, dominant, and optimistic which were on the level of around .8. 8These
traits, which can be said to be tremendously difficult from thirty seconds, were proven to also
be true with those who took a course for a semester with the professor.
These results may show two things: first impressions make lasting impacts on future
evaluations of certain people, and/or first impressions are generally accurate with the general
population. Due to Harvard University students needing to also have to impress many people
Nalini Ambady, Robert Rosenthal, "Half a minute: Predicting teacher evaluations from thin slices of
nonverbal behavior and physical attractiveness," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 64, no. 3 (1993):
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and often hold diverse leadership positions, they may have had a better chance at reading
emotional cues. While the study is from Harvard University, which has many similarities to
other prestigious colleges such as Princeton and Stanford, it does not predict the accuracy of
first impressions of the general population. As the study was limited to those who had
experience with impressing others in many situations in their lives, it does not accurately
represent the population to having accurate first impressions. The main fallacy with this
research could have been that participants were able to choose personalities that were simple
and that could relate to almost any professor such as confident and dominant. Also due to the
student participants having the knowledge that they were to predict the personalities of
professors, they may have actually selected certain traits that all professors may have due to
the common conception of professor attitudes and personalities. While this research has
shown to be valuable showing that first impressions can sometimes predict people’s
personalities quite well, most times, first impressions are fallacious and misleading.
All in all, first impressions showed to make lasting impacts behaviors and attitudes on
the individual. In all parts of society such as school, business, or even buying drinks at a café,
first impression plays significant roles in offering images of people, whether it is actually true
or not of people’s real traits. People need to be aware that first impressions may truly be
false and show false representations of certain people. First impressions can have lasting
effects on certain individuals that may last a lengthy period of time and even sometimes,
these first impressions may change when there are new experiences in multiple different
Ambady, Nalini, and Robert Rosenthal. "Half a minute: Predicting teacher evaluations from
thin slices of nonverbal behavior and physical attractiveness." Journal of Personality
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and Social Psychology 64, no. 3 (1993): 440-448.
Nauret, Nick. “Why First Impressions are Difficult to Change: Study,” Sott, January 19,
Markman, Art. “We just met, but I feel like I know you. Do I?” Ulterior Motives,
“Scientists Identify Neural Circuitry of First Impressions,” Science Daily, March 13, 2009,
“Study: First impression has lasting impact,” UPI, December 11, 2010.
Thilaka, Ravi . "First Impression." Medindia - Medical/Health Website.