Few assets in business and in life are more valuable than the ability to make a good first impression. Research reveals its power to influence entire relationships. “First impressions last” is a truth proven by science. Solid research by respected social psychologists reveals how important first impressions are in business and in life, how quickly and in what ways people make them, and how long their effects can last. This is vital information for everyone from businesspeople and salespeople to doctors like plastic and facial plastic surgeons. It turns out that people’s faces and companies’ website are vital to forming first impressions that can prove crucial in attracting – or repelling – new clients.
How quickly do we form first impressions?
Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov have performed many controlled studies to determine the speed and effect of first impressions. Their research reveals that people form first impressions of a stranger in as little as a tenth of a second. We do this principally by looking at their face. Looking at them longer doesn’t significantly alter those impressions; indeed, it increases our confidence in them.
These days, clients often first encounter a business by looking at its website. When we meet someone or visit a website, our brains quickly and automatically assess what we see and form an opinion about that person or business. Studies have found that people infer an amazing amount from what they first see.
What people judge about others by their faces
A Harvard Business Review article by psychologists Amy Cuddy, Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger discusses behavioral science research showing that when we meet others we first look for clues to judge these haracteristics:
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Amazingly, we usually judge these traits by looking at the person’s face. Researchers at Boston University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute studied this, looking to confirm or disprove previous research. They photographed 25 white, black and Hispanic women aged 20 to 50. With the help of a professional makeup artist, each was shot with four different looks:
- Barefaced – no makeup
- Natural – minimal makeup
- Professional makeup
- Glamorous makeup
To avoid raising or lowering any model’s confidence level, none was allowed to see herself in the mirror. Two different groups of more than a hundred subjects viewed the photos – some for a split second and others for as long as they wanted. Then they rated each woman on competence.
Women wearing makeup – even the glamorous variety – were consistently judged more competent than barefaced women with no makeup. As seen in these photos, even the glamorously made-up women did not appear out of place in a business setting. But those with better makeup were more attractive. Again, a better-looking face imparted an air of competence. *See “Influence: People First Judge Your Competence by Your Face” at LookYounger.News.
How important are these first impressions? The same Harvard Business Review article continues:
Mascha van ‘t Wout of Brown University and Alan Sanfey of the University of Arizona asked subjects to determine how an endowment should be allocated. Players invested more money, with no guarantee of return, in partners whom they perceived to be more trustworthy on the basis of a glance at their faces.
So, people will decide whom to trust with investment money based on their facial appearance. But it goes further than that. Dr. Todorov and his research partner showed people photos of candidates running for U.S. Senate and Governor in faraway states. Any who recognized the candidates were excused from the study. On Election Day, politicians judged to have competent-looking faces were elected in:
- 72.4% of the U.S. Senate races
- 68.6% of the gubernatorial races
Todorov explained, “We decide very quickly whether a person possesses many of the traits we feel are important, such as likeability and competence, even though we have not exchanged a single word with them. It appears that we are hard-wired to draw these inferences in a fast, unreflective way.”
First impressions on the web
Science Daily reported on a Missouri University of Science and Technology study of first impressions visitors form when landing on a website. The summary relates:
When viewing a website, it takes users less than two-tenths of a second to form a first impression.
Researcher Dr. Hong Sheng concluded:
As more people use the Internet to search for information, a user’s first impression of a website can determine whether that user forms a favorable or unfavorable view of that organization.
Eye-tracking revealed how long subjects stayed on each site and which areas they viewed. Afterward, Dr. Sheng and his research partner asked each subject to rate the site. Those that stayed longer formed more favorable impressions. After noting where site visitors focused their attention, Sheng recommended:
You must choose your main picture very carefully. An inappropriate image can lead to an unfavorable response from viewers.
It is crucial, then, that senior marketing executives and senior management view company websites, especially their images, through the eyes of likely visitors, not their own. Images that may be offensive or could portray the company less than favorably should be replaced.
Why do first impressions last?
Clearly, first impressions have a powerful effect. Why does that effect last so long? Highly respected social psychologists like Dr. Leon Festinger and Dr. Elliot Aronson of Stanford University performed groundbreaking research on this subject.
Their and subsequent studies revealed that making mistakes or doing things we know are wrong produces mental discomfort psychologists call cognitive dissonance. In contrast, when our words and actions show that we are good, smart people with correct beliefs, we feel a comfortable harmony known as cognitive consonance. How long does this make first impressions last? Dr. Aronson writes:
If new information is consonant with our beliefs, we think it is well-founded and useful. So powerful is the need for consonance that when people are forced to look at disconfirming evidence they will find a way to criticize, distort or dismiss it so they can maintain or even strengthen their existing belief.
Psychologists call this strongly-proven phenomenon Confirmation Bias. How does it affect us? Once we make a first impression on new prospective clients, employers, colleagues or romantic partners, their minds will often automatically look for evidence that confirms that their initial impression was correct. In a new relationship, like an Olympic sprint, a good start can mean victory. Stumbling out of the blocks often spells defeat.
A first impression that creates or fails to create an air of trustworthiness can color a prospective business or personal partner’s or client’s subsequent decisions. A positive first impression can lead to real advantages. A negative one may contribute to a good, competent person losing contests they should win. CONTACT RONDEAU RESOURCES