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  • Writer's pictureDavide Ferrari

Jumping to conclusions: the importance of first impressions

Jumping to conclusions is something we are particularly good at; not that the conclusion is often correct, but this ability is part of the skills of our brain, the System 1 described by Danel Kahneman in his book "Thinking, fast and slow". You can find a brief description in a previous post at the link below.

Jumping to conclusion is what we do when we have shortage of information and must make an evaluation anyway. It is a bet that is fine when the balance between the overall correctness of our conclusions and the cost of an occasional error is favourable to us. Errors can be prevented by a voluntary intervention of System 2 and its deeper evaluations.

Our judgement is highly influenced not only by the environment, but also by how the few information at our disposal are presented to us. If we hear negative qualities of a person before even starting to appreciate the positive one, we will inevitably have a negative impression of that person. The opposite is also true, and this is because when hearing positive things about a person, it is more likely that we will like that person and other characteristics more.

Moreover, when collecting information, we are exposed to the "halo effect", a phenomenon that causes us to associate the positiveness (or negativity) of a known information also to the unknown one. For example, the tendency to like (or dislike) everything about a person is strongly related to how we like (or dislike) the few information we know about her.

That is why to evaluate properly more information about one subject we should try to make them as independent as possible; this would help preventing the halo effect to happen and therefore producing a more impartial and accurate perception of the world.

What is dangerous about the way System 1 works is that it is insensitive to the quantity and the quality of the information we have. This can lead to very wrong impressions and conclusion.

For that matter, I want to highlight the importance of first impressions, in particular, as a person.

Kahneman tells us that every time we have access to information about someone, we start forming our opinion on him/her and this is because System 1 is always active and vigilant to the environment and its job is to always update the awareness status about what is around us. This implies that when meeting a new person, the first impression of him is much more relevant than many other information we may get later.

The information we will get later, even if incredibly positive, will have a relative lower positive impact in the change of our perception of him. And the opposite is also true: the worse information we access later will have a lower impact if compared with the few positive one we got in the first place.

To reshape consistently an idea formed by System 1 as a "first impression", System 2 will need to actively work to link more information and overwrite the conclusions we made in the first place. It is a complex and energy and time demanding task; not everyone is able to perform it with ease and that is why we need to make a good first impression on people. This is what will likely shape their consideration of you, possibly forever.

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