Study: First Impressions Really Matter

ByABC News
September 27, 2004, 11:08 AM

Sept. 22, 2004 -- First impressions really are the most important, according to new research showing that the opinions we form in the first few minutes after meeting someone play a major role in determining the course of the relationship.

If two people take an immediate liking to each other, the relationship will most likely grow over time. But if one of them is cool to the other, it's probably not going to work.

That doesn't mean, of course, that subsequent developments won't alter the relationship, possibly even turning love into hate, but it does underscore the value of those first critical minutes.

"It happens so rapidly it's amazing," says Michael Sunnafrank, a professor of communications at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and lead author of a report on the research published in a recent issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Sunnafrank and Artemio Ramirez Jr., assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University in Columbus, studied 164 college freshmen over a nine-week period.

Vital Moments

College freshmen are social animals, so they offered a fertile field to test out Sunnafrank's "predicted outcome value theory," which holds that we predict the future of a relationship as soon as we begin communicating with another person. And that old bromide about first impressions seemed a logical place to test the theory.

If first impressions really do matter the most, then that first meeting ought to have a predictable impact, and the researchers say they found that to be the case. In fact, even after the students had been compelled to interact with each other over a nine-week period, those first impressions still played a major role in foretelling the relationship between students who had been paired together at the beginning of the study.

Sunnafrank says he had thought that all that subsequent interaction would dilute the effect of the first impressions because there were many opportunities for the students to discover things they liked, or disliked, about their partner during the nine-week period.