Why a bad first impression is hard to shake

Why a bad first impression is hard to shake

Whether at a job interview or on a first date, a bad first impression can be hard to shake. But is the same true for a good impression? And is it harder to improve your bad reputation or ruin a good one?

A new study out of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and published in the journal Social Cognition discovered that people need more evidence to recognize an improvement in someone’s moral character than they need to perceive a decline.

In a series of experiments, the researchers created characters and events based on real-life situations in which the fictional people behaved in either moral or immoral ways. They found that in all the experiments the participants were more likely and quicker to see a decline in moral character than an improvement, despite the same amount of situational evidence in each instance.

For example, in one experiment a fictional woman office worker behaved politely at times, holding doors and giving compliments, and poorly on other occasions, cutting in line and spreading gossip. The researchers then tracked how long it took the woman to continue with her positive or negative behaviors for subjects to believe she had changed for better or for worse. They discovered that when the woman acted poorly, it only took a couple instances for them to see her as having tarnished her good reputation, but when she did nice things it took many more good acts for them to consider her reformed.

Dr. Judy Ronan Woodburn, a clinical psychologist with Advocate Medical Group in Normal, Ill., hypothesizes that people expect others to be principled and decent.

“If moral behavior is expected as the norm, subjects may not notice or give ‘credit’ for the norm,” she says. “On the other hand, if immoral behavior is not expected as the norm, it may stand out more to observers.”

Dr. Woodburn finds the results informative in that they suggest that we may need to be more intentional about noticing and giving credit to others for moral behaviors and moral improvements.

So next time you’re at work and you notice your co-worker doing something nice for others, take a minute to acknowledge their good deeds. Because you might not take note otherwise.

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One Comment

  1. Kimberly Kelsey Wilkinson July 18, 2016 at 10:29 am · Reply

    Oh how true this is, but my first impression I don’t think will ever be given a second chance!!!!!!

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About the Author

Jackie Hughes
Jackie Hughes

Jacqueline Hughes is a former manager, media relations at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. Previously, she was the public affairs and marketing manager at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL. She earned her BA in psychology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Jackie has 10 plus years experience working in television and media and most recently worked at NBC 5 in Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, going to the movies and spending time with her family.