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Here's the science behind first impressions — and how to make up for a bad one.

First impressions are more important than you probably realize, and here's why.

Here's the science behind first impressions — and how to make up for a bad one.

This is Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson, and she's going to help us understand why first impressions are so important.

GIFs from Big Think.


Dr. Grant Halvorson is a social psychologist and associate director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia Business School. In a recent video for Big Think, she took a look at confirmation bias — what it is, how it works, and how to overcome it.

Confirmation bias is the brain's tendency to seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs.

Confirmation bias is something that affects us all. It's why people typically consume news that reinforces what we already (think we) know. It's why in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there are people who believe climate change is a myth or that vaccines cause autism. It's why we're so sure that Brad from the finance department is a jerk — ugh, Brad.

But it's the primacy effect that explains why our brains really emphasize the first information we receive about a person or topic.

The primacy effect is kind of like the overzealous sibling of confirmation bias. It's why our first hunch about someone or something tends to stick with us. Our brains don't like feeling unsure, so they put a lot of weight on early impressions.

You know how people stress the importance of first impressions?

Here's why they're right, according to science: Thanks to the primacy effect and confirmation bias, first impressions get a whole lot of weight when it comes to how we perceive (and are perceived by) other people.

Luckily, there are a couple of ways to overcome a bad first impression.

The first method of overcoming a bad first impression is to prove that impression wrong over an extended time.

It's not as simple as a one-time friendly encounter. To overcome the bad impression, it could take weeks or even months to override both primacy effect and confirmation bias.

The second method is to find a way to work closely with the person you've left a bad first impression with.

Dr. Grant Halvorson suggests finding a way to work with the person — for example, working on a group project where all people involved have clear responsibilities and expectations to help override first impressions.

Why? When someone else has a direct impact on our own outcome, our brains will naturally want to make sure the first impression we got was an accurate one rather than simply sticking with that first impression.

Of course, the best route is to put your best foot forward and give an accurate representation of who you are.

While you can't control how others perceive you, you can make sure you're offering up a genuine version of yourself to people you meet.

Keep all this in mind the next time you're meeting with new coworkers, acquaintances, or anyone, really.

We all have biases, but we can fight them by acknowledging and understanding them.

For more on this topic from Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson, watch the full video below.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

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"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less