|The Persistence of First Impressions|
|Living - Relationships|
|TS-Si News Service|
|Sunday, 23 January 2011 03:00|
London, Ontario, Canada. New experiences that contradict a first impression become bound to the context in which they were made. As a result, the new experiences influence people's reactions only in that particular context, whereas first impressions still dominate in other contexts, indicates new experimental findings.
It appears you never do get a second chance at making a first impression.
The research by a team of psychologists from Canada, Belgium, and the United States, appears in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
"Imagine you have a new colleague at work and your impression of that person is not very favourable" explains lead author Bertram Gawronski, Canada Research Chair at The University of Western Ontario. "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."
According to Gawronski, our brain stores expectancy-violating experiences as exceptions-to-the-rule, such that the rule is treated as valid except for the specific context in which it has been violated.
To investigate the persistence of first impressions, Gawronski and his collaborators showed their study participants either positive or negative information about an unknown individual on a computer screen. Later in the study, participants were presented with new information about the same individual, which was inconsistent with the initial information. To study the influence of contexts, the researchers subtly changed the background color of the computer screen while participants formed an impression of the target person.
When the researchers subsequently measured participants' spontaneous reactions to an image of the target person, they found the new information influenced participants' reactions only when the person was presented against the background in which the new information had been learned.
Otherwise, participants' reactions were still dominated by the first information when the target person was presented against other backgrounds.
Although these results support the common observation that first impressions are notoriously persistent, Gawronski notes they can sometimes be changed. "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. But, as long as a first impression is challenged only within the same context, you can do whatever you want. The first impression will dominate regardless of how often it is contradicted by new experiences."
According to Gawronski, the research also has important implications for the treatment of clinical disorders. "If someone with phobic reactions to spiders is seeking help from a psychologist, the therapy will be much more successful if it occurs in multiple different contexts rather than just in the psychologist's office."
CitationGeneralization versus contextualization in automatic evaluation. Bertram Gawronski, Robert J. Rydell, Bram Vervliet, and Jan De Houwer. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 2010; 139(4): 683-701. doi:10.1037/a0020315
Research has shown that automatic evaluations can be highly robust and difficult to change, highly malleable and easy to change, and highly context dependent. We tested a representational account of these disparate findings, which specifies the conditions under which automatic evaluations reflect (a) initially acquired information, (b) subsequently acquired, counterattitudinal information, or (c) a mixture of both. The account postulates that attention to contextual cues during the encoding of evaluative information determines whether this information is stored in a context-free representation or a contextualized representation. To the extent that attention to context cues is low during the encoding of initial information but is enhanced by exposure to expectancy-violating counterattitudinal information, initial experiences are stored in context-free representations, whereas counterattitudinal experiences are stored in contextualized representations. Hence, automatic evaluations tend to reflect the valence of counterattitudinal information only in the context in which this information was learned (occasion setting) and the valence of initial experiences in any other context (renewal effect). Four experiments confirmed these predictions, additionally showing that (a) the impact of initial experiences was reduced for automatic evaluations in novel contexts when context salience during the encoding of initial information was enhanced, (b) context effects were eliminated altogether when context salience during the encoding of counterattitudinal information was reduced, and (c) enhanced context salience during the encoding of counterattitudinal information produced context-dependent automatic evaluations even when there was no contingency between valence and contextual cues. Implications for automatic evaluation, learning theory, and interventions in applied settings are discussed.
|Last Updated on Saturday, 22 January 2011 23:37|