Column: Everyone is thinking the same thing: Will they like me?

The power of a first impression does not have to be intimidating; if anything, it can be encouraging. In fact, the strength first impressions have can be used to our advantage.

First impressions are intimidating. You can never have a second chance at a first impression. Most of us can relate to that feeling we get in our stomachs before a first date, an interview or meeting new friends. While looking in the mirror for the 100th time or proofreading the resume you most likely stretched the truth on one last time, our minds continue to find themselves drowning in the same general question: Will they like me?

Fortunately, there is a simple way to make a positive first impression, and if conquered, can be used to further your professional and social life. As humans, we need to understand that there is a reason why most people feel nervous and sometimes afraid before meeting someone for the first time. We get worked up so easily because these are one of the rare times in our lives when we know for a fact people are judging us. We know this from experience since, let’s be honest, we are judging other people ourselves.

Our brains can not help but judge others; it is how we survive. Without judgement, we could find ourselves in dangerous situations with not-so-nice people or miss out on opportunities that could better our well-being.

“For better or worse, we rely on primal, cognitive tendencies to make decisions about the things around us, people included.” Ashton Chapman, a graduate instructor for the Intimate Relationships and Marriage class, said in an email.

So we can’t blame strangers for judging us. Their brains, like ours, can’t help analyzing someone upon meeting them the first time. Inside of our heads, there are two different areas that become active when we experience a first impression.

One area is the amygdala, which receives information from all five senses; therefore, the amygdala is able to process very complex ideas such as social interactions. With the amygdala, we have the ability to perceive how someone looks, sounds, smells, feels and tastes. That being said, I am not condoning finding out how someone feels and tastes the first time you meet, but there is no judgement here on how you gather your information.

According to Karla Starr’s article “The Science of First Impressions” from Psychology Today, we wouldn’t know the difference between what is socially acceptable, safe and successful, and what is “social suicide” without the aid of the amygdala.

The second is the posterior cingulate cortex, which is in charge of our emotional connection to memories and how well we pay attention to ourselves. Without a PCC, we would not be able to self-monitor or self-reflect. The PCC also allows us to assess the value of objects, possible choices, make risky decisions and calculate bets when it is stimulated, Starr said. The amygdala and PCC are responsible for the brain assigning prices to objects. This part of our brain is activated when meeting a new person; consequently, we assign a “price” to each person. In essence, a first impression determines how cheap or expensive we are to another person.

That is a bit heavy, so I’ll allow that to sink in. However, do not fret. First impressions don’t have to be as difficult as it might seem. The power of a first impression does not have to be intimidating. If anything, it can be encouraging. In fact, the power that first impressions have can be used to our advantage.

The brain’s automatic responses when making first impressions are very emotional and quick, consequently they can be manipulated easily. In other words, the littlest things you do with your body and voice can make a large impacts on someone’s portrayal of you.Since the human brain is still primitive in some ways, it is necessary to establish trust. It is vital you do not introduce yourself as a threat.

“Researchers recommend, for example, that you allow the other person to speak first; by opening with a question, rather than taking the floor and talking about yourself, you are more likely to facilitate feelings of warmth, understanding, and openness with your new acquaintance.” Chapman said in an email. “Being a good listener, finding common ground, and having an open, animated conversation style have all been linked to positive first impressions and ratings of trustworthiness.”

Although first impressions can be scary sometimes, they are simple to master. Be positive. Humans thrive off of kindness and positivity. Sometimes it is hard to remember to smile in someone’s direction, but positive first impressions can be some of the most wonderful memories we keep close to our hearts.

“Reflecting on my first interaction with my now husband, I can absolutely see how first impressions were at work -- he came bounding into the classroom with a smile, wearing tattered jeans and Toms, before Toms were cool, and just radiating warmth and positive energy,” Chapman said. “I remember jumping to all sorts of conclusions about his personality, values, family life, likes/dislikes, and how compatible we would be before I even knew his name. I had already decided that he was kind, joyful, and easy-going before he spoke his first words. Five years later and the power of that first impression holds true -- I still dote on his kindness, joy, and gentle spirit.”

I hope my first shot at columnist writing made you smile. If so, that means I must be off on the right foot.

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