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First Impressions


First Impressions

by Kenneth Lyen

How quickly can you decide if a new acquaintance can become your close friend?

Very quickly, according to Artermio Ramirez Jr of Ohio State University and Michael Sunnafrank of the University of Minnesota. They studied 164 college freshmen on the first day of class, and paired them with a same-sex student whom they did not know. Each pair talked for three, six, or ten minutes. After which, they filled in a questionnaire which asked them to predict how positive a future relationship with the new acquaintance would be for them personally. They were also asked to predict the type of relationship they would expect to share with that person in future, classifying it as either nodding acquaintance, casual acquaintance, acquaintance, close acquaintance, friend, or close friend.

Nine weeks later, the participants were once again asked questions to determine the type of relationship that had developed since the first day.

The result was that there was a close correlation between initial opinions and subsequent outcome. The more positively the pairs rated their potential relationship, the better the prediction as to the actual relationship nine weeks later. Those who predicted closer friendship sat nearer to each other, chatted more, and confirmed that they were indeed more pally with their partners.

The outcome was the same whether or not the initial contact was three, six, or ten minutes. This means that people can size up fairly accurately the other person and make a snap judgement whether or not a relationship will develop further.

If one of the pair had a negative view of the other, it carried an adverse impact on the relationship, which failed to become a close one. It appears that first impressions are the best.

Ramirez said: "People want to quickly determine if a person they just met is someone they are going to want to hang out with, or date, or spend more time with in the future."

"We don’t want to waste our time," he added.

However, he admitted: "it’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. We make a prediction about what kind of relationship we could have with a person, and that helps determine how much effort we are willing to put into developing a relationship. If I think we could become friends, I’ll communicate more, tell you more about myself and do things that will help ensure a friendship does develop. If I have a more negative prediction about a future relationship, then I will restrict communication and make it harder for a friendship to develop."

Although the study was not specifically designed to establish the existence of "love at first sight," nevertheless the authors extrapolate from their data and contend that it probably does exist. I know it does, even without scientific evidence to prove it. Would my beliefs be more secure if concrete proof was poured into its foundations? I doubt it.