First Impressions Really Do Matter

You never get a second chance to make a first impression — and if it's a bad impression, it might take a long time to make up for it. A new study found that people are less likely to change their opinion of someone from "bad" to "good" than they are to decide someone they think is good might actually be bad. In other words, once someone thinks ill of you, it's pretty hard to make them change their mind.

In a new study from the University of Chicago, researchers asked participants to read scenarios in which people started behaving uncharacteristically. Sometimes a normally neutral person started to exhibit more negative traits; other times they would start to exhibit more positive or pro-social traits. Participants were then asked how long the new behavior would go on before they considered the person themselves to be a "good" or "bad" person, as opposed to considering the new behavior a fluke or a phase. And they found that people were much more quick to re-define someone based on bad behavior than they were based on good behavior.

In other words, leaving a bad impression has a lasting impact. And leaving a good impression isn't as enduring as we all like to believe.

The researchers in this study refer to this process of evaluating someone's character as the "moral tipping point" — the moment when we decide someone is good or bad, kind or cruel, positive or negative. And the research suggests that once we've made up our minds about someone — once they've passed the moral tipping point in our estimation — it's hard to change our minds.

So what does this mean? Well, given how quickly human beings form first impressions, it's not great. After all, no one is perfect all the time, so if you catch someone on a bad day or a low moment it could forever taint your understanding of them. And this implies that people aren't really willing to give other people a second chance.

Which is kind of mean of us, when you think about it. We should all judge ourselves harshly for that.

Or, you know, we could just be a little more accepting of the fact that people are human, and labelling each other as categorically good or bad is not only unfair, but is never going to allow for an accurate understanding of who they are. Just a thought.

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