The Science of First Impressions

A few years ago, researchers at New York University examined the neuroscience of how people form impressions of others. While their brains were being scanned, subjects were shown a photograph of a face and read six sentences about that person.

Afterwards, the subject was asked for their overall impressions of each profile.

Two parts of the brain were involved, the posterior cingular cortex and amygdala.  Together they help us compute first impressions of others. These regions sort information on the basis of its personal and subjective importance and summarise it into an ultimate score, a first impression.

In forming those first impressions, we automatically process relevant information about somebody, based on how important they are to our own motivations. Our split-second reactions to other people are assessments of their value to us.

Put simply, meeting people activates the same region of the brain responsible for assigning prices to objects.  After we’ve assigned a value to a person, we make the decision about how to orient ourselves to that person: do we want to get closer? Knowing what this person’s value is to us, do we want this person to be involved in our network?

Based on this study, one of the best ways to take advantage of a first impression is to give people a reason to trust and value you. Everything people see and experience of you in seconds goes towards their thought triggers.  Your appearance, facial expressions, body language and choice of words are all part of the decision-making process.

The ultimate goal is to give someone the impression that it’s not only OK for the first-impressionother person to get close to you, but that it would be well worth their time.

Dress to Influence!

It is essential to dress for the influence you want to have.  So many people don’t realise how much your clothing counts towards your perceived competence.  Anyone who travels or stays in hotels a lot, knows the benefits of the different service they receive when wearing the ‘uniform’ of a successful person.  I have on many occasions enjoyed a superior room or suite when I’ve checked into a hotel.

Of course it isn’t just the clothes, it is also your body language and communication style which together inform the receptionist or airline check-in staff that you are a customer worth looking after…well!

Over a cup of coffee, think about your diary for this week.  What are you doing, who are you meeting?  List the outcomes you want from those interactions/meetings.  Consider how you want them to perceive you.  Compile a list of words which bring together both the outcomes and the perceptions.  Finally, think about how a person would look, sound and behave to be successful in both areas.

Now you are beginning to think strategically about your image and the impression you want to have on others.  Impression management is your responsibility.

“I want to be comfortable” is something I hear often.  That’s fine, just don’t compromisePortrait of a businesswoman your credibility to be comfortable.

Tip:  The more flesh you show, the more credibility you lose.  Men in short-sleeve shirts, women in sleeveless tops are just two examples here.  Professional credibility doesn’t sit well with flesh on show!