First impressions don't always last

Watch the moment Alex and Samira share their honest first impressions of each other on Love Island.

We asked educational psychologist M Wallace for her professional opinion on why first impressions matter, and how to make the best one possible!

If you’re more an Alex than a Samira, how can you overcome the nerves to make a good first impression?

“Breathe. If you’re nervous, take deep breaths. As soon as you do, you start sending signals around the body to come out of “panic mode”. The trick is making the exhalation (out breath) longer than the inhalation (in breath).

Be in the moment, be present. Instead of getting stuck in your head worrying about what might happen, focus on your surroundings, using mindfulness techniques. Noticing what is around you, what you can see, hear, smell, touch and taste, can keep you in the moment and reduce nerves.

When you’re present, you’re also more able to notice things about the other person, which is a great quality!”

Nice! So if we ground ourselves before meeting new people we’ll more calm, in control, and even a better listener! How do our brains form an initial opinion of someone?

“Attraction is one of the biggest factors to impact on first impressions, but what attracts us to another person is completely individual, and based on our own individual experiences and likes or dislikes. Understandably, physical things are often what we see first, so we can quickly make a judgement based on what we see, but for attraction to grow we need a lot more information.

For long-term attraction, it’s more important to find someone who shares the same likes, hobbies or values as we do. So seeing someone who is reading a book, or wearing a T-shirt of our favourite band, can draw us to them, because subconsciously we know that they enjoy some of the same things we do. It also makes them feel more familiar, and familiarity is a big factor in attractiveness.”

Ahh ok, no chance of love at first sight, but definitely a spark that can grow! It’s good to know that lasting attraction over time isn’t just based on looks. But how much does the environment affect us when meeting new people?

“Being in an environment that we enjoy and feel comfortable in naturally makes us feel more relaxed and confident. However, we can be relaxed, confident, fun in all sorts of environments - and sometimes new experiences and unfamiliar environments can bring people together and give them an impetus to communicate and share experiences.

Whatever the environment, the most important thing is to be yourself. Think about it: if someone meets you in one context and then meets you in another where you behave completely differently, they’ll probably find it confusing and insincere. While different environments can bring certain things out in us, being ourselves is the most crucial part of forming relationships.”

Interesting… so, that ‘Love Island’ camaraderie could be replicated when people start college or university together. It’s an exciting opportunity to make a fresh start, but whatever the situation, the best bet is to always be true to yourself.

Can snap judgements be damaging?

“First impressions are important. We use these to try to make sense of the world, and use “short cuts” in order to do this. These short cuts are based on experience, culture, learning. For example, if we see someone in a long dark trench coat, coming out of a dark lane, we assume that they may be dangerous, and stay away. We don’t have time to think about every possible scenario in that moment, so these short cuts can help us to understand the world and keep us safe. However, they can also lead to stereotypes and judgements. And when certain judgements are made, it can take a long time to change these - much longer than it took to make the first impression! For example, if you are late the first time you meet someone, it might take a dozen times of being on time before they change their opinion.”

Not ok! So how can we overcome initial bias?

“To encourage others to change their first impressions may involve finding lots of ways to show others the real you. To avoid making snap judgements of your own, be open-minded and consider the whole picture, not just small details. Be compassionate and consider the other person’s point of view.

Asking questions can also really help to move on from first impressions. The more information we have, the better we can fill in the blanks.

Communication is key. We’re attracted to people who show an interest in us – and we make ourselves more attractive by showing an interest in others. Ask questions, be curious: these are all qualities that encourage good communication and, as social animals, these skills are extremely important in the relationships we make.”

Got it. We’re ready to make the best first impression, to ask questions and meet new people!

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