10 Comments

My alternative explanation is that in the evolutionary context there simply weren't many instances of raw first impressions that lead to repeated interaction. You had tribe members where your first impressions were shaped by the impressions of those who had known them for life and likely unrelated interactions with strangers.

As such, maybe we simply roll the prior info given by fellow tribe members into our first impression. This is a good hueristic in a hunter-gatherer society but goes wrong in a moden one.

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I don't understand what creates the incentive not to increase an initially poor initial judgement assuming you haven't bad mouthed them. You suggest it's because we are judged on the consistency of our judgements over time but surely this only pushes the problem back -- if it's better to update on latter impressions then you should expect people to evaluate you better for doing that.

Sure, maybe there is pressure not to lower positive judgements to advertise that you aren't a flaky ally but I think you need more explanation for why mediocre initial impressions are sticky.

One explanation is that someone who makes bad first impressions are themselves a less valuable ally. But that still doesn't explain why a bad first impression would be sticky if we see them later make good first impressions with others.

And mere cognitive labor saving seems insufficient. We invest huge amounts of energy in sharing and discussing our interpersonal judgements so surely there should be significant evolutionary pressure not to waste potentially valuable chances for high quality allies by not updating appropriately.

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In daily life, I think first impressions are sticky because the first impression is how someone acts when they don't know what your expectations are. So you are getting to see what their default behavior is. If you wait too long to make a judgement, then you run the risk that the other person alters their behavior to be in-line with your expectations in a way that's misleading in terms of what to expect from them in the long-run.

(Like to use a concrete example: let's say you meet someone and they initially seem quiet and reserved. But you like boisterous extroverts. After observing you for a while, they might pick up that you respond well to extroverted behavior and slant their behavior accordingly. But you want your friends to "true" extroverts; not people who can fake being extroverts when it's socially convenient. So you heavily weigh the initial first impression.)

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Sounds related to the "herding" literature in economic theory.

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My first impression is that I like what you say. Does that lock me in?

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If you look at grade school data, statistically, the US shouldn't be educationally competitive with other countries. But perhaps because people have an entire lifetime to track themselves into a track, it is competitive at the highest levels. People self-sort.

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Another clear insight I hadn't thought of but which seems obviously true in retrospect. Probably leads to trackable differences in trait approval in early-bloomer communities (i.e. hometowns) and late-bloomer communities (i.e. a university in the old sense).

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