Factors involved in First impressions
There are a great many variables that an observer might take into account when they form their first impression of someone. Here are a few of the main ones (in no particular order of importance).
Ψ Accent/ Spoken Vocabulary - The voice tone, the regional accent of the person could have a noticeable effect on whether someone likes them or not. An accent is of course neither qualitively good nor bad, yet I suggest that many people have their own preferences. Some people will love a soft Scottish accent, whilst another observer might find a London accent utterly annoying. With just a few words uttered a housemate may fall out of favour with millions of viewers for good ! Similarly the vocabulary type/style of a person is an important aspect. For instance a person that says '... ya know wat i mean' as an add-on to every second sentence, can drive some people (myself included) totally insane.
Ψ Dress Style - Particular dress style may well find favour with some viewers. There is of course the element of dressing to look sexually appealing, although that in itself might annoy some people. Imagine the BB housemate on opening night, trying to look casual, but still smart - trying to maintain the delicate balance between scruffy and an overly posh look.
* As a side note, I was particularly interested in a recent news story - posted by DS:BB reporter Kiera Tsenti, that housemates might be required to wear a fixed uniform upon entering and leaving the house. Personally, I think that it would take away a lot of the individuality of the housemates. Dress style can indicate a lot about a person's attitude, besides do we really want to see them wearing all the same thing ? I don't think so.
Ψ Posture - The general way in which the person 'holds themselves'. Do they stand tall, hold their head high, or do they walk crooked, and shuffle along as they walk ?
Ψ Name - A person's name might be said to hold intrinsic value for some people. Does the viewer associate the new housemates name with a past ex-lover ? Does the name bring to mind thoughts of elegance, or thoughts of tacky common rough manners ?
Ψ Similarity: Cultural aspect - This is a delicate issue, but must be addressed. Some people clearly are outright prejudiced against certain ethnic groups. A few seconds of exposure will be enough for some viewers to dismiss a few of the housemates merely on grounds of their ethnic background. One theory is that people tend to show distinct preferences for people who share their same personal background - they feel more able to relate to them.
* Will an Asian or black housemate ever have a real opportunity to win Big Brother UK ? Perhaps, although I suggest that there remains a measurable chunk of British Society that remains stuck in the dark ages of total racial prejudice (around 12-17% in my view). Maybe BB6 or 7 ? You never know.
Ψ Physical appearance - Body size and general physical status remains one of the leading determinants for people forming their initial impression. The first time we observe someone is usually in a visual way, and that initial view can have a big effect on our first impression. One idea is that people favour others who are roughly as attractive as they are. The idea is that we seek/prefer people who match us - this is part of the 'matching hypothesis' relationship theory. People tend to choose a partner who is roughly as attractive as they are, and usually not much more so. There is actually quite an amount of research dealing with this issue. For Big Brother, viewers might thus form their most positive impression for a housemate who are generally the same 'level of attractiveness' as the observer.
One rather unsettling piece
of social research that has been investigated, is the effect of cosmetic
surgery on how a woman is judged to be attractive or not. Kolick (1977)
noted how both men and women rated the post-op female patient (breasts
enhancement) as more 'warm, sensitive, and sexually responsive', than the
same pre-surgery women. This is a somewhat depressing piece of research, -
the conclusion being that women with bigger breasts tend to be equated with
also possessing other 'good personalities'. Note again that the findings
also apply to women's attitudes of women too. It is not just your average
sexist male that appears to think this way.
Extrapolation of physical
attractiveness to Personality
Are First Impressions
People appear to be over-confident in their initial assessments - we are not as accurate at assessing people as we would like to believe. Dunning et al (1990) found that although a group of students were fairly accurate at assessing each other, the students were consistently overestimating their level of accuracy.
No one is perfect at forming impressions all of the time, sometimes we may well feel a deep aversion to a particular person we have observed for the first time. Later though as we get to know them, our first impressions of them may give way to eventual respect and admiration. Such changes over the course of time are certainly understandable - with time and experience, we may discover something about them that elevates or reduces our liking for them. However, why do we sometimes make errors in our first assessments of people ?
The Fundamental attribution error is one primary reason that has been suggested. Fritz Heider (1958) was the first to theorise that people tend to blame people's behaviour on personality, rather than on the situation. Ross (1977) noted how people tend to attribute behaviour as a result of situational factors. Why do people tend to commit this particular error ? Gilbert and Malone (1995) argued that for much of the time we lack the full details of the situation, in essence they are saying that quite often people will lack the full background information. For example, someone at a party is sitting quietly in the corner of the room. Maybe an observer would think that person is shy and socially introverted. However, maybe the person sitting alone has been stood up by their date ? The fact is that often the outside observer lacks all the information, thus making incorrect assumptions about why the person has behaved in a certain way.
Aronson et al (1997) suggests that attributing behaviour to personality factors is very much a quicker process, and requires less conscious effort, than taking into account situational factors. With regards to Big Brother, it would therefore be useful to remember that the people entering the BB house are in totally 'unknown territory'. The BB experience is arguably one of the most extreme cases in which the situation is very much more the determining factor, rather than the personality in shaping behaviour Each contestant is of course unique in how they will cope with the insane and unique environment of BB. In general though it thus seems useful that viewers of Big Brother 4 should give more consideration, the impact that the BB environment will have on the behaviour of the housemates.
There is some basis in fact for the belief that 'beautiful people' are more socially adept than 'less attractive' people. The beautiful people receive more attention from mainstream society than the less attractive people. This is the case right from birth. Consider a young child who is given more attention in class, or by their peer group in school. That child is going to do better than a child who is shunned and left alone in class or at home. A positive feedback loop can exist whereby the more attractive child is treated more favourably, the child gains in confidence and develops even better social skills, and this confidence results in more attention, and further social skills development.
I myself would
like to believe I don't judge people primarily (certainly not entirely)
upon their physical appearance. In my own life I have found that the more
attractive a person is, the probability increases that I won't like the
person. I've tended to find a correlation between 'nasty people' and
'super attractive' people. Perhaps I've just been around the wrong type of
attractive people ?
Seriously though, even after a few million years of evolution human beings
still seem to place a dominating emphasis upon a person's degree of
Heider, F. (1958). The
psychology of interpersonal relations. New York: Wiley.