As a teenager I was totally revolted by judgments made by first impressions and what they lead to. My opinion was and still is that we make judgment on what we see first and then find the appropriate reasons and evidences to support this judgment, denying unconsciously any other new fact that would make us change our mind. And I was proven right by many examples in Blink – The power of thinking without thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell.
Gladwell decided he had to look at the impact of first impressions after being in an argument with the police for 20 min. He had decided to go from a short-clean-cut haircut to a long-hair style. He said that at once he started to see changes in his life: he started to get speeding tickets, getting pulled at security checks in airports and then one day he was pulled out by 3 police officers. They thought they had found a rapist. It took him 20 minutes to get out of that situation, caused by that large head of curly hair. This was a trivial misunderstanding, but I’m sure you can think of visible minorities going through that all the time.
First impressions can be powerful and good, but they can also lead us into error and when we look back we wonder why we acted the way we did.
For example, a law professor in Chicago, Ian Ayres, did a research in the 90’s to find out: “All other things being absolutely equal, how does skin color or gender affect the price that a sales man in a car dealership offers? To do so he put a team of 38 people together, dressed them the same, they all had the same cover story and specific instructions for what to do. They visited 242 car dealerships. These were the results.
The white men received initial offers that were 725$ above the dealer’s price;
The white women got offers of 935$ above;
The black women were quoted on average 1195$;
And black men 1687$
Keep in mind that they all had the same story: they were professionals with a college degree, they were systems analyst at a bank, all lived in the same neighborhood of Chicago, were dressed for success and bargained for approximately 40 minutes.
What do you think the reasons for these results are? If you were to ask the salesman their beliefs on race and gender, they would argue that they apply an “equality for all“ code of conduct. But yet facts are different. They have again and again done the same things: quoted higher prices to women and black persons. And it would be so because of their unconscious beliefs about these groups. Even in the face of the contradictory evidence of education, wealth and bargaining abilities they couldn’t change their actions.
To explain this difference between our conscious choices and our unconscious associations, researchers have put together a tool called the Implicit Association Test (IAT) that helps us identify what our unconscious response will be when we pair up two facts like male and family, female and career than male and career, female and family for example. It’s disturbing to see how easy it is to make associations between female and family and difficult to do the same for male and family. The response time is much longer for the association we are less familiar with. Which would explain the lack of women in the higher ranks of corporations or government.
I encourage you to visit their website to find out what is your underlying system of belief in certain fields like racism, gender and career, obesity and thin persons. www.implicit.harvard.edu
Did you know that if you are tall you have better chances to climb up the corporate ladder? Gladwell called about half of the corporations on the list of Fortune 500 to find that the CEOs on average are just below the 6 feet mark and a third of them are more than 6.2 or taller. Yet in the general American population only 3.9% are 6 foot 2 or taller.
Another study has shown that an inch of height is worth $789 a year in salary on average. That means that generally a person that is 6 feet tall will earn 5,525$ more per year than the person who is 5 foot 5 inches.
Really, first impressions and general ideas have a broader impact that we want to believe.
But there is hope! For us to change these unconscious patterns, we have to immerse ourselves within the ideas and circumstances we are trying change. For example if you want to get rid of your leadership image associated with a tall male you can spend time with some tall incompetent male executives and with efficient women executives. After a while you won’t have such a strong association of tall-male equals leadership.
Be aware of your underlying judgments and immerse yourself with new knowledge and experiences and you will have started a positive chain reaction. That’s how we make changes in our lives but in society in general.