Extension Connection

Extension Connection

First Impressions Are Not Always Accurate

Photo of Angela Reinhart

Angela Reinhart
Unit Educator, Family Life

How many times have we missed something really good because we weren't expecting to find it where we found it? Or, how many times have we thought something or someone was good for us based on someone's opinion we trusted, only to discover later it really wasn't true? We've likely had these experiences because of value attribution – giving a thing or person a certain value based on our first impressions and failing to change our minds when receiving new information.

According to authors Ori and Rom Brafman in their book, Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, "Value attribution is a quick mental shortcut to determine what's worthy for us to pay attention to in life." When combined with loss aversion and commitment, as we saw last time, it basically "seals the deal" of acting irrationally.

For example, as I write this, People Magazine's cover features the latest Bachelorette, Ashley. She "can't believe" she's been betrayed by men on the show who were supposed to adore her. She has a lot at stake – and she's playing not to lose. She's expected to find a husband and doesn't want to "fail" (ie. loss aversion). She's committed to finding her husband among the twenty-five bachelors chosen just for her. She's investing her time, energy, and resources into the process of making decisions about these men.

Based on her personal criteria/impressions, she has to choose each week who should stay and who should leave. But, any choice she makes, says psychologist Franz Epting, an expert in understanding how people construct meaning in their experiences, explains, "… has got to work by ignoring a lot of other things – with the hope at that things you are ignoring don't make a difference. And that's where the rub is. Once you get a label in mind, you don't notice things that don't fit within the categories that do make a difference."

Ashley believed early on that Bentley was her potential "husband." She ignored many of the good traits of her other suitors as well as information about his poor behavior. She now has a "crisis" to deal with along with her accompanying feelings of betrayal!

It makes good TV drama, but this dynamic also plays itself out over and over again in all our lives in the decisions we make - especially about parenting, friendships, and personal finances. How can we avoid getting "swayed" by irrational thoughts and behavior when we are making important decisions in our lives?

One way is to listen to the voice of a trusted friend. Even if their advice is wrong, just their speaking up and saying something different from all the rest will help break sway's influence. Another is to have a long – term plan – and not casting it aside. This will help us deal with our fear of loss.

"Our natural tendency to avoid the pain of loss is most likely to distort our thinking when we place too much importance on short – term goals," say the Brafmans. "When we adopt the long view, immediate potential losses don't seem as menacing,"

"Letting go of the past" and accepting that "what's done is done" will also help us use our time, resources, and energy to shift directions toward a positive outcome instead of digging ourselves deeper into a hole. Sometimes even if it's uncomfortable, making a clean break could be in our best interest. In other words, change course and do something completely differently.

Another useful strategy for overcoming distorted value attributions is to observe things for what they are, not just what they appear to be. We have to remember that we make judgments based on assumptions and that our first impressions might be wrong. We need to get more comfortable with having contradictory information. When making an important decision, the Brafmans advise, "Take your time and consider things from different angles before coming to a conclusion. Establish a "waiting period" before making a diagnostic judgment." Also, listen to people who don't share your point of view. They can bring balance to the argument/debate by adding perspective. After all, "Even a clock that doesn't work is right twice a day!"

Bachelorette Ashley may or may not make a decision that is good for her, but one thing is certain. Like Ashley, "…each of us brings a variety of different experiences, emotions, and perceptions to our thinking. It is only by recognizing and understanding the hidden world of sways that we can hope to weaken their influence and curb their power over our thinking and our lives," conclude the authors.

In other words, be intentional. Seek out the unbiased information necessary to making informed decisions. Make a long term plan. Be flexible enough to consider other viewpoints and weigh your options. University of Illinois Extension is growing and changing, adding more subject matter expertise, 24/7 access to research based information, and investing all our resources in YOU. Call with your questions at 217-333-7672 or see www.extension.illinois.edu/champaign.

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