Know Your WhyScience now confirms that you only get one chance to make a first impression, and that impression takes hold more quickly than you might think.  Psychologist and neuroscientist Dr. Bastian Schiller and a team of researchers in Switzerland have discovered that subconsciously, we decide within milliseconds who or what we like or don’t like. 

The researchers used Implicit Association Tests, which measure the strength of a person’s automatic association with concepts, objects or social constructs.  They analyzed brain activity in soccer fans as they processed positive and negative information about members of their favorite or opposing teams. In some cases, the steps to judgment happened in a few milliseconds.

The implications from this study are vast.  When we meet new people or face new situations, making snap judgments can be detrimental to how we treat and think about the capabilities of others. Although our brains are wired to make snap judgments based on stored knowledge, it’s critical to remember that we also have the capacity to step back and gather more information before making a judgment.  Consciously choosing to slow down our reaction allows us to make more informed decisions.

Tapping into our ability to make conscious choices takes some training.  Our brain processes our reactions so quickly that it’s hardly noticeable.  Armed with the knowledge of how our brains work and our own capacity to choose differently is a critical first step to making the necessary adjustments.

We are all victims of instantaneous judgments, but we are also guilty of making them ourselves.  To better understand your hidden reactions to people of different types, I recommend taking one of Harvard’s online IATs.  It will help you shed light on underlying assumptions that influence your responses to different types of people.  You can test your reaction to anything from ethnicity and skin tone to gender or weight and more.

Click here for a link to Harvard’s Implicit Association Tests.

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