See Inside October 2005

Judging Amy and Andy

Contrary to conventional wisdom, we can size up people pretty well based on first impressions

It took Amy only a few minutes to make up her mind: I've got absolutely nothing in common with this guy. She wasn't sure why, but she was convinced. Was it his two-day stubble? The tattered jeans? Perhaps the way he stared at her while they talked? In any case, after a mere five minutes Amy was already wishing she had never agreed to this blind date with Andy. Now she would have to spend several hours in a bar with a guy who didn't understand why sports don't do it for her and why she prefers to read. I know his type, she sighed to herself. Conceited, careless. I'll bet he's going to tell me all about rock climbing and what a success he is. This is going to be a long evening.

Is Amy right? Or has she misjudged? After all, for decades psychologists have told us that people should not rate others based on looks or first impressions--we should not judge a book by its cover. Too often we subconsciously or even consciously adhere to stereotypes. To Amy, stubble represents laziness and torn jeans sloppiness and immaturity, and together they perhaps belie a guy who is trying too hard to look casually cool when a shave and slacks would do much better. And Andy's excessive talk about sports shows that he is just another guy who is self-absorbed with his own machismo. Yet social psychologists have warned that such compartmentalized thinking closes our minds and distorts our vision of reality. We also tend to generalize about a person's character from his behavior in a particular situation. If a cashier looks dour, we may conclude that he probably hates people. Researchers call such unjustified conclusions fundamental attribution errors.

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content

It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Holiday Sale

Scientific American Mind Digital

Get 6 bi-monthly digital issues
+ 1yr of archive access for just $9.99

Hurry this offer ends soon! >


Email this Article


Next Article