Whenever we meet a new person, the first impression is crucial. Be it good or bad, some people actually have a pretty hard time getting over it, so you could say that it's very important to understand how and why it's created. Upon forming their first impression of a new character in their lives, most individuals are seldom wrong in their evaluation, a trait that scientists have yet to fully decipher. During the latest study, they have analyzed the way in which we encode social information, and then rely on it in order to form our first impression of someone.
Publishing the finds in the latest issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience, lead author Daniela Schiller, who is also a New York University Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science post-doctoral fellow, says that the initial observations of a new-found friend usually take less than half a minute.
Yet, they are so accurate that people rarely change them, even after spending a lot of time with the other person. Intrigued by these particulars, Schiller and colleagues have developed a study designed to record the exact modifications that occur in the human brain when these connections are made.
She gave study participants the fictional written profiles of 20 individuals, accompanied by their photos, and asked them about their first impression. Each of the profiles featured positive and negative traits of the persons they depicted. For instance, intelligence could be considered a positive aspect of someone's personality, while laziness could be considered a negative trait.
The main idea behind the test was to find out how test subjects analyzed and reported themselves to the traits they liked, or which they disapproved of. To get a clear image of the activities in their brains, Schiller asked each of the participants in the experiment to sit in the functional Resonance Magnetic Imaging (fMRI) machine.
According to the results published in the new paper, the fMRI scans picked up an increased level of activity in two regions of the brain: the amygdala, a structure previously associated with emotional learning about inanimate objects, which could be found in the medial temporal lobe, and the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), which was known to facilitate economic decision-making and assigning subjective value to rewards. The imaging technique proved that the two areas worked together to encode impression-relevant information when a new person was met.
“When encoding everyday social information during a social encounter, these regions sort information based on its personal and subjective significance, and summarize it into an ultimate score – a first impression,” Schiller concluded.