Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
As the article suggests, most people can still read the passage without difficulty, even if the first and last letters are the only letters in the right place. This is because our brains process entire words at once rather than individual letters. Even if the word is jumbled after the first letter, our brain can still decode it based on experience.
Similarly, we make initial judgments about people (known as thin slicing) we meet based on a totality of factors rather than individual traits. Much like the words written above, we draw a conclusion on the total impression and, unless given a reason otherwise, rarely, if ever, revisit our initial determination. Most of the time, thin slicing serves its purpose of minimizing the amount of effort it would otherwise take to decode each new person we meet consciously. Fortunately, this swift assessment is often good enough to deduce whether we think this person might be a friend or a foe.
However, for each subsequent interaction, we often fall prey to confirmation bias, which means we tend to subconsciously only seek out behaviors that confirm our initial assessment and ignore those that don't.
This bias can have severe consequences regarding personal safety, blinding us to warning signs of danger. This is why it is essential to re-evaluate and challenge our initial perceptions regularly. These reassessments are never more important than when an individual’s behavior might change subtly, driven by stressors we may not know that person is dealing with.
Being vigilant in our regular decoding of emotions can not only enhance our safety–think work colleague returning to the office to punish everyone they feel has mistreated them, but it also aids us with empathy and responsiveness in all spheres of life. This additional attentiveness allows us to build trust and create supportive environments where individuals feel seen and understood.
It also helps us cultivate qualities that make us better listeners, more compassionate friends, and more effective collaborators. While simultaneously encouraging us to embrace the complexity of human behavior with an open heart and a keen eye, enhancing our safety and capacity for meaningful relationships.
Speaking of first impressions: Thin slice this image of Jack Nicholson’s. What do you think was going through his mind?